MILAN — Diego Della Valle held court at the annual Pambianco Conference on Thursday, touching on topics ranging from reshoring — in line with the “Back to Italy” theme of the day — to prime minister Matteo Renzi and the sale of Loro Piana to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
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“I don’t think there is one industrialist happy to leave Italy to produce abroad. They do it when they are forced to, keeping an eye on their bottom line. But there are three things that can be done: [First] create tools for investors to enter small companies for maybe a three-year period. Second, companies can return to Italy as long as there are skilled workers to do the job that is often still considered not appealing. There is ‘n Doct.’ on the doorbell, but shoemakers can earn even more than a young lawyer: They are more in demand and can even work closer to home,” said Della Valle, chairman and chief executive officer of Tod’s SpA. “Italian professional schools should not consider [craftsmanship] as old stuff but make it interesting. And, third, there should be a tax break on those that produce in Italy. This is all elementary.”
These steps would help restart the country. “People want to go and work and earn their wages. I don’t think they want to be given 80 euros [$99.70] as a bonus. It’s a welcome idea, but it’s ‘una tantum,’ and they are not spending that money because they are not producing it. Psychologically, it makes a big difference,” said Della Valle, referring to an annual benefit that, this year, Renzi’s government bestowed upon lower-wage workers. “Dignity has an essential value. We want to earn the means that will start the machine.”
Asked about his relations with Renzi, which recently had soured, Della Valle said they are “excellent.” In true Italian spirit, he noted the politician’s passion for the Fiorentina, the soccer team owned by the entrepreneur and his brother Andrea. “We may not always have the same vision, but we have always said so to [each other’s] face. Renzi has the will to do good things. Now [that] the electoral campaign is over, let’s go vote. It would also be great for us to be able to elect the President of the Republic. Why should politicians elect him if his role is to work in our interest?”
Asked to weigh in on large conglomerates taking control of Italian brands and, in particular, the sale of Loro Piana to LVMH, Della Valle fondly remembered his friend, the late Sergio Loro Piana, whose deteriorating health may have contributed to the change in ownership — a way to secure a future for his family’s company. Della Valle defined LVMH, on whose board he sits, and Kering as being controlled by two French entrepreneurs who long ago decided to structure their holdings and buy luxury companies. They are “totally engaged” in their jobs, he added.
“There are no such companies in Italy. We have excellent firms here, developed by their owners, who are not into finance or buying brands. It’s not better or worse; it’s different. We have to be less provincial. There is nothing negative about LVMH and how it operates. Let’s dispel the idea that we are losing our Italian companies. In some cases, maybe they wouldn’t even exist anymore,” said Della Valle.
Once again, prodded by the moderator, Della Valle defended his friend Luca di Montezemolo, who recently was ousted from his role as president of Ferrari. “It was an incredible mistake and shameful how they dismissed him. He expanded and developed Ferrari, saved it from the Fiat container. After all, who made the Duna?” he said, to a round of laughter, citing a Fiat car produced in the Nineties that was generally considered ugly. “It’s nothing personal — I just don’t think they are an example for us,” added Della Valle, whose friction with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ceo Sergio Marchionne and chairman John Elkann often makes headlines here.
Speaking of squabbles, Della Valle admitted that his investment in RCS MediaGroup, which publishes daily Corriere della Sera, was “all wrong. My idea, less that of my brother, was to bring our voice, but we met with a strong, self-referencing, mummified power. We don’t kiss anyone’s slippers,” he said, referring to his efforts to shake up the establishment and create a modern governing body. Elkann is also one of the main investors in RCS — a trigger for several Della Valle sound-offs.
Asked about former Luxottica ceo Andrea Guerra and his abrupt departure from the eyewear company, Della Valle said, “It will be a happy ending, even if there has been some bitterness. He is so talented, young, and he can give so much, I hope he can soon return to work. Luxottica will continue to perform well. As for [owner] Leonardo Del Vecchio, he has a visceral attachment to the company. I’m sorry about what happened: Theirs was a beautiful combination of a man that had delegated — something I will have to do at the opportune moment.”
Referring to the Tod’s group, which on Wednesday reported a drop in profits in the nine months, he said, “Nothing changes for the company. We are in it for the long term. The important thing is not to get stressed by the quarter or the Bourse; otherwise, you risk losing sight of your strategies.” He also added that, after about a decade since Tod’s went public, he was “still very happy” with that decision.
He also talked about a plan that will be underwritten in one month but already has been set in motion for two months: The company’s commitment to social responsibility, contributing 1 percent of its profits to a number of projects or monuments, such as the Coliseum, in Italy. “It’s one point of our EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization], which would make an analyst faint but doesn’t change anything for us.”
Also at the Pambianco meeting, Eraldo Poletto, ceo of Furla, highlighted how Italy’s production pipeline is the country’s “strength” and how it allows for more speed. “But there is no single model. We must adapt to the market,” he said, referring to Made in Italy manufacturing. “The cultural aspect, the sensitivity to beautiful product — that is effortless and is a patrimony to preserve,” he elaborated.