Secretive Nutella billionaire’s risky move

 

A series of tragedies landed Giovanni Ferrero at the helm of Ferrero Group, the multibillion-dollar chocolate empire owned by his family for generations.

But since taking over the top job in 2011, Mr Ferrero has adopted a radical and surprising new strategy.

And if he gets it wrong, he could end up blowing "billions of dollars trying to reinvent the wheel".

FERRERO'S RISE

Ferrero was founded by Mr Ferrero's grandfather and great uncle Pietro and Giovanni Ferrero in Alba in Italy in 1946.

At the time, Italy's economy was tanking as a result of World War 2, and Mr Ferrero was looking for a cheaper alternative to chocolate when he developed a mix of hazelnut oil, coconut butter, molasses and a bit of cocoa dubbed "Giandujot" and later "Supercrema".

It was an instant hit, but just three years later Mr Ferrero died of a heart attack at just 51.

In 1957 the elder Giovanni Ferrero was also killed by a heart attack at 52, leaving Pietro Ferrero's young son Michele to run the company.

 

He ended up improving the recipe, expanding into global markets and rebranding as the Nutella we know and love today before handing the company over to his sons Giovanni and Pietro Ferrero in 1997.

But tragedy struck once again in 2011 when Pietro died of a heart attack during a cycling trip at 48, followed by Michele Pietro's death in 2015 at the age of 89.

That left the younger Giovanni Ferrero in charge of the world's third-largest chocolate and confectionary company at the age of just 51.

BOLD NEW PLAN

Today, Ferrero Group is thriving, selling a total of $US12.5 billion worth of treats last year alone, according to Forbes.

Apart from its universally beloved Nutella hazelnut chocolate spread, the company is also behind the world-famous Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Kinder eggs.

But since taking over, Giovanni Ferrero has been steering the family business in a bold new direction by acquiring a slew of outside brands including UK chocolate firm Thorntons, Nestle's US sweets arm and Kellogg's biscuit businesses.

The family is behind the iconic Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Picture: iStock
The family is behind the iconic Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Picture: iStock

Now the company produces its own well-known products as well as other big names like Tic Tacs and American chocolate bars Butterfinger and BabyRuth.

In an in-depth 2018 Forbes article, Noah Kirsh explained the idea behind those acquisitions was to help Ferrero compete against huge international rivals like Mars and Mondelez - but stressed it was a huge gamble.

"Ferrero is highly profitable - Forbes estimates the company nets about 10 per cent of sales -and is sitting on a pile of billions in cash. But it's still a risky endeavour," Mr Kirsh writes.

"Giovanni, who runs the company from Luxembourg, is fixated on scale as an end unto itself, defying the views of his late father and industry experts.

And world-famous Nutella spread. Picture: iStock
And world-famous Nutella spread. Picture: iStock

"Yet if he's wrong, Ferrero's market position could falter. And he would become the prodigal son who blew billions of dollars trying to reinvent the wheel."

So far, it's a gamble that seems to have paid off, with Mr Ferrero's personal fortune soaring to a whopping $US31.5 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaire's Index, making him Italy's richest person and the 27th wealthiest individual on the globe, ahead of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs' widow Laurene Powell Jobs.

It's a huge 43.1 per cent jump from early 2019, according to Business Insider, and indicates he's on the right track to meet his ambitious goal of doubling turnover in just one decade.

WHO IS GIOVANNI FERRERO?

Now aged 55, Mr Ferrero is married to Paola Rossi and the couple share two sons.

Very little is known about the notoriously private businessman, who has shunned the limelight for decades despite his incredible fortune and his role at one of the planet's most recognisable companies.

 

However, what is clear is that he was born in Italy in 1964 and was educated in Belgium alongside his brother.

He then studied marketing in America before returning to the family business in the 1980s.

According to Forbes, he also has a surprising side hustle as an author after penning seven novels, the most recent being "Il Cacciatore di Luce" (The Light Hunter) which is dedicated to his late father.

He has only rarely granted media interviews, and the Ferrero Group was described as "one of the world's most secretive firms" by The Guardian in 2010.


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