Alessandro Benetton, BSBA’88
Executive Vice Chairman, Benetton Group, S.p.A.
What is the involvement of family members in Benetton today?
The Benetton Group is a company with strong management in which the Benetton family members work as active and committed shareholders in mapping strategic growth. We have strict rules of corporate governance, and, thanks to these factors and contributions from everyone – shareholders, employees, and commercial partners – we are developing the Benetton of the future. Today Benetton is writing a new chapter based on some essential company cornerstones, such as quality products at affordable prices, an extensive and flexible system of distribution based on a network of top-rate commercial partners, and a proven strong financial standing. We will continue to lead the way toward constant innovation; it’s part of the Benetton DNA.
What did you learn about business from your father and aunt and uncles?
We are a very close family and have always tried to place emphasis on true values, such as respect for your own work and that of others. In particular, I have inherited from my father a vision of the world, and of life, based on determination, sense of responsibility, and a posi tive outlook.
After college and graduate school, you did not directly join the Benetton Group. When did you decide you would join the business?
After completing my studies I embarked on an independent professional career, setting up one of the first private equity companies in Italy, called 21 Investimenti. I definitely did not envisage working with the Benetton Group at that point. But when my family asked me to take responsibility for the future of the company that bears our name, I accepted with great excitement and enthusiasm.
Today you are executive vice chairman at Benetton. What other roles have you had in the company?
I became a member of the Benetton Group Board of Direc tors and Executive Board in 1998, later becoming vice chairman in 2005 and executive vice chairman in 2007, responsible for corporate strategy and management support. As of 2009, I am also a member of Edizione Board, the family holding company that supervises all the diversified activities, from catering (Autogrill) and motorways (Atlantia), to airports (Aeroporti di Roma and Sagat) and financial and property investments.
How many others of the extended Benetton family are involved today?
My father, Luciano, continues as chairman of the Benetton Group, while my aunt and uncles Giuliana, Gilberto, and Carlo, respectively, are members of the Board of Directors. No other member of the family is involved in the operational manage ment of the company.
What are the strengths of a family business? The special challenges?
I would like to stress that our company is not really a family business in the traditional sense. The corporate philosophy we adopted from the outset (in the 1960s) growth, creation of value, internationalization, partnerships, and creativity is nowadays ap plied to a more modern corporate environment. Our management and functions work with considerable independence and yet follow firm guidelines laid down by the share holders.
You graduated from BU School of Management in 1988, and various family members attended from about 1985 through 1994. What was the family’s attraction to Boston University?
The highly-respected tradition of the University, along with its international prestige and reputation, were the factors that drew us. Boston University represents one of the most renowned educational institutions in the United States, established in New England, the cradle of American culture. For me, it was also the quality of its finance and economics courses, the field I expected to enter.
What main lessons from your School of Management education do you see yourself applying in your professional life?
Constant evolution and the ability to strive for excellence, always!
Were there any classes, projects, or professors who left a particularly lasting impression on you?
All my professors and classes were impressive. But to single out one in particular, finance professor Allen Michel helped lay the foundations for my professional life.
How would you describe what clothes mean to a well-dressed Italian? Is it different from other cultures?
Fashion is joy, and color is a way of communicating with other people, of representing our way of life and thoughts. Our aim as an Italian fashion company has always been to create and consolidate a democratic brand able to convey an idea of dialogue and tolerance. We have done this with our prod ucts, our communication, and our stores in a word, with our ideas.
What makes Italian clothing designers distinctive?
Creativity, enthusiasm, obses sion with detail. These may, how ever, be the distinctive features of every good designer, but it has been said that there has always been a wealth of extraordinary design ideas and initiatives in Italy. For a long time,
Benetton Group has extended beyond clothing to social issues in its advertising and magazine. Can you describe what motivated that approach?
Benetton has always worked with organizations actively involved in social issues, from the UN and the World Food Program to the Red Cross and many other nonprofit organizations. In 2008, we have also launched the Birima project with the Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour to contribute to the support and promotion of microcredit for financ ing work in Senegal. At the basis of our communication philosophy is the promotion of freedom of speech and visibility for causes that might otherwise be overlooked on an inter national scale.
What would you say have been the company’s biggest challenges in the long term?
There are many decisive factors that have contributed to making Benetton what it is today, including innovation, a vision of the future, and the truly unique ability to build up strong links and relationships with hundreds of entrepreneurs all over the world. Today we are focused on expanding the boundaries further to continue to grow respon sibly, even at a taster rate in some kev areas such as the former USSR, India, China, and Central and South America.
What have been the company’s greatest successes?
Becoming a world brand with strong local connotations. Today, for example, we are the first Western brand recognized by consumers in India who perceive it as a brand close to their own culture and their own way of thinking.
How is Benetton leveraging technology in the various aspects of its business?
Here is a specific example. In the coming months we are to inaugu rate an ultra-modern platform for logistics and the handling of the packs of our products based on laserguided machines that move at high speed. With zero positioning error, it will handle over 120,000 packs per day. This technology has enabled the handling volumes to be tripled, effectively halving times and costs. Speed, zero errors, a sharp rise in efficiency, and a sharp drop in costs, these are the basic areas in which technology has to help.
What is it about your work you enjoy most?
I enjoy meeting new people every day, coming into contact with international situations that are always different, travelling, and understanding how fast the world is changing.
What is your most difficult challenge as a manager?
Guaranteeing 40 years of future successes for a company with 40 years of past successes.
How would you describe your personal management philosophy? Your management style?
Determination, balance, and speedy decision-making.
What advice would you give to students thinking about a career in clothing manufacturing or clothing retail today?
When my father set up this business in the 1960s, everyone considered the textiles and clothing industry dead, and some countries, traditionally strong in this area, had abandoned production some time before. But Benetton triumphed over these gloomy forecasts, and technol ogy, ideas, creativity, and an entre preneurial spirit have constantly renewed the company. I believe that a young person can still come up with winning new ideas in the world of clothing and fashion.
By John Dicocco
Excerpts from Builders & Leaders Spring 2009