Beretta Holding Group

Quick, name another company that can trace its roots all the way back to 1526 AND has been continuously owned by the same founding family. Well, that's what you have with firearms manufacturer Beretta and that's why I'm dropping in for a visit. Beretta Holding Group (the parent company), has revenues of around 400 million euros with almost 2,700 employees. Revenues for Fabbrica D'Armi Pietro Beretta S.p.A., the arms manufacturing subsidiary, total 140 million euros and approximately 1,000 employees.

Head 30 miles east of Milan and you'll be in Brescia, a good-sized city of about 190,000 inhabitants. From Brescia it's an hour's bicycle ride (12 miles) through a series of very narrow valleys to the town of Gardone Val Trompia, population 10,000. Boy, I'd think I'd go crazy living in such a narrow valley that can't be no more than a half-dozen football fields wide in some areas. There's one main road running through town and if you're not watching, the small Beretta sign telling you to turn onto a short dead-end side street will be missed.

In the photo accompanying this story you'll see a three-story tri-colored (white/salmon/yellow) brick building with a large iron gate guarding the entrance-that's the head office. The beautiful four-story villa in the rear of the photo was built in 1927 and was where Beretta family members lived. Now, it's still a home but it's where CEO Ugo Gussalli Beretta hangs his hat.

After passing muster with the security guard the iron gates are opened and my bike and I enter the property. The guard doesn't speak English and so I point to the name Ugo Gussalli Beretta on my clipboard. I'm soon meeting with the amiable Jarno Antonelli from the advertising department. It seems no one knows anything about my letter of introduction mailed a month earlier to CEO Ugo Gussalli Beretta but, I'm in luck as Antonelli agrees to meet with me.

My questions are answered in a meeting room located less than 20 feet from the lobby. Other meeting rooms are adjacent and from what I can see, they all have paintings of hunting scenes hanging on the walls. The building we're in was built in the 1950's but as you can tell it was done in a style to somewhat match the look of the villa next door. About 50 people work here. However, to the rear of this building and then past the rear of the villa, there's the start of a factory that stretches along and then continues on the other side of the main road going through town. Employees enjoy free parking, smoking isn't allowed in offices, there's no formal dress code and executives eat lunch in a guest house on the premises. There's no corporate art collection but, not surprisingly there's a gun collection-though it's not located here. It's 15 miles to the nearest freeway and 18 miles to the nearest airport (Brescia). Any unusual employee perks? Berretta firearms as well as the company's clothing line can be purchased at a 20% discount.

My request to see CEO Beretta's office and the boardroom are turned down. I ask why and Antonelli says very few people, including employees, have been in the villa as one has to be invited. Having never seen a picture of CEO Beretta I ask how old he is and learn he's in his sixties-the 15th generation to run the company.

According to Antonelli, these narrow valleys have been home to businesses in the firearms industries for centuries and even now their ranks still number more than 100. I ask if there's a showroom display showing Beretta's firearms line. There isn't but, Antonelli suggests I make a visit across the street to a gun shop retailer as the store carries quite a few of the company's guns and clothing line. Though disappointed that the small meeting room is the extent of my tour, I thank Antonelli for taking the time to meet with me-given that he had no advance warning of what I do. I mention to Antonelli that my record visiting firearm concerns in Europe has been very poor. In 2005 I visited Herstal Group (Remington, Browning) in Belgium and the company let me show up at their headquarters/factory only to find it closed for summer vacation (how hard would it have been to send me an e-mail telling me they'd be closed?). The 2002 visit to Glock in Austria was just as dismal as they refused to speak with me. Note* You can read those stories by clicking on the "Archived Stories" heading button on the home page.

Leaving the building I'm required to walk through a security metal detector similar to what one walks through at the airport. I tell Antonelli I thought this was odd since I've never been more than 20 feet from the lobby and within view of the security guard. Antonelli laughs and says it's something required of everyone and it would prevent someone like him passing on a firearm to me to smuggle out.
This photo is a view of the Beretta villa. The street in front is the main road through town and note the steep hillside in the background. Actually, right about where I'm standing to snap this photo is the entrance to gun shop retailer Antonelli said to check out. I do and if I were a gun enthusiast I'd probably be drooling because the Beretta firearms on display look impressive.

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