The famous Italian dealmaker and CEO of Piaggio Colaninno passes away

Written by Crispan Palmer

ROME (Reuters) – Entrepreneur Roberto Colagno, chairman and CEO of scooter maker Piaggio and one of Italy’s best-known dealmakers, has died, investment firm IMMSI said on Saturday.

He turned 80 last week. No cause of death was given.

Kulanyo was a pivotal figure in the country’s industrial landscape, managing to turn around a number of failing businesses, but also leaving a mixed corporate legacy.

He is best known for his surprise $58 billion takeover of Telecom Italia in 1999, at the time the largest hostile takeover in the world.

Many investors hailed him as the mastermind of the deal, but allies were disappointed by his plans to cut the mountain of debt he had created, and forced him to sell control of the group to tire maker Pirelli after only two years.

While Telecom Italia struggled to recover from a debt burden that had drained its finances for years, Colano emerged from the deal with a fortune of his own, enabling him to buy IMMSI, a telecom real estate company that he turned into an investment firm.

In 2003, after his efforts to take over automaker Fiat were rejected, he turned his attention to Piaggio, maker of the Vespa scooter, which had fallen on hard times.

He pulled it back from the brink, rapidly expanding its activities in Asia, especially India, China and Vietnam. The group posted record results for the first half in July.

With Piaggio back in profit, Colagno has sought to revive another struggling Italian icon, national carrier Alitalia, investing heavily in the airline in 2008 and becoming chairman in the process.

However, like many before him, he failed to turn the company around, and it eventually closed. He was brought to trial last year, along with 13 other defendants, for fraudulent bankruptcy at the airline. He denied any wrongdoing.

The case has not yet reached court.

Colano started his career at auto parts manufacturer Fiam, and then joined one of the Italian business giants, Carlo De Benedetti. They founded a financing company, Sogefi, which bought Fiamm from its British owner and turned it into one of Europe’s most successful auto parts suppliers.

De Benedetti later asked Colaninno to take charge of his struggling Olivetti company. Colano gave up the company’s loss-making computer unit and focused on the telephone business—which he later used as a vehicle to launch the Telecom Italia bid.

He is survived by two sons, Mateo and Michel, and his wife, Aurita.

(Reporting by Crispian Palmer; Editing by David Holmes)

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