Innovation in Italy: Riccardo Illy Points the Way

Wharton School of Business at U-Penn interviews the executive on how, exactly, Italy can gain an edge in the technological world.

This interview appears on Knowledge at Wharton.

Art, design, creativity and aesthetics have been the hallmarks of Italian culture since ancient times. But today Italy finds itself in some ways behind the curve of the ongoing technological innovation revolution. That leads to the question: What is Italy doing to regain its footing in this innovation competition? Recently, Knowledge@Wharton looked at the state of innovation in Italy with two people intimately familiar with the subject: Riccardo Illy of the famous Italian food and beverage seller Gruppo illy, and Marco Mari of the Italia Innovation Program.

An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

Knowledge@Wharton: I had the opportunity to spend some time in Italy this summer, teaching at the Italia Innovation Program, and it was a fantastic opportunity to see some of the great brands in Italy challenging teams to innovate. And of course, Illy was one of the super-famous ones there, given how global you are. You’re in 140 countries, am I right?

Riccardo Illy: 145.

Knowledge@Wharton: Part of our goal today is to get your perspective on innovation, since you have been a CEO and held other leadership roles at illycaffè, and you’ve also been in public roles, among them the mayor of Trieste and the chairman of the Transpadane European Railway Line.  What is your philosophy around innovation and new products, new markets?

Ricardo Illy: I have to clarify a few points. I am a chairman of Gruppo illy, which is a holding company, controlling illycaffè, which is the roasting company present in about 145 countries, and which is the main component of the group. And then we control Dammann Frères, which is a legendary tea company based in France. And Domori, which is a chocolate company based in Italy. And then we have a winery in Tuscany called Mastrojanni, and we have Agrimontana producing jams and candied fruit in Italy — we have a 40% stake in them. And finally, Grom, which is a gelato producer, based again in Italy, and we have only 5% of the capital of this small company.

“My idea is that, first of all, if you don’t innovate, you die in an economy which is global and which is more and more intertwined, and more and more sophisticated, with consumers that are, let’s say, improving their needs continually.”

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