If all you did was read a transcript, you’d think the last press conference held by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo in his capacity as president of Ferrari was a rather dull affair.
It was one of those occasions when you really did have to be in the room, because the body language between him and Sergio Marchionne, who will replace him on 13 October, told a rather different story.
The man who transformed Ferrari’s fortunes on the track in the 1970s and then more recently on the road, spoke openly about his passion for the company, describing it as “closer to my heart than anything other than my own family”, before explaining that the time had come to pass the baton, have some time off and enjoy the simpler side of life, like doing the school run.
I don’t know how many of the 50 invited journalists were buying into this, but of those I spoke to afterwards, there was none. For a few feet away sat Marchionne and you didn’t need to be Desmond Morris to see their starkly different body language.
Di Montezemolo sat alone in the middle of the room at the Paris motor show, arms open and gesturing as he spoke. Marchionne sat to one side at a table, arms folded or with one hand under his chin. At one time in di Montezemolo’s farewell speech to the company for which he became almost as synonymous as its founder, Marchionne found time to flick through some fabric swatches.
There were, of course, kind and I am sure sincere words for di Montezemolo from Signor Marchionne but when the time came to ask questions I took the microphone and said simply to di Montezemolo, “Why are you leaving?”.
More simply still and while staring straight at me, di Montezemolo pointed straight at Marchionne before going on to explain in PR-friendly terms about how he’d reached the end of his natural time there.
When it was over I felt the need to shake di Montezemolo’s hand one last time. He is not a man I know well but we’ve spoken a few times over the years and I’ve seen enough of him to know his usual panache and showmanship was notable only by its absence.
But he did say to me, “your question, it was very difficult for me to answer”. What I didn’t but should have said to him was that he still managed to answer it, and quite beautifully too.
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