The Morandi Bridge With deep sadness I would like

« The Morandi Bridge? With deep sadness I would like to apologize again. After the tragedy, we returned to the values ​​of the founding fathers »

Alessandro Benetton throws it in – one sentence among many – in a very long conversation. He says: “Each of us is what we do when things happen to us that we do not expect.” Alessandro Benetton has a talent for perfect sentences, because at least two far-reaching unexpected things have happened to him in recent years. The first: he became president of the Safe family, which had felt “in the opposition” for years. And Edizione is not just a small thing with a net asset value of 13 billion euros, with interests in transport and digital infrastructure, in travel retail and in the food and beverage sector, in the real estate sector, in the agricultural sector, in Mediobanca, in Generali and, of course, in things clothing, but it was also in the midst of the reputational crisis following the Morandi Bridge tragedy.

The second unexpected thing is the three teenage children who decide to live with him after his marriage ends. Yesterday Alessandro turned 60. If you ask him about the outcome of such an important birthday, he answers: “More than a goal, I like to think of it as a stage.” I have always been too future-oriented to look too much into the past.

– Alessandro Benetton with his children (from left) Agnese, 24 years old, Tobias, 21 years old, and Luce, 18, to whom he dedicated the book “The trajectory” (in Mondadori bookstores)

At 28, after a degree in Boston, a master's degree at Harvard and an experience at Goldman Sachs, Alessandro was the first to bring private equity to Italy, founding 21 Invest, which to date has 22 companies in its portfolio and a total turnover has of almost two billion euros (“a company,” he summarizes, “that gave me credibility and also gave me the freedom to have different opinions in the family business”). He had mostly stayed away from Benetton, founded by his father Luciano, except for a few forays that ended prematurely (he: “Let's just say, when I felt there were too many hands on the wheel, I went back to it). .” my job”. “). When he was 24 years old, he ran the Benetton Formula, won two drivers' championships and a constructors' championship with Michael Schumacher and opened new paths for the family (“It was the entry of a company that made knitwear into a technology sector.” and to that helped give us credibility to then do many more diversifications.”)

– With Michael Schumacher when he was president of Benetton Formula, the F1 team

He has reached almost 60 years of age at the helm of the family business. Better late than never?
“Someone said it takes thirty years to become an overnight success. I'm kidding… becoming president of Edizione was a goal I didn't set for myself. Along with the pride of being part of an important family, I always felt the need to pursue an independent path. And I have always kept relationships with my family members separate, always distinguished, from my perspective on corporate activities, which are often contradictory. Then, at a critical moment, the things I had said and thought were also believed to be right by the other shareholders and I found myself in a place I never wanted to be.”

In her autobiography La Traiettoria, published by Mondadori in 2022, she tells of how she was vice president of the Benetton group and her father visited her, listened to her plans, but in the end everything in the company remained the same.
“My father was a great inventor. But the company then becomes very good at reproducing itself. And success can become the enemy of success: a company is like the human body: if it stops producing new cells, it dies.”

What do you remember about the day the Morandi Bridge collapsed?
“I have always been outside the family business, apart from my time at Benetton clothing. I went surfing with my son in California. I get out of the water, open social media and, not knowing what happened, find messages like: “I hope the sharks eat your son.”

His first reaction?
“In addition to the immense human pain at the loss of so many lives and the fact that so many families have been left homeless, we recommend that you apologize immediately.”

However, neither the company nor the family apologized.
“In these cases, poor advice from lawyers and communications agencies predominates. Personally, I apologized and renew it. I can't say anything about Atlantia, which controlled Autostrade, because Edizione only held 30 percent and only one Benetton was on the board. At Edizione, Uncle Gilberto had been delegating everything to the managers for some time in good faith, perhaps also to avoid conflicts when the generation changed. But usually such delegation occurs after an appropriate corporate culture has been built, otherwise there is a risk that management will feel entitled to make decisions as if they were ownership.”

Is it the Morandi tragedy that makes you take the reins?
“Ultimately yes, or maybe it was an accelerating factor. As an outside observer, I witnessed this tragedy that can never be erased or forgotten. I have often pointed out that delegating so much is too quick a route. The tragedy made clear what I was thinking. That same year, two of my uncles, Carlo and Gilberto, died. At this point I realized that the other cousins ​​felt the same way. And together we decided to return to the values ​​of the founding fathers.”

