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Billionaire Del Vecchio swiftly builds Mediobanca stakeMILAN/LONDON, Nov 12 () One comes from a wealthy family, attended Milan’s best schools and has spent all his career engineering mergers at Mediobanca, Italy’s most influential investment bank.The other was raised in an orphanage and was too poor to go to high school but at 84 is Italy’s richest man, having built the world’s biggest eyewear group from scratch.Mediobanca’s boss Alberto Nagel, 54, and Leonardo Del Vecchio, who in less than two months has become the bank’s top investor, are squaring off in a battle for control that is rattling the world of Italian finance.At stake is the future direction of Mediobanca, a venerable institution more than seven decades old. Billionaire tycoon Del Vecchio says Mediobanca should reduce its focus on consumer finance and instead beef up its traditional investment banking business through acquisitions.Del Vecchio, chairman of Ray Ban maker EssilorLuxottica , unexpectedly built a stake of 7% in Mediobanca in mid September only informing Nagel of his move hours before issuing a statement.Last week he raised his holding to just under 10%, and four sources close to the matter said he was planning to go higher still which would require approval from the European Central Bank. One of the sources said he was aiming for as much as 20%.Representatives for Del Vecchio were not immediately available to comment for this story.The tycoon’s bold move on Mediobanca has echoes of the corporate intrigue in the so called “salotto buono”, or fine drawing room, the informal club that has pulled the strings in corporate Italy since 1945 and had Mediobanca at its centre.A turning point appeared to come last year when Mediobanca, a leading shareholder in a Milanese cancer hospital, blocked a 500 million euro investment that Del Vecchio wanted to make in the hospital using his own charity firm which would have seen a unit named after him.Del Vecchio’s ultimate goal behind the Mediobanca’s stake building and management’s criticism is to have more control over the future of Generali, including through possible cross border deals, according to three of the sources close to the matter.Del Vecchio blames Nagel, as well as Generali’s CEO Philippe Donnet, for what he sees as Generali’s poor share price performance compared with rivals like Germany’s Allianz or France’s Axa, the people said.While he would favour a tie up with a foreign group, he wants to ensure Generali’s Italian identity is preserved, they added.Mediobanca is the biggest shareholder in Generali with a 13% stake in Europe’s third largest insurer, which accounts for about 30% of the bank’s operating profit.

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