Years ago I stumbled upon an article about Volkswagen which, amongst other things, referred to a letter written by a disgruntled senior VW exec to the company’s supervisory board. This chap was annoyed.
The then new boss, Ferdinand Piech, was making a bit of a nuisance of himself. A bit more than a nuisance, actually. ‘This company,’ the annoyed exec claimed, ‘is being run by a psychopath.’
Now that’s not a nice thing to say about someone. A psychopath is someone with a mental disorder, a person of abnormal behaviour. A Bond villain, perhaps, or some crazed historical army general. But the bloke who oversees, amongst other vehicles, the VW Polo? Surely not. Mind you, Piech did green-light the Bugatti Veyron. And the VW Phaeton.
Anyway, turns out that being even just a bit psychopathic isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to running a big company. In fact it’s quite useful because, as the bosses of the world’s biggest banks have been discovering this week, you need to be made of pretty strong if not abnormal stuff to survive. In other words, I like my world leaders and chief executives to be slightly – how can I put it – ‘special’.
Which brings me onto Dr Uli Bez and Luca di Montezemolo. The BBC’s lawyers would like me to point out that I am not claiming that either of these high achievers is in any way shape or form psychopathic. But spend a bit of time with the CEO of Aston Martin (Bez) or the President of Ferrari (Montezemolo) and you quickly realise that they are not made of the same stuff as the rest of us. These men have aluminium skeletons and carbon fibre limbs.
Montezemolo is fascinating. I attended a little soiree hosted by him recently. This is a man with a recognition rating in Italy on a par with the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; in fact, many Italians would like him to actually become Prime Minister.
Having said that, running Ferrari is far more important.
Anyway, in he swept, presidentially, and proceeded to work the room like the consummate politician that he is. Find yourself caught in the Montezemolo tractor beam and you’ll be reeled in as surely as the Death Star reels in the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, though the effect is rather more pleasant.
Montezemolo recently admitted to Michael Schumacher that he would throw things at the television screen if he was watching a GP at home and the result hadn’t gone Ferrari’s way. He must be getting through a lot of TVs at the moment. Oddly enough, though, he has a quicksilver sense of humour, and can clearly see the funny side.
‘Formula One, Formula One!’ he wailed, ‘Eet is making me so depressed. Fortunately, I have my psychiatrist with me at all times.’
The President of Italian business federation Confindustria until recently, he compared the experience to being in prison, before declaring himself ‘a free citizen once again’. Then he slated the Singapore GP (and the Valencia street circuit) as fit only ‘for a Disney event or a circus. These are races won under safety car interventions, and Ferrari wins by racing. One Monaco Grand Prix is enough…’
Then a nod to Schumacher, but no mention of Raikkonen or Massa. Funny that.
All delivered with the timing of a seasoned stand-up comedian. Having said that, Montezemolo is clearly not a man you would want to get on the wrong side of.
Isn’t that new California gorgeous or what?
Bez is no less impressive, though for completely different reasons. Far be it for me to characterise this Swabian (that’s in Bavaria, the bit of Germany that, er, Bavarians regard as the country’s engine room) as lacking in humour, but Dr Bez doesn’t generally kid around.
Some might say that the million-pound One-77 (on the Aston stand in Paris, looked mighty to me) suggests otherwise, but this is a man who takes his business very seriously indeed.
Possibly too seriously.
Bez likes a good argument, and if you suggest that his cars are anything other than wondrous in every way then a good scrap is what you get. His cars now come with an ‘emotion control unit’ (or ‘key’), but he doesn’t. I like that: a car boss who will happily roll up his sleeves and get stuck in.
Good job too. The way the economy’s going, looks like we might be getting 612 Scagliettis and Aston Vantages free with our Cornflakes before long…