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Mediobanca - The emperor strikes back

For five decades, a small Milan bank has wielded power over Italian finance and industry. It has anointed and toppled bosses, fostered and blocked mergers, and defeated every attack on its influence. Its secretive machinations have infuriated supporters of transparent markets. In recent years, Mediobanca was presumed in decline as the world around it modernized. But in 1999 the firm struck back, steering the consolidation of Italian finance in its favour with help from its patriarch, Enrico Cuccia. Yet even in its year of triumph, Mediobanca faces a worsening internal split: between an old guard obsessed with power and intrigue, and a young investment-banking team who want to be less Cesare Borgia, more Goldman Sachs. Marcus Walker reports

On the move: Braggiotti

On Thursday 28 October, Vincenzo Maranghi was in full conciliatory flow. The chief executive of Mediobanca told his shareholders' annual assembly that the bank had only friends. Relations with the Agnelli family of Turin were "extraordinary". There was no rift with the Lazard group either. And Mediobanca wouldn't dream of trying to control the affairs of its own largest shareholder, Banca Commerciale Italiana (BCI). The notion that Mediobanca had been fighting wars on several fronts was invented by Maranghi's pet hate: the press. The lanky chief executive used the colourful word untorelli, an untranslatable literary reference likening journalists to malicious spreaders of the bubonic plague in 16th-century Milan.

In reality, Maranghi has not so much won friends this year as battered all his enemies into weary submission with a series of vintage intrigues. The only part of Mediobanca accumulating friends is the section that does conventional investment banking in open markets. "The fact is that they are the best in Italy," says a senior banker from a global house who has worked with Mediobanca on equity deals.

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