Benetton Group S.p.A.

Before telling you about my 2006 visit to Benetton read the 1995 visit so you'll know why I've returned.

Benetton Group SpA (1995 visit)

Making my way back up to northern Italy via the east coast I pass through Venice. I had heard about Venice being a collection of several hundred islands and smart guy me figures it'll be no problem going from one to another via connecting bridges. I find out very quickly it isn't so. An island may be a block long then they have these pedestrian bridges one walks over to the next island. Well, these little bridges aren't flat. They are like the upside down letter "U" because boats (including gondolas) have to pass through all the canals. So? Well, if you've never seen my bike it looks like a tank and weighs a ton. The bridges have no ramps. Just steps, lots and lots of up and down steps. After lugging my bike over the third bridge I said forget it, got smart and left my trusty steed in the hotel room. I should have realized it was foolish because after I crossed the second bridge I was passed by a tour group and overheard the tour guide tell the group "see his bicycle, it's very unusual. You won't find bikes in Venice because it isn't feasible".

Thirty miles northwest of Venice lay Treviso, a thriving place of 70,000 residents. Riding several miles north of town brings me to the village of Ponzano Veneto, home to Benetton. Besides clothing, the company has diversified into the sports equipment world buying companies making skiing and roller blading products. This should be a fun visit and I imagine I'll be well received. Why? Well, why not? I'm a biker and biking is BIG in Italy plus, Benetton likes to do all those controversial ads which shows it as a concerned, sensitive company wanting to make the world one big happy family with no color or race barriers.

Several signs along the village streets lead me to the company's entrance. A guard sits in a small building screening visitors and from the street one can't see any buildings on the property because they're evidently set way back. The guard doesn't speak English but I eventually get across to him I want to talk to the secretary to Gilberto Benetton, the Managing Director. I get his secretary on the line and she says they never received my advance material. I mention sending the advance material over six weeks ago and addressed it to A. Palmeri, who I had down as the managing director. She says Palmeri's been long gone and if it was addressed to him it was probably tossed or forwarded to wherever he is now. "Well, I've come halfway around the world to visit your company would someone have a few minutes to meet with me?" I ask. "No, you have to come back tomorrow when the public relations director is here and see if she has time". she answers. "But, I leave town right after visiting you today. It's a one shot deal for me. I've read stories about you're headquarters and it's supposed to be beautiful". "It is beautiful, but I'm sorry I can't help you" she replies. I'm obviously disappointed but ask if I could have an annual report. She says I'd have to get that through public relations and there's nobody there today. Jeez, talk about uncaring and passing the buck.

Hopping on my bike I ride around the perimeter of the fenced-in grounds, checking if any buildings are visible. I spot what looks to be warehouse and a long complex of one-story buildings the later all having copper/purple colored roofs. An old church or monastery and its five-foot tall brick fence backs up to the property at the corner of a stop and go light intersection. Hey wait a minute, that's not a church/monastery , it's the 17th century villa, which houses the executives! Over the years I've read several articles on Benetton and mention is always made of their head office being a 17th century villa. The three-story square-shaped white building with brown trim and red tile roof has fancy wrought iron gates out front. I assumed the villa was hidden way back from the street in the middle of the grounds somewhere. But nope, here it is only a few feet from a public street and a busy intersection. Hmm, I get my binoculars and take a closer look. Yep, it's definitely the villa. This is odd. Just two days earlier I read an article on Benetton Group in The European, a weekly paper, and mention was made of Luciano Benetton, the 60-year old president and founder, surviving an attempted kidnapping in the 1980's and is heavily guarded included being chauffeured around in an armor-plated car. Actually one doesn't have to go through the guarded entrance to the right of the villa to get on the property because it's accessible from walking around the wrought iron gates in front. What's the view from the top floor? Right across the street lays farmland and grape vineyards. (end of 1995 story)

(2006 VISIT) It's 3 PM and the rain is coming down hard when I reach the guard gate at the entrance to Benetton. One can't see very far past the gate due to a tall forest of trees blocking the view. I lean my bike up against the guardhouse wall but the overhang isn't very wide and half the saddlebags are still in the rain. The uniform wearing guard doesn't speak English so I point to the name of CEO Silvano Cassano on my clipboard. I'm handed a phone with Greta Gamba from Public Relations on the other end. I explain mailing a letter of introduction along with some news clippings a month earlier to CEO Silvano Cassano and wanted to find out where or with whom the letter ended up with. Gamba says to wait and she'll call back. With the rain coming down hard there's not much for me to do. On the front window of the guard station there's a sticker that reads "United Colors of Benetton supports the "no smoking" campaign. Join us: don't smoke" On the one side of the guard station there's a road leading to the villa and three people (two men and a woman) wearing pinkish polo-type Benetton shirts are manning the entrance way. The two men are puffing away on cigarettes. I point to the "no smoking" sticker but they laugh. After a 20 minute wait the guard gets a call and I'm handed the phone. It's Ms. Gamba and the news isn't good as she's checked around and no one knows anything about the letter of introduction plus, no one can meet with me. I explain showing up here back in 1995 and having the same thing happen. I spend a good 10 minutes giving her background on what I do and for her to look up my website. Gamba says she'll ask her boss, Paola Innocente, Public Relations Manager. Another 15 minutes pass and Gamba calls back saying she'll give me a quick tour of the premises and then I'll meet with Innocente. In a few minutes Gamba shows up at the guardhouse with an umbrella.

Leaving my bike at the guardhouse Gamba and I head off in the rain under her not-quite-big-enough-for two-people umbrella. Once past the forest of trees it opens up to a very large space of well manicured grounds (as large as a football field) with several sculptures scattered about. In the far distance of the property one can see a long complex of office buildings which used to be a factory. Instead of walking to the former factory we turn left and head over to the 17th century villa complex. Comprised of several buildings, the villa complex is absolutely beautiful! The buildings with their timbered ceilings and frescoes have been faithfully restored and, mix-in the surrounding immaculate grounds and you have a stunning setting.

Innocente's office is located on the ground floor of the villa and Gamba and I sit outside in the lobby while she finishes a meeting. After a good 15 minutes of waiting I meet Ms. Innocente. She's a very nice person (as is Gamba) and thank her for showing flexibility in allowing me to have a look at the place. I then hand her a copy of my questionnaire and ask the first question, "how many people work here?". Innocente says she can't answer questions like that as they have to go through the press office. After further discussion Innocente excuses herself to go upstairs and check with the press office to see if the someone can answer my questions and if it's possible to see CEO Cassano's office and the boardroom. So, I'm left in the office with Gamba, whose desk sits across from Innocente. Ten minutes past, then 20 minutes as Gamba and I make small talk. After almost 30 minutes have elapsed since Innocente left the room she returns and apologizes, saying she had to take part in a teleconference call. And what about answering my questions and seeing CEO Cassano's office and the boardroom? "No", says Innocente. Unbelievable, why did she let me twiddle my thumbs in her office for 30 minutes?

Hopping on the bike to leave I look at my watch, I arrived at 3PM and it's now 5:30 PM. So, when it comes right down to it my 2006 visit was just as rinky-dink as the 1995 visit----only this time I was allowed a five minute walk around the grounds in the rain.

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