May 31, 2012 4:50 pm

Mediobanca aims to oust Generali chief

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Mediobanca, the Milan investment bank that has dominated Italian finance for most of the past 60 years, is preparing an attempt to oust Giovanni Perissinotto, the chief executive of Italian insurer Generali, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Mediobanca, which owns 13.5 per cent of Generali, will make its move at a board meeting as early as Saturday, according to one of Generali’s largest international shareholders.

Generali has long been the crown jewel in Mediobanca’s portfolio and the bank’s attempt to exert its authority over Italy’s biggest insurer by premiums is seen as a throwback to when Mediobanca was all powerful in Italian finance.

For the past 60 years Mediobanca has used an intricate system of cross shareholdings in some of Italy’s largest companies to protect its interests.

UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank by assets, owns 9 per cent of Mediobanca. The two banks plus Generali are linked to other Italian companies, including Telecom Italia and Pirelli.

Mario Monti, Italy’s prime minister, has tried to unravel the web of cross-shareholdings with a new law that forbids bank and insurance company directors from also holding board seats at rivals. The move is part of a push by Mr Monti to open up the Italian economy to increased competition.

“Any move by Mediobanca to eject Perissinotto would be a terrible signal to the markets,” said a Generali investor. “This is the worst possible time for the old Italy to try to reassert itself.”

While it is not certain that Mediobanca will muster enough support at the board meeting to oust Mr Perissinotto, it is thought unlikely that Alberto Nagel, chief executive of the investment bank, would have moved without having some assurance on votes. Generali said that there was no board meeting on the agenda.

Mr Perissinotto has at times countered attempts by Mediobanca to assert influence on the Generali, and is known to have a strained relationship with Mr Nagel.

Under Mr Perissinotto, Generali has expanded outside of Italy, a move thought to be opposed by Mediobanca.

Mr Nagel and Renato Pagliaro, Mediobanca chairman, met Mr Perissinotto on Wednesday to tell him of their intention, according to the two people familiar with the matter. The two Mediobanca executives will use the recent poor performance of Generali’s shares as the stated reason for wanting to oust Mr Perissinotto.

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