Milano, 30 April 2019
Saying that Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of the Prada Group, is an entrepreneur who has made the history of fashion over the last 50 years is sheer truth, but it isn’t probably the way he would like to be introduced. When you hear him talk, you get the clear impression that his focus is on the future and not on the past. Born in 1946, his success spans entrepreneurship (5 brands, 22 factories and 630 shops in 70 countries, over 13,000 employees), culture (the Prada Foundation and much more) and sport (the epic of Luna rossa). Such a curriculum would entitle anyone to rest on their laurels. But it does not look like Bertelli is going to stop looking ahead, he is always thinking about the next step.
His entrepreneurial “instinct” immediately seeps from him and gets through to the SDA Bocconi Full-Time MBA students, the future generation of entrepreneurs and managers. Bertelli’s explicit advice to them during one of the Leadership Series meetings has been: “follow your instinct. In your daily life just like in your business. Too many young people avoid launching a new business because they are afraid of failure, afraid of losing face and losing money. This is a typical limitation of the Italian business culture, very risk-adverse. If you want to be independent and successful you have to take some risks”.
His entrepreneurial venture together with Miuccia Prada, who is his partner in life, business and creativity, is marked by a savvy mix of clairvoyance and business flair. From its beginnings as a boutique leather manufacturer in the ’70s to today’s global, multi-brand e multi-channel stance, Prada has built on the ability to reinvent itself without losing its peculiar, unique brand identity. When asked how to build a successful luxury brand, Bertelli answers: “Products must have a strong identity. I don’t really like the word ‘luxury’ when referring to a product, I would rather use ‘quality’ or ‘exclusivity’. Luxury is a multi-faceted concept: to someone luxury can also mean spending a whole day reading a book”.
A vision Prada’s CEO goes back to when talking about leadership: “Dictionaries define the term ‘leadership’ as guide, authority, and control. Sometimes I wonder which of these words is closer to what I do and what I am. Being a guide is pretty natural to me, control is something I have learned. Authority is a rather tricky concept, you should always distinguish between authority and authoritativeness. Most of all, in my wife Miuccia’s and my own opinion, leadership is about managing and developing the culture and values of our group”. And in their case, whether they like it or not, the leadership of their brand and of their doing-business style has been proclaimed by history.
SDA Bocconi School of Management