“If we want everything to remain as it is, everything must change”. It is not common to hear the famous aphorism from Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard quoted when talking about an innovative and winning strategy. All the more so, if the person doing so is young and with a Master’s degree in Business Innovation to his credit, and has the good fortune and responsibility of running a successful family business. But in this case, the company is not just any company and the quote is made by Alessandro Marinella, a fourth generation member of the historic brand E. Marinella, famous worldwide for its ties and one of the main ambassadors of Italian elegance abroad.
Born in 1995, included by the Italian edition of Forbes in the list of the 100 most influential Under-30s in Italy, Alessandro is now brand manager of the company, and knows well that even the most renowned brand must focus on innovation to adapt to the transformations in the market, in distribution channels and communication. He is also well aware that a brand like Marinella can do so only by confirming the excellence of its product, materials and craftsmanship, as well as of its relationship with customers. In one word, its centuries-old tradition.
One hundred years – 108, to be precise – of commitment and passion, qualities that are clearly felt in Alessandro’s words. Alessandro who is the youngest entrepreneur in the Marinella family, took part with his father Maurizio in a meeting with the students of SDA Bocconi’s MISA - Master in Entrepreneurship and Business Strategy. The responsibility for the future of such an iconic brand does not dampen the enthusiasm of the young entrepreneur, but instead fuels it. He spoke of a “miracle in Naples”: “Our company is inextricably linked to the city. Even today, when we have stores in Rome, Milan, London, Paris, New York and Tokyo, we have chosen to keep our ‘headquarters’ in the tiny old shop in the center of Naples, where we welcome and serve customers personally with the same care and warmth as ever, 12 hours a day.” A “made in Naples” venture where creativity and the human factor go hand in hand with dedication and entrepreneurial spirit.
“My great-grandfather Eugenio founded the company in 1914 with a view to bringing ‘a little corner of England to Naples’ and started by importing the iconic products of English elegance at the time,” Alessandro said. But it wasn’t long before Marinella began making its own garments – shirts and ties – in-house, and giving ‘English’ elegance its own imprinting. Since then, Marinella ties have been worn “around the necks of the most famous people in the world”, as Alessandro likes to say, “from the British royal family to many American presidents, from great industrialists to movie stars, not forgetting our Presidents of the Republic”. The company’s fame may be international but the manufacturing is completely Italian: “We import highest-quality hand-printed silk and still create our garments in our historic workshop in Naples”. The Marinella family hasn’t heard of the word “offshoring.”
The figure of brand manager might almost seem redundant in a company like this. Alessandro had to overcome this challenge: “At the beginning, our marketing was ‘unconscious marketing’; the Marinella brand spontaneously built its reputation over time. But, today, times have changed. Up until before Covid, we did not have an e-commerce site, out of choice. We have always sold in store or by phone at the most, favoring a direct relationship with customers. I worked hard to open up our digital channels, and the choice proved a win; it did not change our brand identity or the experiential dimension for our customer, which is one of our strengths.” And the figures confirm this: “At a time when casual style prevails and people use ties less (40% down worldwide), our sales have grown by 7 per cent. Quality and elegance make the difference when ties are no longer a ‘uniform’ but become an object of desire.”
Another emerging challenge that even a company with a strong tradition like Marinella needs to face is sustainability. “It’s a matter of responsibility for all companies, but it has also got to do with value: new generations of consumers are willing to pay even a 15% premium for a sustainable product,” Alessandro Marinella reminded us. And sustainability rhymes with innovation, again. “Our Orange Fiber product line originated from a partnership with a company in Catania that patented a groundbreaking system for obtaining high-quality textile fibers from orange processing waste.”
In the presence of two generations of entrepreneurs, it is inevitable to touch on the topic of the generational transition and the future of the company. The passion for excellence that has ensured success up until today is now flanked by strategy. “The important thing,” Alessandro said, “is having a common goal, then each one of us brings in their own attitudes, skills and style.” His father Maurizio then took the floor: “We have been able to pass the love for this business on from father to son, which is not something to be taken for granted. We have grown a lot, over a hundred years. Growing is important but growth can also kill you, if it is not healthy growth, if you lose your roots. Even now that we are well known all over the world, I still spend my whole day at the store, meeting customers, talking to them on the phone. I grew up behind that counter, I studied and graduated there, but above all I understood the value of what we do and how we do it. Alessandro, like myself, has breathed this since childhood and has absorbed the same dedication. He understood what needed to be kept and what needed to be changed to continue the history of our brand. Today, I consider myself as the ‘belly’ of the company, while he is the ‘head’, and in this job both are crucial.” And to those who asked how he reacted to the various proposals to acquire the business, he replied, “This job still gives us great pleasure, how could you possibly sell a pleasure?”
SDA Bocconi School of Management