How much thought did you think before taking the lead?
“I think everyone has to take their own responsibility. But discussions and joint decisions between the members were always added value for me.”

In a conversation that did not help his family's reputation, we read that CEO Giovanni Castellucci said: “The Benettons just wanted dividends, dividends, dividends.” What did you think when you read it?
“I can't talk about ongoing proceedings, but above all I can't talk because I wasn't there. But I can say that my thoughts emerged clearly from my notes of those days. And I can say that we were raised in the family with opposite values: my father was the first Italian entrepreneur to install air conditioning in the factory for the workers; We have always supported art, sports, young people and our territory. At Harvard I learned Michael Porter's lessons on the theory of shared value: To me, a company works when it does things for the community in addition to making a profit.”

How do you imagine the future of Edizione?
“In these three years, Edizione has grown, albeit in contradiction to the past. In December, it won the Global Advocate of the Year award in New York, which rewards our commitment to sustainability: we will eliminate our emissions by 2040, ten years ahead of the deadline set by Europe. Meanwhile, Aeroporti di Roma has become a flagship thanks to the investments made, including by creating a hub for the most innovative airport service startups. The former Atlantia, now Mundys, a company with an Italian heart and head, no longer manages our country's highways, but is a world leader in infrastructure thanks to the relationship with Florentino Peres, our partner in Abertis.

– Alessandro Benetton with Sharon Stone at the UN Correspondents Association's Global Advocate of the Year 2023

At that awards ceremony in New York was Sharon Stone, who just said she was looking for love. Do you know that?
“She is an extraordinary woman… But it was my children that I searched for with my eyes before I spoke from the podium.”

What was it like taking care of her when you broke up?
“We were all together during Covid and after. I had to deal with teenage love, doctors, school entrance tests or their first work experiences. Each of us is what we do when things happen to us that we did not expect, and that made me understand and respect women who work and raise children even more. I know I have improved, I have become more patient. The boys are now in the USA, although I always take turns having them at home and talking to them on the phone for half an hour every day. I see her happy and calm. They are looking for me, they want to be with me. If there is a measure of the relationship between father and children, I really like it.”

What relationship do you have with your father?
“We are two strong personalities, so it took time to build our relationship, which is characterized by respect and great affection, and today it is nice to see that he is happy with the way things are.” Nowadays the relationship between Parents and children much more horizontally than vertically. In the past, authority also came from parents. In my book, I recounted a slap in the face I received from my mother for asking my classmates for a snack at school, which made the family look bad.

And how was he raised to recognize his privileges?
“In the summer my father sent me to work. The first time it was me and my brother, he was 13, I was 12, I think. We cleaned company boilers and caddied on golf courses. At the end of the summer we had earned 15,000 lire each and Dad said: Let's celebrate, let's buy trekking shoes. Then he says at the checkout: You have the money, you pay. We spent every penny.

Have you been able to do something similar with your children?
“The intentions have remained the same, the methods are different. I educate more through examples and dialogue.”

What are children doing today?
“Agnese works in the art world in New York and has worked in fashion, but I think she will also have other experiences. Tobias is studying business mathematics and Arabic. Luce studies classical philology and has worked voluntarily in India.

Are you a loving father?
“There is no shortage of kisses and hugs in our house. And when we watch a romantic film, Tobias and I, the two men in the house, are the most moved.”

Is there a moment in your story when you and your father look into each other's eyes and say something to each other that marks an important period in your relationship?
“That doesn't occur to me because that way is not his way of being. “The emotional clearinghouse is mother, more enveloping.”

As a boy, he was considered a heartthrob. His ex-partners included Carolyn Besset before she married John Kennedy Jr. What do you remember about her 25 years after her death?
“I liked how original and decisive I was with Carolyn. He wasn't the type of person you could tell how to live. Youthful love has the ability to remain indelible, perhaps because you never experienced it, but the timing wasn’t right for both of us.”

And love today? Have you put it on standby?
“I have many reasons to be optimistic.”