His father became the shoemaker to the stars in Hollywood, but Ferruccio Ferragamo, Salvatore's eldest son, wasn't content just to dress the feet of American celebrities. During 22 years as ceo of Salvatore Ferragamo Italia, Ferruccio has developed the company into a global luxury brand that generates half its business in Asia. During a visit to Hong Kong, the exiting ceo talked to Time's LING LIU about the company's Eastern expansion.
Sales in Asia now make up half your revenues. How has this changed a company that made its name in Hollywood?
Last night we were on a boat around the island, and I was amazed to see these beautiful buildings and people who are very efficient, very modern. You can breathe the air and see that the future is in Asia. We opened the first shop in China 12 years ago. It's incredible what's happened in 12 years.
Have your products changed to cater to the Asian market?
Yes and no, because I think Ferragamo should be Ferragamo everywhere in the world. We made some adjustments maybe in the color, maybe in size. We have our people in Asia who come to Italy and work on merchandising. Ultimately, the customer decides, and you should always adapt.
Describe the difference between customers in China, your fastest-growing market, and Japan and Korea, where you're established.
Japanese customers have been involved with fashion trends for more than 30 years. But in 10 years, China has grown faster, and today there is not much difference between what you find in China, Japan and Korea.
You still keep your entire manufacturing process in Italy. How do you stay competitive when so many of your competitors have moved to China?
Very good question. If we produced in a cheaper market, we would make, short term, very big profit, but then we would question the quality, the continuity, the tradition and the "Made in Italy," which I consider a second brand to go next to the Ferragamo brand. We have decided to give up on margin, maintain high costs and think long term. On the other hand, I think some of our employees are a little spoiled. I work 12 hours a day, but our workers work less than eight. Now there is competition. Maybe we should all pull our sleeves up and work harder to support and maintain the know-how in Italy, because once it's gone it's gone.
Ferragamo has been family run for almost 80 years. Explain the recent decision to bring an outsider, former Valentino CEO Michele Norsa, on board as CEO of the company.
It's very simple. Today we are 63 potential shareholders. I have six children; we are six brothers and sisters from my father. Twenty-three grandchildren; already there are grand-grandchildren of my father's. First of all, we want a stronger company. The second point is to bring the company public. It has two advantages. The first is that everything you do is for the strength of the company. Second, the future shareholders should not be trapped as shareholders. They should be free to sell, to buy, whatever they want to do. If the company's strong, the family will be strong.
Ferragamo designed custom shoes for celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Which celebrity had the most unique feet?