Benedetto Vigna: Who Is Ferrari's New CEO
- Vigna is the co-inventor of the 3-axis gyroscope
- The tech that he invented was used in the Nintendo Wii and the iPhone
- The same technology has now become critical for cars
Ferrari recently appointed the 52-year old Italian, Benedetto Vigna, as its latest CEO, the fourth head of the legendary automaker in only 8 years, which certainly has been a tumultuous time for the company. Particularly, in the last three years, Vigna becomes its third CEO, with Sergio Marchionne passing away in 2018 and Camilleri also reportedly resigning because of health issues. Vigna's appointment comes out of nowhere even though the company was on the lookout for a CEO since last December when Louis Camilleri resigned unexpectedly which forced Agnelli family scion, Exor CEO, and Ferrari chairman John Elkann to take over as interim CEO. Elkann had indicated in April that there would be a new CEO, but many people believed it would be one who had experience in luxury goods and consumer electronics.
Many people had thought of the names of ex-Apple chief design officer Sir Jonathan Ive and its current CFO Luca Maestri, but it was Vigna who ended up with the esteemed post. What's interesting about Vigna is that he is a rather unknown element, but his background gives us a very good insight into where Ferrari would be heading.
As many have noticed from the announcement, Vigna is the President at STMicroelectronics where he worked for 26 years running its most profitable business -- analog, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and sensors group. At STMicroelectronics Vigna runs a group that has similar revenues as Ferrari and he helped the company become the world leader in motion sensor technology.
Vigna is said to be a technical wizard. In 2010, he helped invent the 3-axis gyroscope which debuted on the iPhone 4 which was capable of detecting motion in 3 dimensions. At the time it was far more advanced than 2D sensors of its kind that were available in low-end devices but at the same time, it was more affordable by sensors that enabled 3-dimensional sensing used in the aerospace market. It was this kind of sensor that allowed the iPhone to switch seamlessly between portrait and landscape mode. This was famously first seen in Apple's WWDC 2010 keynote where Steve Jobs himself showed off the capabilities of the gyroscope.
Vigna was instrumental in transforming STMicroelectronics into a world-class supplier for technology for big tech companies like Apple. He even helped develop technology that became critical for the Nintendo Wii as his unit developed and supplied the gyroscopic MEMS sensors that became a part of its controller driving the unique user experience that allowed it to outsell the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 helping it become the fastest-selling game console at the time.
Technology that Vigna helped develop at STMicroelectronics also enabled modern automotive technologies like ADAS. Vigna's gyroscope technology has also become ubiquitous in automotive navigation systems allowing the system to sense where the car is going and making it spatially aware in 3 dimensions. It is how a map detects if the car is taking a turn or not.
Vigna a graduate of the famed University of Pisa is a physics graduate - he specialised in subnuclear physics. He has over 200 patents on micromachining and has authored in numerous publications. In 2013, he won the MEMS industry group's executive of the year award and the European SEMI award. In 2010, he was also a nominee and finalist in the selection of the European Inventor Award. In 2015 he won the IEEE Frederik Philips Award.
Exor which has a controlling stake in Ferrari is run by John Elkann - he's also Ferrari's chairman and has this legendary ability to spot uncanny leaders. In the 2000s Elkann was the one who spotted Sergio Marchionne who reinvented FIAT, saved Chrysler from bankruptcy then took Ferrari public unlocking incredible value in all three majors till his death in 2018. With Vigna, Elkann has spotted an under the radar tech visionary - who will be entrusted to drive the transformation of the legendary car company. It also helps he is Italian which is important for Ferrari yet technically an inventor from the technology space, a unique and rare combination.
In many ways, Ferrari is to cars what Apple represents to gadgets and instead of having someone with experience selling the Ferrari brand, Elkann opted for someone who will help transform Ferrari into a technology major as it lags behind in its electrification efforts. Ferrari wants to unleash its first EV in 2025, but already a new generation of electric hypercar like the Rimac Nevera is outperforming flagship Ferrari cars like the SF90 Stradale.
Vigna also has to help Ferrari re-energise its F1 unit which is core to the Ferrari brand as technologies developed by its F1 team end up in its road cars. In 2020, Ferrari had its worse year in 40 years finishing 6th in the constructor's championship. In 2019, Ferrari elevated its technical chief Mattia Binotto as its team principal and managing director for F1. In 2021, under Binotto, Ferrari didn't renew the contract of 4-time world champion Sebastian Vettel but replaced him with the dynamic Carlos Sainz Jr culminating in its youngest driver lineup in 68 years with Charles Leclerc in the other car. This strategy is said to be paying off with it currently 3rd in the constructor's championship and Leclerc managing pole position in the last two races and Sainz managing P2 in Monaco.
Binotto is said to have had the trust of both Elkann and his former boss Camilleri, though Vigna could also be a great foil for him as well. The Swiss-Italian boss of Ferrari's F1 team is a quintessential engineer much like Vigna who is coming from the Geneva-based STMicroelectronics. F1 is also at a crossroads with new aerodynamic regulations coming in 2022 and in 2025, a new engine formula is to be introduced. The engine formula is being discussed currently and Vigna could play a role in what Ferrari will propose considering his deep technological background.
August 31, 2021, will bring an end to Vigna's storied stint at STMicroelectronics which started in 1995, spanning 26 years. However, the very next day ( 1st September ), he will become the CEO of arguably the most exclusive, the most iconic car company in the world whose iconic red colour even defines the emoji of the car in the digital realm.