Armed with a high school diploma and plenty of ambition, Ennio Doris rose from poverty to the ranks of the richest in the world. Doris, an Italian banking billionaire, died on Wednesday at 81 years old. Forbes believes he was the 17th richest person in the country, with a fortune of $ 3.8 billion at the time of his death, thanks in large part to his 40% stake in Banca Mediolanum, the listed financial services company on the stock exchange which he founded in 1982. He is survived by his wife, Lina Tombolato, and his two children, Sara, 51, and Massimo, 54. The cause of his death has not been disclosed.
Born in the small town of Tombolo in the marshy countryside of northeastern Italy in 1940, Ennio Doris grew up in poverty as World War II raged, sharing a six-bedroom house with her 14 other family members. After graduating from high school, he found work as a door-to-door insurance salesperson in a nearby town, then spent two decades working at banks and financial service providers in northern Italy.
His great success came in 1982, when he came up with the idea of offering financial and insurance advice to Italian families wishing to invest their savings. After a chance meeting with Silvio Berlusconi – then successful real estate and television mogul, four years his senior from Doris – in the seaside resort of Portofino, Doris convinced Berlusconi to bet on his idea and the two launched Programma Italia, the predecessor of Mediolanum, with the support of the investment conglomerate of Berlusconi Fininvest.
Programma Italia has grown rapidly, launch investment fund in 1985 and listing on the Milan Stock Exchange in 1996. The following year, in 1997, Mediolanum became a fully-fledged bank and expanded into investments and savings, becoming the first Italian bank with a website. By 1998, the 16-year-old institution had become one of the 30 largest Italian companies in terms of public market capitalization. (As Mediolanum developed in the 1990s, Doris’ business partner Berlusconi went in a different direction, entering politics: he served the first of his three terms as Italian Prime Minister from 1994).
Doris was also the face of Mediolanum’s popular television advertising campaigns until he stepped down as CEO in 2008, handing over the reins to his son Massimo. (Her daughter, Sara, is the vice president of Mediolanum.) Doris’ biggest asset at the time of her death — the family’s 40% stake in Mediolanum, which made up the vast majority of her fortune — is expected to rise to his wife and children. It also held a 3% stake in investment bank Mediobanca and media giant Berlusconi Mediaset, as well as farmland in northeastern Italy and a 197-foot superyacht, Seven, built in 2017.
Doris’ long-time associate (and billionaire colleague) Berlusconi commemorated his life with an article on Twitter: “Ennio Doris, a great man, businessman and Italian, has passed away. He was generous, altruistic, always listening to others and close to the needy. A great friend of mine. He will be sorely missed. “