Since time immemorial, most people have treated dreamers with some disdain, often perceiving them as irrational, which is actually a polite way of saying they are crazy or insane. Nevertheless, it has been proven many times that the ideas of many such dreamers would later lead them to become recognized as ingenious. Because of these dreamers – and visionaries – we have quality footwear, great clothing, and the full spectrum of tech-related devices, from sophisticated desktop hardware to Smart watches. The visionaries responsible for these amazing advances include such names as Steve Jobs, Salvatorre Ferragamo, and dozens of others. Another great name among the group of great visionaries is Ermenegildo Zegna, whose company bears his name.
In The Beginning
The village of Trivero in Italy first heard the tiny cry of Ermenegildo Zegna shortly after he was born in 1892. During that time, Ermenegildo’s father was busy with a watchmaking business, but for reasons unknown, he moved on to making garments with four looms he bought. Perhaps it was fate that brought Ermenegildo’s father to make that decision, because his name would later become associated with the world’s foremost manufacturer of quality fabrics.
The Early Years
Ermenegildo showed a deep interest in his father’s garment manufacturing business from an early age. When he turned 18, he took over his father’s business and founded Lanificio Zegna, which means Zegna Wool Mill in the English language. The year was 1910. Using the four looms his father had bought several years earlier, Ermenegildo began to create quality fabrics. His vision was for his company to create the most beautiful fabric in the world. As narrated by his grandson, the people in his village did not know whether to call Ermenegildo a madman or a visionary. Some even viewed him as an arrogant braggart whose feet were not planted firmly on the ground. However, while Ermenegildo was indeed a dreamer, he was neither arrogant nor a braggart.
An Explosive Success
Even with these unfriendly jibes hurled at him, Ermenegildo went ahead to realize his vision for his small garment factory. He dreamt of creating a fabric so beautiful it would gain international recognition. He planned strategies and devised new processes for the raw materials to be made into finished products.
All his hard work paid off.
During the mid-1930s, Ermenegildo saw his product gain international fame, and in 1938, he started exporting quality fabrics to America. A few years later, his company started getting orders from more than 40 countries around the world. He realized he had achieved his vision and that it was time to give back.
A Well-Grounded Person
Tacitly disproving that his feet were not planted on the ground, Ermenegildo started giving back to the village whose inhabitants had once scoffed at his vision. Because of his ardent belief that his product’s superior quality could not be separated from a constructive and positive relationship with the community, he started dozens of projects aimed at improving the village’s natural environment.
He was instrumental in the construction of the village’s meeting hall, library, gym, cinema, theatre, and a public swimming pool. He also had a medical center and nursery school built. Ermenegildo played a vital role in a project that involved planting thousands of trees, and he was instrumental in the building of a 14 km road that linked his village of Trivero to the tourist haven of Bielmonte, located 1,500 meters above sea level. The road was named Panoramica Zegna.
Today, the Ermenegildo Zegna Group is recognized as one of the most famous family-driven business empires in Italy. Although Ermenegildo Zegna passed away in 1966 at the age of 74, his legacy lives on through his sons and grandsons. They have also displayed the same business aptitude and entrepreneurial skills Ermenegildo had.
The company’s aims – to ensure its ownership remains with the family and to exercise a sound ethical approach in a rigorous corporate governance system – have helped it achieve what it is today. Now, with 550 boutiques in different locations around the world, the Zegna Group has diversified its offerings to include quality clothing and accessories. The company has achieved considerable success in all its offerings.
The Man Behind It All
Ermenegildo’s son, Angelo, who is also the present Honorary Chairman of the business empire, said recently four factors had played a role in his father’s success and that of the company he founded. He was raised in an environment that allowed him to fully develop his extraordinary business aptitudes. He was resolute in beating his British rivals by offering exceptional and creative Italian fabrics of unmatched quality. He kept an open mind, especially when it concerned the social welfare of the territory and the reallocation of value to his workers. Finally, he placed great importance on his relationship with nature, aware that natural resources are not finite and therefore should be protected.
Eremenegildo’s extended family, adhering to the principles that made Fondazione Zegna a success, has continued to run the business. The present CEO is his grandson and namesake, Gildo, while the Chairman is Paolo. Anna is the Image Director and President of Fondazione Zegna. The Talent Manager is Benedetta. Guided by the company’s basic tenets and principles, the new generation is poised to take the company to the next level in the coming years.