JOHN ELKANN Reuters

Reuters

John Elkann

CEO and Chairperson, Exor

Warren Buffett famously turned Berkshire Hathaway from a failing textile mill into a sprawling conglomerate of more than 90 businesses, including See's Candies, Geico, and BNSF Railway.

John Elkann, the Italian American scion of the billionaire Agnelli dynasty, is turning his family's Exor holding company into something similar. Exor already boasts stakes in the Italian soccer team Juventus, Ferrari, The Economist, and agricultural-equipment group CNH Industrial. Moreover, it recently invested in Via Transportation, a US public-transit startup, and Gedi, Italy's biggest newspaper publisher.

Elkann is seeking to pivot Exor away from cars and insurance to areas such as media and technology, but the coronavirus pandemic has complicated matters. He was all set to sell insurer PartnerRe for $9 billion until the deal collapsed in May, and his potentially massive payout from the $50 billion merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot could be cut if the two automakers decide to conserve cash.

It could take longer for Elkann to build Europe's Berkshire than he expected, but his efforts to assemble one of the biggest conglomerates on the continent are worthy of recognition.