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Bernabè's shareholder rites
Franco Bernabè is perhaps Italy's foremost advocate of shareholder rights and good corporate governance.
Franco Bernabè is perhaps Italy's foremost advocate of shareholder rights and good corporate governance. So when he says that his decision to sell his Rome-based investment banking boutique, Franco Bernabè & C., to Rothschild Group last month was "not really about money but about gaining critical mass and more effectively offering advice," he has more credibility than most investment bankers would have under such circumstances.
Bernabè, 55, is, in fact, something of a banker-come-lately. Back in 1992 Italy's reform-minded prime minister, Giuliano Amato, plucked the University of Turintrained economist out of the strategic planning office of state oil producer Eni and told him to clean up the debt- and scandal-ridden company.
Bernabè had no operating experience. Yet in six years as Eni's CEO, he sold 200 companies, dismissed hundreds of managers, listed the company's shares on the Borsa Italiana and refocused it on energy. From a loss of E489 million ($542 million) in 1992, Eni rebounded to a profit of E2.3 billion in 1998. Bernabè left that year to run Telecom Italia, but his tenure was cut short by Olivetti's hostile takeover. He opened Bernabè & C. in January 2000.
His latest deal is piccolissimo compared with his Eni days -- Bernabè's four-year-old firm took in fees of just E5 million last year. His ten-person staff is to merge with Rothschild's 30-member Italian banking team, and Bernabè will become vice chairman of Rothschild, which has dual headquarters in Paris and London.
"I'm neither a rainmaker nor a door opener nor a retired big shot," contends Bernabè. "I'm a full-time investment banker who's always placed the interests of shareholders way above my own interests." In selling his firm, of course, he is the shareholder.