Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ferrero chocolate boss Pietro Ferrero dies in South Africa

 In 1942 a small-town Italian confectioner named Pietro Ferrero turned his mind to creating a sweet that required little cocoa, then subject to wartime rationing.

Pietro Ferrero, who died of a suspected heart attack while cycling in South Africa.

 By the time that his grandson and namesake became the chief executive of the business 55 years later, it had become a giant of the chocolate industry and the family the richest in Italy.
 Their fortune was founded on a paste made by the elder Ferrero principally from hazelnuts, which grew in abundance in his native Piedmont. Various sweetmeats had been manufactured from the nuts before, but Ferrero was the first to discover how to make one which was spreadable on bread.
 He called it Gianduja, both a reference to a carnival character who represents the archetypal Piedmontese and a play on words on the local term for a hazelnut.
 The paste rapidly became popular, but in 1949 Ferrero died. The company was briefly run by his brother and his widow before passing in the early 1950s to his son Michele, who was still in his mid-twenties. On the back of the country's economic boom, he began to expand the firm's operations, and in 1956 Ferrero became the first Italian since the war to open a factory abroad, at Allendorf in Germany.
 His success was assured, however, when in 1964 he refined his father's recipe to make a spread he named Nutella. In the decades since, it has become Italy's comfort food of choice, associated with such key concepts in the national character as childhood and self-indulgence.
 When unfounded rumours circulated recently that European regulators were planning to ban it as unhealthy, members of the cabinet sprang to its defence.
 In 1968 Ferrero set up the Kinder chocolate brand and to this soon added Tic Tac breath mints. The company was the first in Italy to sponsor a television program, and one of the earliest to associate itself with sporting teams and events.
 By the 1980s Ferrero Rocher chocolates - with which the ambassador famously spoilt his guests in a series of commercials on British television - were also adding to the group's turnover.
 In 2008 this was estimated at £3.7 billion ($5.7bn). The previous year, Michele Ferrero's wealth was put by Forbes magazine at £5.5 billion, surpassing even the riches of Silvio Berlusconi.
 His eldest son, Pietro, was born in Turin in 1963. In the mid-1970s, when many Italian industrialists feared kidnap or murder by the Mafia and the Red Brigades, the family moved to Brussels. Pietro was schooled there, but returned to his native city to study biology at its university. He took a starred first in 1985, and then joined his father's business.
 After a spell at its plant in Germany, he concentrated on production and innovation at Ferrero's headquarters in Alba. The company is famously secretive, especially about its decision-making and its techniques. It gives no press conferences, surrounds its factories with high walls, and develops all its machinery in-house.
 When Michele Ferrero was once asked what was the secret of the business's sustained success, he replied: "Our Lady of Lourdes".
 In 1992 Pietro took charge of the firm's European operations, and five years later he became the Ferrero group's co-chief executive with his brother Giovanni. While the latter had more of a bent for marketing and strategy, Pietro concentrated on research and devising new products. In 2007 he was appointed president of the Italian part of the business, although his father - who now lives largely in Monte Carlo - remained chairman of the group, which is registered in Luxembourg.
 Ferrero has some 21,000 employees and 18 factories worldwide. Although little is known about its strategic thinking, it did signal an interest in acquiring Cadbury last year, only to be out-muscled by Kraft. In 2009 the company was cleared in the High Court of involvement in a long-running multi-million-pound fraud case deriving from the bogus transfer between two firms of much of Turkey's crop of hazelnuts.
 While Pietro shared the family's reserved disposition, he was regarded as one of Italy's most promising young managers, and was a director of both Deutsche Bank and Mediobanca. His chief passion was cycling, and he often trained and competed in races around the hills of Piedmont and in the Dolomites.
 He died after seemingly suffering a heart attack while out cycling during a business trip to South Africa.
 He is survived by his wife, Luisa, whom he married in 2003, and their three children.

 Pietro Ferrero, industrialist, was born on September 11, 1963. He died on April 18, 2011, aged 47.


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