James (left) and Salvatore Ferragamo.
1. How have you been able to keep Salvatore Ferragamo a family business after all these years?
James: The company has always been private with very limited risk taking and has always maintained a healthy balance sheet. Today, six family members have a role on the board of directors. My father Ferruccio, my uncle Massimo, and my aunt Fulvia have an active role in the organization. From my generation, the third generation, only three have an active role: our cousin Diego di San Giuliano, who assists the family office; Angelica Visconti, who is currently based in Shanghai and is following the development of the China market; and myself. I am product director for women's leather goods. My responsibilities range from merchandising and marketing to creation and product development.
2. Why has the company remained private?
James: Being private has allowed the company to think more long-term rather than short-term. By doing so, we have been able to build on the achievements of our grandfather, Salvatore, by expanding our product offering and building international distribution. Today, we are present in over 60 countries, and we’re still expanding.
3. What are some markets that you aren’t currently involved in where you see the business expanding?
James: In March, we opened our first shop in India, and we believe the opportunity for growth in this market is equal to the opportunities we’re seeing in China, where we have 25 points-of-sales with high double-digit growth. Our future challenge will be maintaining our advantage in this emerging market as the competitive framework changes.
4. Asia presents both a challenge and opportunity for luxury goods companies like Ferragamo. The opportunity is the new market; the challenge is piracy and competition from low-cost labor. How is Ferragamo dealing with Asia?
James: Because our product offering relies on Italian craftsmanship, piracy has been limited. We strive to create products that are clearly made in Italy. Not only because this is our heritage, but also because the products are crafted with unique detail that are not easily copied.
5. How did the family become involved in Il Borro?
Salvatore: Our father purchased Il Borro from Duke Amadeo of Aosta, cousin to the heir of the Italian throne, in 1993. The Borro estate is not only a private family retreat, but also a fine resort where others can escape the pressures of urban life and enjoy a very special Tuscan living experience. We wanted to cultivate the estate’s natural assets and preserve its origins and beauty, which have lasted more than a millennium. There are no antennas, wires, or phone lines. Our goal was not to disturb the beautiful illusion of what it looked like a thousand years ago.
6. How is Il Borro’s wine an extension of the Salvatore Ferragamo luxury brand?
Salvatore: Il Borro is synergistic with the portfolio of our family’s luxury holdings, including the fashion and accessories business, four hotels in Florence, and Nautor Swan, a yacht-building company. Our name means something on the wine bottle, and we are as proud of that as we are of the other products we make. The wine business is a special developmental focal point for Il Borro. Production has grown from 6,800 bottles in 1999, to 80,000 in 2004. This year, we should reach 200,000 bottles.
7. How has being twins worked to your advantage and disadvantage?
James: There are many advantages in being twins. The biggest one is having a born friend to share all the experiences with during our time in New York.
Salvatore: I think the main advantage of being a twin is that I have someone who is very close to me. I understand him, and he understands me very well. The down side of being a twin is that you are often associated as one person with the common phrase, ‘the twins did…,’ and since we are identical, it is difficult to make an excuse.
8. How did studying at NYU Stern and working in New York help you as you entered the business world?
James: NYU helped me to balance my professional experience with my academic experience. Living and working in New York City provided the opportunity to understand the practical application of what I learned, as both a graduate and an undergraduate, whether it was about finance, fashion, marketing, or advertising.
Salvatore: Studying in New York gives you the unique opportunity to learn in the business capital of the world and to be in contact with people from different countries, cultures, and businesses. This is very important as I am promoting Il Borro estate worldwide, and it is crucial to understand, recognize, and respect different cultures when entering into any type of global business relationship.