Ital­ian white-goods ty­coon who led In­de­sit to record prof­its

The Daily Telegraph - - Obit­u­ar­ies - Vit­to­rio Mer­loni, born April 30 1933, died June 18 2016

VIT­TO­RIO MER­LONI, who has died aged 83, trans­formed his small fam­ily do­mes­tic ap­pli­ance com­pany into In­de­sit, a multi­na­tional gi­ant com­pet­ing with Bosch and Elec­trolux.

Un­der Vit­to­rio’s fa­ther Aris­tide, the fam­ily busi­ness had been a pa­tri­ar­chal af­fair which pro­vided many of the jobs in small towns in the Marche re­gion of Italy. It had con­sisted of three firms – and Aris­tide had three sons. When Aris­tide died in 1970, one took over the heat­ing and san­i­taryprod­ucts busi­ness, an­other the me­chan­i­cal-engi­neer­ing divi­sion. Vit­to­rio got the white goods busi­ness, which he re­named Mer­loni Elet­trodomes­tici in 1975.

The do­mes­tic ap­pli­ance mar­ket went through a bad spell from the late 1980s. But while many of its ri­vals, in­clud­ing Zanussi, went un­der or were taken over, Mer­loni Elet­trodomes­tici sur­vived and grew, both or­gan­i­cally and through takeovers.

The big­gest gam­ble was the ac­qui­si­tion of In­de­sit, which in 1985 was a far big­ger oper­a­tion than Mer­loni Elet­trodomes­tici. Cru­cially, it gave Mer­loni the spring­board to push abroad.

Listed on the Mi­lan stock ex­change in 1987, Mer­loni Elet­trodomes­tici went on to buy France’s Scholte in 1989, Sti­nol, Rus­sia’s top brand, in 1999, and the Peter­bor­ough­based Gen­eral Do­mes­tic Ap­pli­ances in 2001, an ac­qui­si­tion which gave Mer­loni con­trol of the Hot­point, Creda and Can­non brands – and 28 per cent of the UK white goods mar­ket. In 2005 he changed the com­pany name to In­de­sit, its best known brand. In 2007 In­de­sit’s rev­enues reached a record €3.4 bil­lion.

But ac­qui­si­tion was only part of the story. Mer­loni suc­ceeded by us­ing a few strong brands to keep its prod­uct range man­age­able and by in­vest­ing heav­ily in re­search and de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing pi­o­neer­ing the use of soft­ware in do­mes­tic ap­pli­ances. Its wash­ing ma­chine plant at Caserta, near Naples, was the most ef­fi­cient in Europe. “The fam­ily con­trol is a big ad­van­tage as we don’t have to think of div­i­dends year by year but can look at it from the point of view of com­pet­i­tive­ness to­mor­row,” Mer­loni said in 2005. “So we in­vest 85 per cent of our cash­flow back into the com­pany. Oth­ers don’t.”

Mer­loni re­tired from the chair­man­ship of In­de­sit in 2010, af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s, and in the past decade the com­pany has strug­gled with the rise of cheaper man­u­fac­tur­ers from China and the weak­ness of the Ital­ian econ­omy. In 2014 the fam­ily’s 60 per cent stake in In­de­sit was sold to Whirlpool, its main US com­peti­tor, for ap­prox­i­mately €768 mil­lion.

The youngest of three sons, Vit­to­rio Mer­loni was born on April 30 1933, three years af­ter his fa­ther, Aris­tide, had founded In­dus­trie Mer­loni in Al­bacina, a small village in the Marche re­gion of cen­tral Italy. The busi­ness made weigh­ing scales and later diver­si­fied into liq­uid gas cylin­ders and hot wa­ter heaters.

Af­ter tak­ing a de­gree in Eco­nom­ics and Com­merce from the Univer­sity of Peru­gia, Vit­to­rio joined the fam­ily busi­ness as a sales man­ager. When in 1960 the Aris­ton brand was cre­ated and the com­pany be­gan to pro­duce elec­tri­cal do­mes­tic ap­pli­ances, Vit­to­rio man­aged the new busi­ness.

Short, lean, be­spec­ta­cled and cour­te­ous in man­ner, Mer­loni was a sur­pris­ingly hes­i­tant fig­ure for a busi­ness ty­coon, but was never shy of ac­quir­ing what he liked, be it com­pa­nies or per­sonal pos­ses­sions. As well as houses in Mi­lan, Rome, Sar­dinia, New York Fabri­ano and May­fair, he owned Tes­tarossa Fer­raris, a Bent­ley and, inevitably, a pala­tial yacht.

In the 1980s he chaired the Ital­ian in­dus­trial as­so­ci­a­tion Con­find­us­tria, and he was in­volved in many so­cial causes, with an em­pha­sis on ed­u­ca­tion. Ap­pointed a Cava­liere del

la­voro in 1984, he was ap­pointed honorary CBE in 2003.

He is sur­vived by his wife, Franca, and by their two sons and two daugh­ters.

Mer­loni: sur­pris­ingly hes­i­tant

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