Del Vecchio ready to back 'ambitious' Mediobanca plans

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian eyewear tycoon Leonardo Del Vecchio said in a newspaper interview on Thursday he was ready to support "ambitious" plans for Mediobanca MDBI.MI, after raising his stake in Italy's top investment bank to just above 10%.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The 85-year-old founder of Luxottica last year shook Italy’s financial elites by emerging as the biggest investor in Mediobanca just as a core of historic shareholders unravelled.

Interviewed by daily Il Messaggero, Del Vecchio said he intended to remain for a long time the top shareholder in a company he deemed "strategic" for the country together with insurer Generali GASI.MI, in which Mediobanca is the leading investor.

“I am ready to support the growth of the bank and to back plans that I hope will be ambitious,” Del Vecchio said.

His latest move comes as Mediobanca prepares for a shareholder vote on Oct. 28 to renew the board and keep current CEO Alberto Nagel in place.

Del Vecchio said he would assess three rival slates of board candidates and take a decision in Mediobanca’s best interest.

Mediobanca’s board has submitted its own slate of nominees. Another list was filed by professional investors and a third came from activist fund Bluebell Capital Partners, which has criticised the bank’s management.

Del Vecchio criticised Mediobanca’s strategy in the past saying it relied too heavily on consumer finance and income from the 13% Generali stake. However, he later praised the business plan CEO Nagel presented in November.

“I judge (managers) based on the returns they bring to shareholders, not on sympathy or dislike,” he said in Thursday’s interview.

Under Nagel, Mediobanca has moved away from its historic role as a financial holding company and boosted its wealth management and consumer credit operations through acquisitions. Nagel has not ruled out a larger deal in wealth management.

Mediobanca has considered swapping the Generali stake with the insurer's wealth management arm Banca Generali BGN.MI, but put the deal on hold due to COVID-driven market volatility, a source familiar with the matter has said.

Markets have speculated that a shake-up at Generali could be the ultimate goal of Del Vecchio’s move on Mediobanca. The billionaire, who holds 4.8% of the insurer, told Il Messaggero he was “deeply attached to a company that should return to play a major role on a global level.”

Del Vecchio has European Central Bank authorisation to get to 19.9% of Mediobanca.

Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro, Claudia Cristoferi; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Elaine Hardcastle and Emelia Sithole-Matarise