Zegna: “Family businesses need to breathe the air of where they come from”

Gildo Zegna - likes his one liners  © 2015 Alan Pitchforth / Peregrine Communications

Gildo Zegna - likes his one liners  © 2015 Alan Pitchforth / Peregrine Communications

Gildo Zegna is good at coming up with one liners that resonate with family businesses. Years ago he said: “A great family makes a great company; a great company makes a great family.”

Speaking in London this week at the Alan Howard Foundation/JW3 Speaker Series, set up by a British hedge fund manager, the CEO of the Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna came up with another great one liner when he said: “You need to breathe the air of where you’ve come from”. This is the idea that family businesses should on a regular basis go back to their roots, from whence they came from. In the case of Ermenegildo Zegna it is the Piedmont town of Trivero, where the business was founded in 1910. Still owned by the Zegna family, the business is now a €1 billion-plus empire with more than 500 stores around the world.

These days Zegna may be based in Milan, but it still has a big presence in Trivero, which includes its beautiful Casa Zegna, where the company’s archive and museum reside. Gildo, who represents the fourth generation, reckons that it’s not just important for the family to return to its roots, but the company’s staff need to know about these roots as well. “The workers have to breathe the air as well,” he added. What he meant by this was that by sending staff to Trivero it gives them an idea of what are the values of the company, which helps to build loyalty and trust.

Another good one Guild has coined is: “From the sheep to the store”, which is about Zegna owning every stage of the production process - from the sheep’s wool to the store where the outfit made from wool is sold.

Pithy one liners in any world can often carry much more weight than long, ponderous treatises, particularly if they’re uttered by business afinados like Gildo Zegna.