PATERFAMILIAS OF MERIT. Ferruccio Ferragamo has devoted his career to the family business since 1963, and has been Executive Chairman of the Board of Salvatore Ferragamo S.p.A. since 2018.
Ferruccio Ferragamo, congratulations on your recent award of Cavaliere del Lavoro (The Order of Merit for Labour) by the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella. This is the most important honour in Italy for working merit. Are you proud?
Of course I’m very proud, but I think they made a mistake. I asked if the award could be given to my wonderful family. What we have achieved is thanks to them. Our fantastic daddy Salvatore started the business, and my mother Wanda had the courage to follow at my father’s desk with no preparation; no Harvard Business School, nothing like that. She had been producing six children, not shoes!
Your father Salvatore was only 62 when he died in 1960. How old was your mother then?
Mummy was 38. It’s now two years since she passed away. She was a fantastic mother and a great business lady. She dedicated her life to the children, the business and her house in Fiesole, which were her three passions, and she worked very, very hard. That’s why I say that I think they made a mistake by giving the award to me. They should have said the Ferragamo family.
Your father Salvatore was famous for the shoes he made in America for all the great stars of Hollywood. Then he came back to Italy and his clients ranged from Queens to simple people. When he died how did you develop his shoe business into a fashion company?
The way my father did business was unique to him. He would look a lady in the eye and understand her character, hold her feet, understand the anatomy of the foot, and then he would design shoes just for her. No one could have replaced him and so mummy thought that maybe we could diversify the business. The rest of the family, we are six children, joined in at a very young age. None of us has a university degree because at 18 we were put to work, and each of us was assigned to an area. Fiamma had worked with my father for six months, so she enlarged the shoe making into readymade shoes. Giovanna did ready-to-wear. Fulvia made scarves, pillows, ties and accessories in beautiful silk with lovely designs made of flowers. Leonardo started in men’s shoes and then opened the market in China in 1994; that enlarged distribution was very helpful. And Massimo took over the American market.
“We are a large family, altogether over 70 descendants today.”
A Portrait of Members of the Ferragamo Family.
Ferruccio Ferragamo, wouldn’t you say that Ferragamo has a very special story in America?
Yes. An immigrant to America as a boy of 16, in Hollywood my father quickly opened a little shop, literally 4 metres by 4, and made shoes. Movie stars like Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Audrey Hepburn saw his very particular shoes in the window and the business started. That’s why somehow we are perceived as a domestic brand in America. Massimo is still our ambassador in the US, where we have almost 50 direct shops. Temporarily the American market is suffering, like the whole world, from the virus.
How many shops do you have altogether?
We sell in 100 countries from about 400 shops that we manage directly, many in China and Korea. Plus we have another 250 franchised shops around the world in more complex markets like India and Russia.
How much are Internet platforms necessary to sell in this pandemic?
We were not historically strong in e-commerce, which is the future. Our philosophy is to entertain. As daddy said: ‘To treat the customer like a princess and the princess like a queen.’ However we are trying to grow that segment of the business, and I think it’s an opportunity.
Will you keep all the shops?
We will look at them carefully and readjust their distribution according to the boss, which is the market. It is very important that there is a showroom where people can walk in, look, touch, feel, try on, look in the mirror; and then maybe they can order from home. I don’t think the retail shop will disappear.
In countries like Korea, Japan, and China, where the virus is now more under control, have people already gone back to buying in shops?
Yes, in China especially. They defined our performance at September 30. Sales in that part of the world are higher for us this year than they were in 2019, before the virus. An exceptional result which compensates a bit, not completely, for the markets where the coronavirus is still very strong and our shops are closed. Airport shops are doing very poor business, but the sign that we’re getting from China is positive, and that after the virus people will love to travel and come into the shops again.
Which products lead your business today?
More or less, they are all moving the same. Shoes are the backbone of the business; men’s shoes are performing quite well, and belts. Ferragamo is not a fashion house, it is more a style of life. Fashion risks going out of fashion. Style is more basic.
What kind of style is Ferragamo?
A look which is not extreme. We do not want to overcome the personality of our customer, who we want to be very comfortable wearing our product.
“I don’t have enough time in Ferragamo and I don’t have enough time at Il Borro.”
Ferruccio Ferragamo, are you developing sustainability?
We currently have an exhibition about sustainability at our museum in the HQ at Palazzo Spini Feroni. It’s our duty to dedicate all our research to products which are more and more sustainable. That’s what will decide the future of the company.
Your father returned to Italy in 1927. Why did he establish his headquarters in Florence?
The surroundings of Florence inspired his creativity. Florence was, in those days, one of the most international cities of Italy, like Rome and Venice; and he could also find artisans. The combination of these three is why he bought the HQ building where we still are. He made monthly payments, because he didn’t have the money to pay the full amount in a lump sum. Then he bought the house in Palagio that my mother was in love with and that I’m now the lucky owner of. Her six children were all born in that house.
