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Ferrari Chief Executive Luca Cordero di Montezemolo loves to push his sports cars to the limit--whether it's on a test course in Maranello or on the cypress-lined road that leads up to his hilltop 19th century villa outside Bologna. Since hopping into the driver's seat at Fiat-owned Ferrari in 1992, di Montezemolo has steered the Italian icon out of a rut and into the winner's circle. Ferrari is in striking distance of clinching its third consecutive Formula One championship. The maker of superluxury sports cars is on a winning streak off the racetrack, too: Ferrari sales hit a record $963 million last year, while net profit soared sixfold, to $43 million.
That's a dramatic change of course for Ferrari, which as recently as 1993 was soaking in red ink. When he took over, di Montezemolo quickly reengineered production, making quality the No. 1 imperative and designing new models that were more fun to drive. "I hate too much technology in a car," says the 54-year-old former rally-car racer. "You have to enjoy driving." Di Montezemolo is now presiding over the relaunch of Maserati, another icon aiming to double unit sales this year. And he's laying the groundwork for the upcoming initial public offering of Ferrari shares, which analysts say could fetch $1 billion.
Di Montezemolo went to work for Ferrari at 26 as racing team manager, racking up Formula One championships in 1975 and 1977. Subsequent stops in his career included leading Italy's first America's Cup yachting challenge. Now, he has returned to his first love, fast cars--and Ferrari--but he's far from his last lap.