From rubber to hedge funds: the Manuli family story

Italy is known for its family dynasties; Prada, Fiat and Missoni are just three that initially come to mind. Aside from their obvious business acumen, something which many people associate with these families is glamour.

And despite having made their money in the less than glamorous rubber industry, the Manuli family have proved just as successful and glamorous as many of their more famous contemporaries.

The family story began in Milan in 1935 when Dardanio Manuli set up a private firm producing insulating tape for electricians. From here the business expanded rapidly into the production of a wide variety of rubber and industrial products. As the company grew, it expanded across Europe with manufacturing plants in Spain and Greece, as well as Southern Italy.

In 1975, when the Manuli group of companies employed 1,500 people and had become a European leader in its field, Dardanio passed the business over to his three sons Mario, Antonello and Sandro. The brothers successfully oversaw the continued expansion of the family network but decided to split their business interests in order to avoid any potential conflicts for the third generation. “I didn’t want my daughters to have any problems with their cousins,” says second-generation Antonello Manuli.

From 1971 to 1996, Antonello served as chairman and CEO of various companies in the Manuli group: Manuli Autoadesivi (adhesive tape), Manuli Film (polypropylene film), Technomask (masking tape) and Boston Tape (polyethylene protective tape). The latter being sold to a French company, Novacel, in 1995.

“Being family run has been a big help to the success of the business,” Antonello says. “The fact that my father managed to keep the whole group under family control gave us all an incentive to work harder,” he says.

After working in the family business for many years, Antonello, the second of the three brothers, decided he wanted to do something different. Dardanio’s entrepreneurial gene seems to have passed onto his son as Antonello had already started up several successful manufacturing businesses, but in 1996 he decided to venture into the financial markets.

Following the successful flotation of Manuli Rubber, when he reduced his shareholding to 20%, Antonello used the proceeds to start his family office, Antonello Manuli Finanziaria S.p.A., in 1996. The family office was the vehicle through which he would manage his assets as well as all of his family’s other administrative, legal and financial needs.

The investment office remains family run, as Antonello wanted the family to always manage their own assets and likes the flexibility being family run gives them. “The family members who work in the office have quite broad financial experience as well as experience from working in our other companies. Being family run guarantees we can have detailed and structured analysis alongside the speed and flexibility necessary for making important decisions,” he says.

AMFIN, which still holds significant interests in various manufacturing businesses, also has investments in a wide range of alternative assets including real estate, hedge funds, private equity and art.

During the mid-1990s Antonello began looking at hedge funds as an efficient tool to invest the liquidity arising from the listing of Manuli Rubber, with the goal to preserve capital and accrete it in the medium-long term, keeping volatility under control.

Antonello was keen to continue the family aspect of the business and so got his two daughters involved as soon as possible. He wanted to ensure they were able to manage the family money, and their early contribution was made possible thanks to the experience they had both gained, after graduating in business administration at Bocconi University in Milan.

“Transferring wealth to the next generation is important to me as my father had worked so hard to create his successful businesses, and if I did not pass that on to my daughters, all his work would be lost,” says Antonello.

Antonello’s daughters Elisabetta and Alessandra worked in hedge funds in London from very early in their careers, giving them the experience and expertise to help their father found Hedge Invest in 2001. Currently serving as vice chairman and chief executive officer, responsible for investments, respectively, the sisters also used their knowledge to pen a book: Hedge Funds – The Advantages of an Alternative Investment, in 1999.

Hedge Invest was one of the first authorised alternative investment firms in Italy and is currently one of the largest firms in the market with over $1 billion of assets under management. Its funds are consistently at the top of the rankings in terms of performances.

Manuli Rubber is now headed by Antonello’s nephew Dardanio Manuli but Antonello still sits on the board and retains his shareholding in the company. He also co-owns the Terme di Saturnia Spa and Golf Resort, with his brothers.

Despite starting in a less than glamorous industry, the Manuli family have diversified into other areas, and the Terme di Saturnia is one of the world’s most prestigious wellness resorts, as recognised by the 2011 Readers’ Spa Award by Condé Nast Traveller.

The three Manuli brothers, Mario, Antonello and Sandro, swap the presidency of the resort every three years, but also employ a non-family general manager who ensures the resort is run to the very highest standard. The brothers each hold 33% of the resort, which they hope will also be passed onto the next generation.