Amongst your own children you had twin sons, James and Salvatore. Isn’t James now the head of the brand and the product of Ferragamo?
We made an agreement amongst ourselves when the children were very young that only three of them would join the business, and then not because his father or mother told them to do so, but because they wanted to. James came to me and said, “Daddy, I’m dying to come to work in Ferragamo” after he worked for three and a half years in Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. Unlike James, Salvatore came to me and said, “Daddy, I have to tell you something. I don’t want to work in Ferragamo. I want to follow the project of Il Borro.”
As I told my children 28 years ago, I bought Il Borro because it was a diversification. The Salvatore Ferragamo business represented 95 percent of our assets at that time, so we were looking for diversification, both as a family and individually. Il Borro was about 700 acres when I bought it, with a lovely mediaeval village in the middle of the property that was in need of restoration. Today from the outside it looks the same, but all the infrastructure of the village has been renovated. Il Borro is now completely sustainable. We produce more energy than we use and we are very proud that there is no environmental pollution. The village has 38 accommodations that are part of the Relais & Châteaux chain, with all the facilities of a five star hotel. Il Borro belongs to me and my children, and my brother Massimo bought Castiglion del Bosco, so as a family we went into the hotel business, which was, before Covid, quite successful.
How much does the winery at Il Borro represent in the enterprise?
Wine represents one third of the turnover of Il Borro, we have twelve labels. The second third is hospitality, and the last third is restaurants. We have two restaurants at Il Borro, Osteria del Borro and Il Borro Tuscan Bistro. Il Borro Tuscan Bistro is also located in Florence, and one franchise in Dubai which was the number one restaurant in Dubai in 2019. We will open a new franchise in London next year.
How many people can stay at Il Borro?
What else can one enjoy at Il Borro?
On the street level of the tiny village there are several typical artisans, making jewels, shoes of course, someone paints ceramics, another makes baskets, all working with their hands. The previous priest made a nativity scene with a hundred and fifty tiny engines that make the nativity move, the water fall, rain come and the sea have waves. It’s nice to see.
Are there also sporting activities?
We have horse riding and you can go with a guide for a picnic. We have mountain bikes, tennis, golf and a driving range. We also have a spa. Il Borro sits between Florence, Siena and Arezzo, and these three famous cities are very nice to tour for the day, with many little villages up in the mountains. You don’t get bored at Il Borro.
Do visitors come to Il Borro from all over the world?
Yes, many from America and Asia, but because this year no people could arrive by plane for the summer months we switched to European customers who could arrive by car.
How much of your time do you devote to Ferragamo and how much to Il Borro?
I don’t have enough time in Ferragamo and I don’t have enough time at Il Borro. (laughs) To answer your question, I spend two working days and weekends at Il Borro, and three working days in Ferragamo.
From left in front: Mrs. Fulvia Visconti Ferragamo and Mrs. Giovanna Gentile Ferragamo. In the middle from left: Mr. Ferruccio and Mr. Leonardo Ferragamo. On the top from left: Mr. Massimo and Mr. James Ferragamo.
Salvatore Ferragamo Autumn Winter 2020 campaign
Salvatore Ferragamo Autumn Winter 2020 campaign
“We want people that want and choose to work in the company, and who love the company.”
Ferruccio Ferragamo, when Ferragamo became a public company in 2011 did your way of working change?
More boards, more committees, and we communicate more with the public, but it has not been a major change. Being public is an opportunity. We are a large family, altogether over 70 descendants today. If someone in the future wants to diversify his or her life and sell their shares in the company, there is a way to leave, but I hope we will work very well, very hard, and deliver good dividends so no one will leave!
Yours must be quite a difficult job, to be chairman and patriarch, to keep peace in such a large family?
Family is a very sophisticated equilibrium. We have to make sure that love of the company is always predominant and that rules are followed, and that the family members who join the company in the future are the ones that deserve to join so that we increase value. We should not use the company as a refuge for people that have no alternative.
Do you and your brothers and sisters think about who will be the new chairman when you pass the hand?
We talk about that quite often. We don’t want to force anything. We want people that want and choose to work in the company, and who love the company. Then we have to step back and test them, try to judge with reality which one is suitable for the company, not because they are my children, or her children or his children.
Do you also need creative people?
Yes, and it’s very important that the creative people understand the spirit of the company and produce what is compatible for the style of the company, and not something to promote themselves.
You have kept Ferragamo an Italian family business. Were you ever tempted to sell to a larger foreign group, as many other brands did?
I am against selling the company, as I have said many times, but I also don’t want shareholder prisoners in the Salvatore Ferragamo company. If somebody wants to leave, I understand that. We’re not all the same, with the same objectives. We can always find solutions, both because we are a public company and the family wants to remain strong.