Starting from the story of his father Paolo, legendary man of the Resistance in Piedmont and founder of Unieuro, Oscar Farinetti tells his hopes for the future of the Italian economy, Retail and industries. Waiting for a new season led by creative and brave entrepreneurs
By Lara Colombi
There is no secret recipe to become a successful entrepreneur. Though there are people saying that the characteristics of those who succeeded in it are almost always the same. According to Oscar Farinetti, founder of Eataly, it is necessary to mix lightness, speed, determination, propensity to doubt and loyalty. All features that he can find in the indomitable partisan Paolo Farinetti, his father, the commander of the XXI Matteotti brigade, legendary man of the Resistance in Piedmont and then founder of Unieuro company. The story is described in the book “Mangia con il pane” (“Eat with bread”), signed by the patron of Eataly which in this interview, starting from the epopee of the commander Paolo, also tells about his Unieuro, the revival the Italian economic system would need, and the role of Retail in the coming years.
In your latest book, “Mangia con il pane” (“Eat with bread”), you tell the story of your father during the Resistance. What is the sense of telling that story nowadays?
It is a story of hope, very current. Today we all live hoping to see a new Spring. So, I wanted to remember the Spring of seventy years ago and I wanted to tell it with an ancient story intended, above all, for young people. “Mangia cun el pan”, that means “eat with bread”, then, is a mantra, a sentence that my grandmother, Teresa, always said to me and that is my philosophy of life. For me, in fact, it has a meaning that goes beyond the message of not to waste anything. It means above all: behave well, have a spirit of sacrifice, do not prevaricate, be balanced and moderate with others and work hard.
What values were born in the Italian people during that period?
War and Resistance certainly changed us, we experienced what it means to fight for freedom and justice and we did it even at a high price. Courage, solidarity and wish of justice have put the foundations for the Constitution and Democracy, daughters of the Resistance.
Do you think this affected the entrepreneurial career of your father, who founded Unieuro?
Surely, my father lived the Resistance on his skin. It is an experience that has deeply marked him and allowed him to be a “Captain” also in business. Resolute, brave and loyal.
Whence did this name come?
Unieuro is a tribute of my father to Altiero Spinelli. The signing of the Treaty of Rome, which in 1957 sanctioned the birth of the future EEC, made him a convinced Europeist. Also the Commander Paolo was an optimist like me, and he saw right…
What do you remember with pleasure of that experience?
Unieuro was my first important job experience, I have a beautiful memory of it. It was the creature of my father and soon became mine too. When I started to follow the area of home appliances I was a novice boy but I wanted to do and I rolled up my sleeves with enthusiasm and desire to get involved.
What do you regret of that market?
I am not one who has regrets. The household appliance market is very different from the world of Eataly and I’m very glad I was there during years different from the current ones. At the time of Unieuro I was fascinated by the idea to deal with products that might relieve the man’s labor and that were still missing in many houses. I liked to deal with technological news that could make us happier.
Subsequently, you decided to sell Unieuro. Why?
Because it was time to change job. Once exhausted my creativity I like to change and test myself in new challenges. Such as now, my sons follows Eataly and they are very good. And I have in my head so many other projects…
The property is back to Italy. What do you think about?
I can only be happy. When an Italian brand returns to be such it is a reason of pride for all of us. It means that something is moving to the right direction in our Country too.
How did you understand, ten years in advance, that the Retailing area in this sector would have started out to concentrate more and more?
I have the luck to have good insights and sometimes they arrive before the others, but in this case what allowed my idea to work has been my ability of observation and analysis. I studied the social context for a long time and I came to the conclusion that it was time to change.
Is it a change that could have been avoided?
I do not think so. This is the natural evolution of our consumption society.
What do consumer electronics shops lack nowadays?
Time. Today consumer electronics becomes obsolete with such a speed that does not allow the market to react in a natural way.
What can they learn from Eataly?
The product-telling. Telling what is that you are going to buy, how it was created and by whom, making customers more aware and more careful in buying Italian products.
World recognizes our Country leadership in Food sector, but has Italy something to say in other areas?
Sure! In the field of fashion and design, precision manufacturing and, of course, art and culture.
Until 30 years ago, our industrial sector was considered among the most efficient in Europe, for example in the field of home appliances. What did it go wrong?
We continued to develop design very much but in the home appliance products this is not enough. We must constantly think about the large economies of scale and labor costs, by updating all the time, and this has been lacking in Italy. Our superiority in taste and innovation has not been enough in that area.
What is it missing in the Italian industrial policies?
Strong incentives for those who increase exports. I think Italy has double potentialities than it does today. In addition, taxes are too high and drain great resources that could be devoted to the development and research.
How can we regain competitiveness?
By investing in our vocations that are agriculture, food, fashion, design, precision manufacturing, tourism and our artistic heritage. These are the areas on which to focus, creating strong incentives for those who can increase exports each year.
Are the Government’s choices helping?
The measures of the Jobs Act have gone to the right direction. Now it is necessary that the Government is concerned with the public administration. We need a more efficient State, able to generate less waste and less costs. In this way we will able to reduce taxes investing, instead, in the development.
Which are the winning cards that entrepreneurs from our Country can play to stand out in the global market?
Also entrepreneurs must be “biodiverse” and stand out for their Italian being, taking from Italy the most beautiful characteristics: innovation, taste and imagination.
You have been able to look far away. What do you think it will happen in the future to the Italian businesses and Retail?
I remain an optimist, so I think that things will improve in the medium term. Eataly has given a little example, bringing abroad the Italian culinary excellence. I think and I hope that many will follow this direction during the next years.