As Vittorio Missoni, second-generation CEO of iconic Italian fashion house Missoni, demonstrates in an exclusive interview, his company neatly encapsulates the complex, sometimes paradoxical issues that many families and the businesses they own or control are currently facing.
Prevalent in a niche industry, Missoni saw sales fall some 10-15% last year and competitors go to the wall as result of the financial crisis. Despite this extremely challenging environment, the company is resolute that it will not forget its core values. Specifically, Vittorio says the company will not compete on price in a bid to maintain its "family" and "Made in Italy" difference.
With many of their traditional customers reining in spending over the past couple of years, luxury businesses have been opening stores in places such as China and Brazil to take advantage of the general shift in consumer demand. Missoni has followed suit, opening a store in Sao Paulo and continuing with plans to open boutiques in the Middle East later this year.
However, Vittorio points out that the US and Europe have maintained their positions as the company's strongest markets and says experience of expansion on the US east coast and into Russia in the 1980s and 1990s – where they were left with huge distribution problems when the spending bubble burst – means the family business now treads more carefully when it comes to growth.
This highlights another asset of the family business model – keeping experience within the company. "We constantly retain the knowledge and tradition of our founders, who are members of our own family. We have day to day control and can take decisions easily," explains Vittorio.
And although the CEO claims they are not able to move as fast as larger luxury firms, the family has not rested on its laurels. It has diversified over the years into areas including home ware while its latest venture is into the hotel business, proving that family businesses are agents of change and innovation.
As for the family itself, Vittorio is currently trying to integrate the third generation into a business that already counts the husband and wife founders plus all three of their children on the board. The focus is now shifting to the third generation; in particular, 27-year-old Margherita Missoni is beginning her career in the family business following a brief acting career that included a parts as a psychiatric patient in I Am An Island and a maid who kills her mistress in the film based on a true story The Maids. Good luck Vittorio!
As the company looks forward to future, Vittorio is clear that the focus remains on the business: "The most important thing now is to take care of the products and the value of the brand," he says, which is perhaps the most important lesson for all family companies given the economic climate remains uncertain. Now is not the time to get waylaid by family issues.
In addition to the Missonis, we have exclusive interviews with three prominent Brazilian families who are attempting to keep their companies in family hands as large multinationals descend on the country chasing the growing spending power of Brazilian consumers; plus an indepth interview with Peter Thornton who explains how he was ousted by his own family and the pain this has caused him.
I encourage you to participate in our private banking survey once you have read our special report into the industry, which showcases the opinions of families as well as highlighting where private bankers think they have gone wrong.
And in addition to our usual offerings, we focus on running a successful family retreat and introduce the latest survey from Campden Research.
Enjoy the issue.