25th anniversary of Pietro Barilla's passing: the company celebrates him as the man and entrepreneur who shaped Barilla's history
16 September 2018
An enlightened entrepreneur, pioneer and father with a wonderful appreciation for the world of art. Just a few words encapsulate the outstanding personality of Pietro Barilla, the 25th anniversary of whose death fell on September16. At the Parma headquarters, with an event attended by about 1,200 employees and former employees of the factory, a commemoration organized by the Barilla family was held to recall Pietro's intellectual legacy, with the participation of his children, friends, guests and artists.
WHO WAS PIETRO BARILLA?
First and foremost, a man capable of major feats, such as the buyback of the family business in 1979 after its 1971 sale to the American company WR Grace during the economic crisis which hit Italy. A charismatic leader, capable of charting a course to be followed by future generations: “Everything is done for the future. Forge ahead with courage”, he loved to urge his people. With an extraordinary focus on product quality. All to ensure the wellbeing of consumers, whom he preferred to call people: “Give people food you would give to your own children” is the founding principle that still inspires the Barilla mission today. Compared to 1993, today's Barilla has grown in many respects: more sustainable, more technological, more international, and even more socially responsible and inclusive (www.barillagorup.com ). And yet, at its core, it is still the business bequeathed to us by Pietro Barilla: the man who placed his love of the people and land of Parma, innovation, vision and quality at the basis of his business concept. So let us look back over the life and career of one of the 20th century’s greatest entrepreneurs.
THE ENLIGHTENED ENTREPRENEUR
A captain of industry, Pietro Barilla was a genuine example of business humanism: a very different figure from many of today's entrepreneurs. A true Italian and with the character traits of his native Emilia region, he was strong-willed and pragmatic, and dearly loved especially by his workers, who knew him as simply “Signor Pietro”. It was he who decided, in 1969, to build the Pedrignano (Parma) pasta factory – which was to become the world's largest pasta production plant - creating jobs for thousands of local people and helping to place Parma more and more firmly in the center of the company's plans. At the same time, he exported the company to economically difficult parts of Italy, investing in the potential of the South of the country: for example, the bakery products plant was constructed at Melfi (Potenza) in the Basilicata region in 1987.
THE MAN WHO LOVED CHALLENGES (EVEN THE TOUGHEST)
1971 was a pivotal year in Barilla's history. Pietro and his brother Giovanni, who headed the company together, did not share the same strategic view. These were difficult years, due to a historic context dominated by terrorism, recession and the oil crisis, which fueled strong growth in durum wheat prices and a drastic fall in margins for pasta makers. Pietro did not have the resources to buy out Gianni's 50% stake and the decision was inevitable: Barilla was sold to American colossus W.R. Grace. He felt as if he had abandoned the ship that had been entrusted to him. So, from the day after the sale and throughout the eight following years, Pietro Barilla's one thought was how to regain control of the business, and he did everything possible to achieve this aim. He made his first attempt in 1978, but was unable to put the necessary resources together and he left Grace's American offices crying bitter tears of disappointment. He tried again the next year. An operation which the Deus Ex Machina of Italian finance, Enrico Cuccia, advised strongly against: “Mr Barilla, I've looked at the accounts and the figures, it's not worth it," was his verdict when Pietro turned to him, hoping for assistance from his Mediobanca. Fortunately, no forecast was ever more wrong. In 1979, Pietro Barilla's buyback went through successfully and Barilla was Italian once more, an amazing business story that reverses a trend very widespread today, in which family-owned Italian business are being snapped up by foreign Groups.
Pietro Barilla was a genuine industrial pioneer. A personality ahead of his time: his trip to the United States in 1950 proved to be a watershed in the story not only of Barilla but also of the entire Italian food industry. He made a first-hand study of advertising, marketing techniques, the importance of product packaging and the retail chain system. The first outcome of this encounter with the new face of retail was the adoption of cardboard packaging for pasta. This was such a success that in 1952 the company abandoned bread production to concentrate all its resources on pasta, which it was soon distributing nationwide.
Pietro Barilla was also a trail-blazer in advertising, thanks above all to his partnership with graphic designer Erberto Carboni, who was to create the company's logo - the brand framed within the oval – which, although revised several times, has survived down to the present. What's more, to increase brand notoriety, Pietro Barilla decided to concentrate on advertising, then just starting to appear on TV. In 1952 the company coined the slogan “with Barilla it's Sunday every day”, which won it the Palme d'Or for advertising the next year, and some of Italy's most famous actors of the time were recruited as spokespersons: Giorgio Albertazzi, future Nobel Prize for Literature Dario Fo, and singers Mina and Massimo Ranieri. The advertising featuring Mina put pasta firmly back in the center of Italian cuisine and helped it to become the fulcrum of the Mediterranean Diet, while Barilla became the best-known, most popular Italian firm.
Last but not least, a special focus on product quality, from the quality of the raw materials used through to production process technologies, to guarantee People constant, excellent product quality at all times.
THE PASSIONATE INTELLECTUAL
His inspiration came from the leading artists and intellectuals of the time. For example, the famous advertising claim "With Barilla pasta it's Sunday every day" originated over a table at the Bar Orologio in Parma, when Pietro was chatting with two of his friends: historic graphic designer Erberto Carboni and film critic Pietro Bianchi. Another TV commercial which had a very high impact and a revolutionary effect, and which is still referred to today as one of the finest of all Barilla commercials, was the “Rigatoni” video conceived and made thanks to the genius of film director Federico Fellini, a long-standing acquaintance of Pietro Barilla. His friends also included poet Attilio Bertolucci - with whom he founded the literary review Palatina in 1957 - screen writer Cesare Zavattini and journalist Orio Vergani. In 1987, the city of Parma awarded him the gold medal of the Premio Sant'Ilario, an honor conferred to those whose activities have helped improve the lives of individuals and the community or increase the city's prestige by distinguishing themselves in the arts, science, sport, industry or charitable work. “Art is beauty which must be shared,” Pietro Barilla loved to say, and this passion was the foundation for friendships with important journalists and intellectuals, including journalists Enzo Biagi and Indro Montanelli; music director Riccardo Muti and film director Valerio Zurlini. Not to mention outstanding entrepreneurs such as Enzo Ferrari, founder of the namesake car company.
THE PATRON OF THE ARTS
As well as a great entrepreneur, Pietro Barilla was also an art connoisseur and cultural patron. He loved Parma and funded and promoted projects for the public good which are now a historic and cultural heritage for all the city's people, and the community always supported him and rewarded him with its affection. The Parma Children's Hospital, for example, now bears his name. "Unconventional" collector: in his vision, art was interlinked with business and there was no disconnect between it and his work as an entrepreneur; it was part of the concept of the ideal company which he pursued. A large proportion of his collection is conserved at the Pedrignano plant in the outskirts of Parma. Quite fittingly, as on many occasions art has marked memorable events for the company: Pietro Cascella's piazza-sculpture, Campi di grano [Wheatfields] was commissioned immediately after the family regained control of the Barilla business in 1979. Similarly, Mario Ceroli's bronze horse is a homage to the first generation of the Barilla business, when horses used to pull the sacks of flour. But the list of friendships with artists is long, from Renato Guttuso to Carlo Mattioli and from Giorgio Morandi to Giacomo Manzù and Marino Marini.
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