Decisions: Andrea Illy, Illy coffee

The CEO of the family-run coffee firm on making sacrifices, and why sustainability matters.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

MY BEST DECISION...

... was to keep Illy as a family business, allowing us to control our destiny.

It also means we are able to sacrifice one part of the business for the sake of long-term gain. For example, we decided early on to have only one product. That meant we grew more slowly, but we believed, to be the best, you can only have one core product. It's about consistent quality. And, being a family business allows us to experiment more.

Another good decision was to expand the value proposition beyond taste. There are more than 500 years behind coffee, and from plant to cup there is an incredible amount of knowledge, more so even than with wine. What's more, art and literature have a very strong link with coffee. Events like our exhibition at the London Galleria are the best expression of what we are.

It was also a good decision to create our own official sustainability standards. There is a lot of talk of Fairtrade, but while Fairtrade is a good first step, it is not sustainable. Markets don't go after charity, they go after value. We pay more for quality, and that way everyone wins.

MY WORST DECISION ...

... is that I didn't gain more professional experience before I joined Illy. My destiny has always been linked to this company. Since I was three, the factory was like a second home. I studied chemistry - like my father - and did a number of internships, but never had a 'proper' job outside Illy. But I will recommend to my daughters and nieces and my nephew that they try other things before they join the business, if they do at all.

Personally, my biggest flaw is probably that I tend to do too many things at once, instead of focusing on just one thing.

I'm generally very proud of the way the business has been run - first by my grandfather, after it was founded in 1933, then by my father and now me. We've never had to backtrack on a major decision or had to stop a project or a campaign once we started. The success rate of our initiatives has been very good. Sometimes I dream of having had a faster and better execution, but, on the whole, I am very happy about what we've done and proud of the business we've created.

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