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Enrico Mattei: Eni’s founder

An anti-fascist and survivor of two wars, Enrico Mattei was not yet 40 when, in 1953, he founded Eni – a company that flourishes to this day.

by Eni Press
3 min read
byEni Press
3 min read

Childhood and the beginning of a talented businessman’'s career

Enrico Mattei was born on 29 April 1906 in Acqualagna, Pesaro, to Angela Galvani and Antonio Mattei. In 1919, his father was promoted from sergeant to marshal in the Carabinieri,  the Italian police. This , which the family to Matelica, Macerata. After elementary school, Enrico attended a  technical middle school. But his family’s lack of money and his father’s strict discipline soon led him to seek financial independence. After a brief spell painting metal bed frames, he was taken on as an apprentice at the Fiore tannery in 1923. 

Mattei rose rapidly within the company: He began as a labourer, then became chemical laboratory assistant and finally, aged just just 20, was promoted to laboratory head. His higher salary enabled him to open a fabric shop for his mother in 1926. Soon, after, the tannery began to decline amid a general economic crisis and it closed in 1929. Mattei moved to Milan where he set up a small laboratory with his sister and brother, producing emulsifying oils for the tanning and textile industries. In 1934, he founded Industria Chimica Lombarda, with a factory in Via Giuseppe Tartini, in the industrial suburbs of Milan.

He married Vienna-born Greta Paulas in 1936, completed an accountancy qualification and enrolled at the Università Cattolica in Milan.

 

Politics and oppositing fascism

In May 1943 met Giuseppe Spataro, a member of the Christian Democrats, who introduced him into Milan’s anti-fascist circles. On 25 July 1943, he joined Marcello Boldrini, an economist at the Cattolica, in the active resistance groups operating in the mountains around Matelica. When he returned to Milan, he re-established contact with the local Democrats, who nominated him commander of the Volunteers for Freedom Corps (CVL) in light of his organisational and military skills. . These were the first organised resistance forces in the Second World War to be recognised by both the Italian government and the Allies. In the  difficult days following the end of the the civil war in Italy, Mattei was appointed to liquidate and oversee the privatisation of the substantial energy assets of the state-owned Agip, which had been established in 1926 to develop the country’s oil industry. 

 

The Birth of Eni and death of its founder

Mattei decided to take a different path to achieve what he saw as a fundamental objective of ensuring that Italy had a national energy company, able to serve the needs of households and the development of small and medium-sized enterprises at a lower price than that of the international cartels. He doubled the drilling of wells, enhanced mineral exploration in the Po Valley, and established the necessary alliances with the government and political parties to support him in realising his goal. Success came in 1953, with the establishment of Eni, following long and tortuous negotiations that had begun in 1947 between those committed to private initiative and those in favour of strong state involvement in the economy. 

It was in those years that Eni’s founder developed a network of partnerships with international figures. This became one of the strengths that Eni could offer in support of Italy’s diplomatic efforts abroad, beyond its own specific interests. Indeed, Mattei was one of the first to cultivate a frontier spirit and show respect for different cultures. 

On 27 October 1962 from Catania to Milan, Mattei was killed when his plane crashed near Bascapè, in Pavia on a flight from Catania to Milan. The crash also claimed the lives of pilot Irnerio Bertuzzi and American journalist William McHale.