Fabrizio Freda, chief executive officer of The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. since 2009, was honored Thursday in Rome with the “Cavalieri del Lavoro,” or “Knights of Labor.” He was invested earlier this year among 24 other nominees from a shortlist of 40 candidates.
Established in 1901 by King Vittorio Emanuele III, the Cavalieri del Lavoro are part of the “Ordine al Merito del Lavoro,” or “Order of Merit for Labour,” in recognition of Italian entrepreneurs, living at home or overseas, who have distinguished themselves in different sectors of the economy and contribute to social development, employment, technology and the growth of “Made in Italy.”
The honor is now awarded by the president of the Italian Republic, currently Sergio Mattarella, who can appoint up to 25 new Knights of Labour annually on June 2, on the anniversary of the founding of the republic. Including the new appointments, the order now counts 2,797 members.
The ceremony took place at Palazzo del Quirinale, one of the three current official residencies of the head of the state, where Mattarella handed out an insignia, pin and award to Freda and the other nominees.
“Italy is a republic founded on work as the constitution says, so as an Italian being honored for the work you have done all your life, is a beautiful emotion with a lot of meaning, both personally and obviously a representation of what my professional life is,” said Freda the day after the ceremony took place.
During the festivities, which included a ceremony in the morning and an assembly in the afternoon, Freda’s family was by his side. “It was well constructed, because there were the more formal parts in the morning and afternoon, and in the evening there was the family and friends part,” he noted, referring to the gala dinner in honor of the new Cavalieri.
Freda, who is one of few to receive the award as an Italian citizen living outside of Italy, believes that his country, which is slowly recovering and starting to show signs of improvement after the economic crisis, should continue to focus on growth. “Many good things come out of growth, so I think we have the right focus again on the long-term growth,” he said adding that this is also the key essence of the award of the Cavalieri del Lavoro.
“This award is about focusing your work life on creating sustainable value for the professional, serve for your country and I think that’s what Italy in general should continue to focus on, “he said.
According to Freda, who has no plans to retire soon, the award is motivation to fulfill everything it stands for. “My mission is to create value for first of all the shareholders I serve around the world,” he said, noting that the capitalization of Estée Lauder increased notably in the last few years.
“We have gone from $7 billion to $11 billion in a few years, which means there are many more customers around the world, who are enjoying our products,” he said.
Apart from serving shareholders and customers, Freda emphasized the importance and safety of the company’s 44,000 employees, the number of which has increased by 25 percent under his leadership and 75 percent of whom are female. He noted that 50 percent of the senior level staff as well as 50 percent of the board of directors are female. “We are very proud, particularly to be an organization of women,“ he said.
With three quarters of the staff being female, Estée Lauder’s philanthropic efforts in breast cancer research hardly comes as a surprise, but doesn’t just stop there. The company is committed to ensuring the future for the generations, a value its shares with the Cavalieri del Lavoro.
“The key idea of the Cavalieri del Lavoro honor is producing value today and at the same time educating the future generation that will create value in the future,” he said, adding that Estée Lauder is committing to education with training programs, which build up very young employees as good leaders in a short time frame.
Speaking of values, Freda, who grew up in Naples and loves to return to the picturesque Amalfi coast for vacations, didn’t miss the chance to stress Italy’s big potential. “The biggest value of Italy in general is the value that can be created by culture,” he noted, adding that the country’s inspiring quality of life should be its focus.
“It’s potential is the valorization of a huge asset, which is Italian historic culture, that still has a lot to give and a lot to teach to the world,” he concluded.