Parma, 6 July 1917 – Geneve, CH, 4 January 2004
Giovanni Barilla was born in Parma on 6 July 1917, the youngest child of Riccardo and Virginia Fontana. Endowed with an athletic and long-limbed physique, he distinguished himself in his high-school football team as right half, “the driving force”, as they used to say then, a characteristic, which was very soon transferred from the football pitch to the factory. After studying classics at the “Maria Luigia” school in Parma, he enrolled in the faculty of Chemistry at the University of Bologna, but, having given up his studies due to the war, he devoted himself entirely to work, first assisting and then replacing in 1947 his father Riccardo. At the height of the war, in 1941, Gianni Barilla married Gabriella Dalcò (Florence, 1920), by whom he had three children: Riccardo (who was born in 1942 and died in 1961), Beatrice (n. 1946) and a second Riccardo (n. 1962). He devoted all his spare time to his wife and children and within the family circle followed his main cultural passion, for antique furniture, of which, always relying on the opinion of experts, he has collected selected pieces to furnish his home. Among the first to arrive in the morning and among the last to leave late in the evening, Gianni – as he is familiarly known even by his colleagues – assisted his elder brother Pietro at the helm of the family Company and, although remaining constantly fully aware of every fact relating the Company, was personally responsible for administration and production, and established an increasingly complete and in-depth quality control both on raw materials, which come through the factory gate daily, and on the products which leave it just as rapidly, paying great attention and care to details, even those which on the surface seem insignificant. Although shy and reserved by nature, his relationship with his closest colleagues, with the staff in general, with the outside professionals who collaborate with the Company, with the suppliers and with customers is cordial and direct, marked by the utmost helpfulness, but at the same time, the utmost professional competence and precision. After World War II, regular production of bread and pasta started up again in the Barilla factory, but with great difficulty, due to the lack of raw materials. Out of necessity, a mix of five cereals was used: rye, oats, millet, wheat (durum and soft) and barley. Quality control was not simple from the technical point of view and so Gianni decided to gradually develop the chemical laboratory to carry out exact controls both on incoming flours and outgoing finished products.
Aware that quality was achieved not only by means of technical controls, but above all with the mechanization and automation of production, he constantly suggested innovations, whose practical solution was requested from the technical offices. Technological innovation also had a great influence on the environmental and working conditions of the employees, and its progress was always his constant concern. At the close of almost every year, until the end of the 1960s, the Company was expanded by using the spaces in the area in Viale Barilla and renovated and modernized equipment, until, having used every available area and spread production activity over seven days a week (during the year the factory now only closes at Easter, on the 15 August bank holiday and for Christmas), it became necessary to find a different and radical solution. With regard to purchasing raw materials, he looked at quality, but naturally also at price and maintained constant contacts with suppliers and their representatives; he had a direct line to the head of his own buying office, together with whom he examined and resolved every problem. He also paid particular attention to innovation in the delicate sector of packaging, a field which has more than a little influence on the shelf-life and presentation of the product and which is in constant and rapid development. He examined every problem of an organizational and technical nature with breadth of vision and far-sightedness, from the constant point of view of obtaining the improvement of the production and economies of scale to justify the times and costs of the innovations. He instituted a Documentation Office to gather and submit to the management the available studies and research pertaining to the subjects dealt with in the Company.
He always considered it incongruous to use road-transport to move raw material from Tavoliere delle Puglie to Parma and always hoped for an innovation in methods of transport, which even today every now and again comes to the attention of the authorities, without being resolved however, namely the realization of sea routes and river routes along the Po, which would be much more economical and ecological. Naturally, he was a forerunner in the use of freight containers, which he encouraged ever since they were introduced.
The sales sector, and consequently the advertising sector, was the field of his brother Pietro, who cooperated with the Parmesan designer Erberto Carboni. Towards the end of the 1950s Gianni, backed by the general manager, Manfredo Manfredi, convinced his brother to opt no longer for a graphic designer, but for a proper agency.
This new direction gave rise to the subsequent advertising campaigns which characterized Barilla’s progress also in terms of fame and diffusion of the brand. In this period, Gianni was also concerned with giving the company a structure of a managerial type to achieve a better division of power, which was obtained thanks to the collaboration of external consultants. These consultants formulated the budget-management mechanism, according to modern criteria at the time used in Italy only by very few large companies. In 1961, Barilla was transformed into a joint-stock Company.
In anticipation of building a large new factory in addition (then as an alternative) to the one in Viale Barilla, from the second half of the 1960s Gianni made a contact with a multinational engineering company, the American firm Austin, which specializes in the construction of large pieces of equipment using the “on the road” system, little known in Italy at that time. In November 1969 the complex in Pedrignano was finished and a new production line began followed by others in the course of 1970. At the new factory, Gianni inaugurated a system developed and patented by the Company’s technical offices to transport flours using a single large cloth sack, which was unloaded in the factory by a crane directly into a hopper to be sent to the silos. This system facilitated the quality control of the unloaded goods, but above all allowed the carrier to leave the factory with an empty body and therefore offered the opportunity to make the return journey loaded rather than to no purpose. The sale of the Company to Grace was studied and worked out personally by Gianni, who began to feel a strong sense of fear as a result of the political and social events that characterized the years following 1968. It was this same feeling, shared by his wife, which led him, in 1975 to move for good to Switzerland, first to
Lugano and then to Geneva, where he will pass away on 4 January 2004.
Sources and Bibliography
There is no bibliography on Giovanni Barilla. For the compilation of this entry we drew on an interview given by the former general manager of Barilla, Manfredo Manfredi, to Giancarlo Gonizzi on 1 April 1995 and on a meeting held at the Barilla Historical Archive on 6 March 2002 with:
– Emanuele Ceccherelli (b. 1914), graduate in chemistry, employee at the Experimental Station for Preserved Foods and an external consultant for Barilla from 1947 to 1951, later recruited by the firm as head of quality control until 1976;
– Fausto Bertozzi (b. 1927), graduate in Mechanical Engineering, head of Barilla’s technical office and in charge of the design of machines and factories from 1958 to 1992;
– Emilio Alfieri (b. 1921), in charge of Barilla’s buying division from 1942 to 1982;
– Mario Bianchini (b. 1917), freelance, consultant and friend of the Barilla brothers.