By - Richard I. Kirkland Jr.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Soon after Franco Reviglio, 52, left his lectern at the University of Turin in 1983 to run ENI, Italy's state-owned energy company, he found himself writing a text -- a 50-page recovery plan, backed by 100 pages of statistical analysis. Says Reviglio: ''It is not my style to impose my ideas. I prefer to persuade.'' Duly persuaded, ENI's managers, almost none of whom were replaced, slashed refining capacity 25%, closed some 2,000 gas stations, and canceled long-term oil contracts in favor of buying on the spot market. Two years later, and well ahead of schedule, ENI, which had lost more than $1 billion in 1982 and 1983, broke into the black with profits of $427 million.

Though he lacked business experience, il professore, as he's known around the company, has intimate knowledge of Italy's labyrinthine political economy. Born and educated in Turin, Reviglio did his undergraduate thesis on improving efficiency in state-owned companies. A frequent consultant to the ministry of the budget, he served as minister of finance from 1979 to 1981. On weekends Reviglio leaves Rome for the Piedmont, where he and his wife, Paola, maintain a home near his beloved ski slopes in the Valley di Susa. Recently reappointed to a second three-year term, ENI's soft-spoken, pipe- smoking chairman says his principal goal is to increase his company's share of Italy's oil consumption from 20% to 30%. If Reviglio achieves that without hefty government subsidies, ENI's shareholders -- Italian taxpayers -- will have no cause to complain.