Thursday, 22 October 2009

Entrepeneur dubbed King of Cashmere creates worker's paradise in Umbria and still makes a profit

Italian entrepreneur Brunello Cucinelli has been called the King of Cashmere, with the wallet of a capitalist but the heart of philosopher, the Don Quixote of Italy's luxury fashion world, an idealist madman.

SOLOMEO, ITALY (OCTOBER , 2009) REUTERS - Imagine going to work in a beautiful castle immersed in wonderful Umbrian countryside - well workers in an Italian cashmere factory do just that and say it is more like working in paradise than being on a factory floor.
Not only that but the double-digit turnover and profits the luxury cashmere clothing firm has produced in the past three years would make any company turn green with envy.

Certainly the boss of the company is anything but an orthodox businessman. Brunello Cucinelli has created his success along with a humane working atmosphere for his staff. He converted most of the stone 14th century town, Solomeo, in Umbria into the factory where no one punches a time clock, lunch breaks are generous and the only 'rules' pasted on the walls are quotes from philosophers and writers.

"A life without searching is not worth living' reads one saying by ancient Greek philosopher Socrates which hangs from the wall.

"The dream of my life has always been to make the work of men more human' Cucinelli told Reuters in his office above the factory floor.

'So when I had the idea and the chance to build a little factory of my own, I promised myself to make profits but to do it respecting moral principles and human dignity" he said.

A Brunello Cucinelli garment is not for every budget. Cashmere shirts and scarves can set you back more than $500 and jackets can easily top $2,000.

Bucking the economic downturn, he recently opened a new mono-brand store on Rome's ultra-chic Via Borgognona near the Spanish Steps to add to the 29 already in places like New York, Paris, Beverly Hills, London, Saint Tropez and the Hamptons.

His fashions are also sold in high-end department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nieman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman and there are plans for 10 more monobrand stores.

In 2008 the privately held firm, called Gruppo Cucinelli, had turnover of some 144 million euros and profits of some 8 million euros, both up some 20 percent over the year before.

And that was a down year -- in 2007 profits were up some 77 percent over 2006.

"...we Italians, if we want to make high quality craft products, we have an absolute need of creative craftsmen to work for us. And in order to convince a human being to do a humble job, you have to guarantee moral dignity for that job" Cucinelli said.

Cucinelli, 54, is part guru, part father, part brother, part uncle to his 500 employees. He enjoys the status of a benefactor who pumps money back into their town and cares about their personal problems.

"Life is easy for me since I work here and I live in the village. Compared to previous jobs I have had, I like it very much" said employee Daniela Allumi.

Certainly Cucinelli sees it important to plow some of his profits back into the community and has recently built a brand new theatre for the town.

"... we use 20 percent of our profits to build something of useful for mankind, a theatre for example, or a church, or a school. Something that is good for society. In the end, this is how my activity works" he explained.

While Cucinelli believes he has found the winning combination of profit with humanity he doesn't want to lecture other entrepreneurs about how to do their business. He is just happy that in his company the place runs on an honour system and everyone seems to want to make it succeed.