Final Ciao Chazen Post: Pasta and People Withdrawals

Reflecting back on our #CiaoChazen trip throughout Italy, there are so many experiences and memories that will last a lifetime, but it was definitely the people on the trip that made the biggest impression. As someone who has gone on three Chazen trips, my favorite thing about these trips in general is the ability to meet and make memories with such a diverse group of CBS classmates that I otherwise may not have crossed paths with. This Chazen was no different as more than half were first years who I likely would not have had the opportunity to get to know before graduating without this trip. Additionally, our incredible three Italian leads organized such an amazing itinerary, allowing us to see all sides of Italy through their eyes. They were so good, I decided I must only go on trips organized by Italians from now on as they thought through every minute detail and really enjoy indulging in the nicest of food and wine!

This trip was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see the inner workings of the many and diverse companies I wrote about in earlier blogs from Ferrari to YOOX Net-A-Porter to Villa Antinori. Each of these companies really showed us Italian hospitality as they were so welcoming and excited for our visits, with some of them like Brunello Cucinelli literally welcoming us into their hometown! These visits made it so clear that personal relationships are very important in business in Italy and are the way lots of things get done. This also makes sense given the importance many of the companies put on their family ownership or heritage like we saw at brands like Ermemegildo Zegna and also Antinori, which is one of the top 10 longest running family companies started in 1385.

Speaking of heritage, it is something that was emphasized over and over again in our visits regardless the type of company. It was very clear that there is Italian pride in everything they do. However, interestingly we still saw a willingness to evolve and push boundaries. Gucci’s recent transformation is a great example of this idea of reinvention rooted in their heritage. I think that this authentic sense of heritage but willingness to evolve will be what pushes these legacy brands into the future…

We will see were the future takes these companies…but I know that the future will definitely take me back to Italy for more exploration and gelato after such an amazing trip!

Ciao Chazen to our final visits!

Impressive is the only way to explain the final visits of our Ciao Chazen trip at Villa Antinori, Gucci, and Brunello Cucinelli. These three brands all exemplify the true craftsmanship and attention to detailed design that we associate with luxury, however, they all do so in a way that is true to their own heritage.

Antinori is one the top 10 oldest family run companies in the world as it started wine production in 1385. Aside from making some of the best wine we tasted all trip, Villa Antinori is a luxury masterpiece with the vineyards, winery and facilities all designed by 50 top architects. Even though the current Antinori CEO said that the capex investment of this facility may not be justifiable, it is clear that it will solidify the legacy of the family brand into generations and likely centuries to come.

At Gucci we learned about their remarkable turnaround since 2015 that saw 21% growth in the 4th quarter of 2016 when you have the right combination of business and creative leadership. We heard from the CFO who talked about the current Gucci turnaround starting in 2015 when the new CEO Marco Bizzarri took a risk promoting a current Gucci handbag designer Alessandro Michele to the coveted role of Creative Director ahead of many high profile designers to transition the brand back to its bold fashion-led heritage. Additionally, we were able to see the entire production process from a foot 3D printing mold to the finishing laces of a custom Gucci shoe. The complexities of the technology and craftsmanship were truly inspiring and explain why these shoes continue to fetch the prices they do.

The Brunello Cucinelli visit took place in the beautiful medieval town of Solomeo. Brunello Cucinelli started his company in this region of Umbria and has continued to return company profits into the development and restoration of this town. As a man of humble beginnings, he has built his company around a mission of “humanistic” capitalism where profits can be sought without damaging mankind. They have really put their money where their mouth is as they pay their employees 20% more than the industry average, have strict working hours to ensure work-life balance, and reinvest a significant portion of the profits back into the town with theaters and one of the best restaurants we ate at all week as a “company cafeteria”!

Though all three are all luxury retail companies, the unique heritage and story of each of these companies has led to truly distinct cultures and business models — and I can’t wait to watch as their future unfolds!

The Diversity of Italian Luxury

Retail isn’t only defined by big brand name luxury fashion shows – but much broader and made of many types of people and industries. And this trip shows just that – the diverse types of luxury retail from an Italian perspective and heritage.

During our first three days, we have seen the retail industry from four different angles. At the first company, Ermenegildo Zegna, we heard from a member of the Zegna family and the head of Customer Relations Management. At Zegna we learned how a traditional craftsmanship brand with deep heritage is shifting from a product focus to become truly customer centric and maintain competitive in the new world of retail. Then we met with the co-founder and CEO of The Blonde Salad, a lifestyle brand that started as a fashion blog with Chiara Ferragni in 2009. Since then they have lived by their moto “differentiate or die” to successfully navigate new waves in technology and social media while expanding into the largest fashion blog, a unique accessories brand, and multi-talent management company. The following day, we visited the hometown of Ferrari in Maranello, Italy which aside from being heaven on earth for the car lovers in our group showed a different type of ultra-exclusivity in product and distribution. Finally, at YOOX NET-A-PORTER, we saw the less glamorous side of retail by visiting their logistics center and “technology temple” in Bologna, Italy. Though supply chain and technology development are not what people typically associate with retail, the two when done well can be a huge differentiator for a retailer.

Up next, we have three more visits to see more of traditional retail luxury at Gucci and Brunello Cuchinelli, as well as the other major Italian export of wine at Villa Antinori!

#CiaoChazen for now!

Ciao Chazen!

It is near impossible to fully explain the difficulty and stress accompanied with packing for this retail Chazen trip to the center of all things fashion in Italy. As a veteran consultant, I have always prided myself on my efficient and minimalist packing. However, the current size and weight of my suitcase as I arrive in Milan says otherwise.

By my own doing, I will be lugging that overweight suitcase over the next seven days as our trip takes us to Milan, Maranello, Bologna, Florence, Solomeo, and Rome. In each of these cities and the Italian countryside in between, we will be visiting seven companies that have defined and inspired all types of luxury around the world.

From a potential test-drive at Ferrari’s factories to meeting one of the most famous fashion bloggers in the world Chiara Ferragani who’s blog The Blonde Salad just became an official Harvard Business Case Study that future business school students will study for decades. For Italian fashion, we will visit Ermenegildo Zegna, Gucci, Brunello Cucinelli (at their headquarters in their own 14th century castle no less) and massive luxury e-Commerce conglomerate YOOX NET-A-PORTER led by CBS alum Federico Marchetti.

No trip to Italy (or business school trip in general) would be complete without indulging in the local food and wine as well. In Tuscany, we will also be visiting Marchesi Antinori, an Italian wine company with a history dating back to 1385.

Led by our three fantastic Italian classmates Massimo Allevi, Marco Pucciano, and Riccardo Ruini along with our luxury expert Professor Maisonrouge, our group is sure to have a once in a lifetime trip across Italy full of learning opportunities while also taking time to appreciate the finer things of life – in Italian style of course.

I humbly look forward to keeping you updated throughout our adventures – Ciao for now!

Stephanie Davis ‘17

#CiaoChazen #CBSChazen