Interview insights with Riccardo Illy, Chairman of Polo del Gusto and former Chairman of Gruppo Illy and author of “THE ART OF EXCELLENT PRODUCTS: Enchanting Customers with Premium Brand Experiences”.
Today, I am Chairman of Polo del Gusto, the Gruppo illy holding company for our non-coffee businesses, with controlling interests in a number of world-class producers of chocolate, tea, wine, and confections. As a family, we have a passion for quality and for growth pursued the right way: this has led to rewarding investments in everything from Domori’s legendary chocolates to Mastrojanni’s magnificent wines.
I first joined illycaffè in 1977 to help reorganize the company’s commercial structure. In the 1980s, as the rest of the coffee industry proliferated thoughtlessly into blend after blend, I focused illycaffè on producing its flagship blend alone. This emphasis on quality over quantity has more than stood the test of time. During my tenure at illycaffè, I enhanced its sales network both in Italy and abroad and brought illy coffee into groceries as well as offices through single-serving coffee pods. I also headed illycaffè’s marketing and communication efforts and redesigned the brand.
In 1992, I became illycaffè’s CEO. The following year, I was elected mayor of Trieste, a position I held until 2001, when I was elected a member of Italy’s Parliament. In 2003, I was elected President of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, a position I held until 2008. In 2004, I became President of the Assembly of European Regions, a forum of inter-regional cooperation. In addition to these roles, I have held several other prestigious positions with governmental and business organizations across Italy and the EU as a whole.
I lecture regularly at business schools around the world, from Stanford in the United States to HEC in Paris to MIB in Trieste. I am the Academic Director at Italia Innovation, an organization which fosters research, education, and new ventures in the manufacturing economy with a humanistic approach. Since 2018, I have taught a course there on disruptive quality with an acceptance rate under 12% populated by students from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, Yale, Princeton, Georgetown, and UPenn, as well as European universities such as the London School of Economics, Oxford, the Paris Institute of Political Studies, Bocconi University, and LUISS Guido Carli.
I live in Italy with my wife and daughter. In my spare time, I enjoy skiing and sailing and even give the occasional lesson.
Claudia Flisi – USITF Communications Team
is a bicultural freelance writer based in Washington D.C. Her stories have appeared in hundreds of publications including the International New York Times, Newsweek, Variety, and The Economist Intelligence Unit.