The richest man in Italy, Michele Ferrero, died last Valentines Day aged 89. His fortune started with the development of his father’s hazelnut and chocolate spread into Nutella, to which he added a number of other products, now sold worldwide. Under his stewardship, Ferrero grew to a turnover of €8 Billion and over 22,000 employees. Some aspects of his approach may, therefore, be interesting.
On inheriting the business, Michele’s first act was to write a letter to his staff in which he said: “I pledge myself to devote all my activities and all my efforts to this company; and I assure you that I shall only feel satisfied when I have managed, with concrete results, to guarantee you and your children a safe and tranquil future.”
In addition, he arranged for his local employees to be collected from their villages and returned to them at the end of their shifts. He provided free medical care and other welfare services, plus company outings at which they sang a song in local dialect including a line of thanks to “Monsu Michele”. It is of note that Ferrero’s workers have never gone on strike in a country where strike rates are four times that of the UK and USA.
More recently, the corporation has placed greater emphasis on social responsibility looking at sustainability, healthy consumption and social programmes supporting culture and valuing older members of communities.
Michele also stuck to what he knew best: the innovation of new products. It was Michele who personally led the development of Mon Cheri, a cherry and Kirsch sweet aimed at luxury starved post-war Germany, Kinder Surprise eggs, Tic Tacs, and the sweet without which no Ambassador’s party is complete – Ferrero Roche gold wrapped chocolates.
Famously private, he rarely gave interviews but did once claim to La Stampa that the secret of his success was to: “Always act differently to the others, have faith,” (he was a staunch Catholic) “stay strong, and put customers at the centre each day.” This latter point is still clearly reflected in the Corporate Mission Statement.
Whatever the merits of his philosophy, his approach was certainly successful. What is indisputable is that he had strong beliefs and some clear views about both his role and the type of organisation he wanted. The question this prompts is:
How much of this, if any, is relevant to you and your business?
 Tito Boeri & Jan van Ours: “The Economics of Imperfect Labor Markets:” (Second Edition)