Parma, 16 April 1913 – Fraore, Pr, 16 September 1993
«Give people to eat what you would feed our own children».
This phrase by Pietro Barilla reflects in an emblematic way the founding values of the Parma entrepreneur. An optimist with an open and cordial personality, rigorous with himself as well as with others, he based his actions of the concept of reciprocal respect: for the products he loved so much, pasta; for consumers; for his collaborators; for his family. He was able to choose and surround himself with men and women of the highest level of professionalism and who contributed to the success of his company working under his guidance.
Being aware of all this, he felt much gratitude towards his own city, Parma, and contributed to its economic growth, but most of all, to its cultural and social growth with a farsighted vision projected towards the future. A charismatic leader able to indicate the way to future generations, he loved to repeat to his people; «All is dome in view of the future. Go forward with courage».
Pietro was born in Parma on April 16th, 1913, and was the second son of Riccardo Barilla and Virginia Fontana. After attending the Maria Luigia boarding school in Parma, the Salesian Fathers College of Alassio and and the Scolopi Fathers of Florence, in 1931 he moved to Calw, Germany, to complete his studies. In 1934 he started to work in the family company in the commercial sector.
In 1936, in the remodeled office floors of Viale Veneto, he took care of the organization of sales, of commercial agents and of transportation. Three years later the company reached the size of 800 workers, a daily pasta production of 70,000 kilograms of pasta and 15,000 of bread. He always wanted to dedicate special attention to the image of the company. The salesmen were equipped with yellow Topolino Fiat cars: an avant-garde initiative for those times.
In 1941 Pietro Barilla was drafted into the Army, in the third regiment of Autieri (military drivers) and was sent to the Russian war front. He came back to Parma after three years and was transferred to Rome: after September 8th of 1944 he returned to work in the company during the tragic contest of the Nazi occupation. Unjustly accused of collaborating with the Nazis and therefore incarcerated, he had the chance of meeting the Benedictine monk father Paolino Beltrame (1909-2008) that stood by his side during the most difficult times of his life and that he in turn he supported in numerous charitable and social initiatives.
After the death of Riccardo Barilla (1947), the leadership of the company passed to Pietro and his brother Gianni (1917-2004). After traveling to the United States to study, the Barilla brothers gave the company the asset of a modern industry: a mass production of good quality, sealed packaging, advertising, a balanced price. In 1952 Pietro Barilla decided to discontinue the baking of bread to concentrate on pasta production: the shelf life of the product made it possible to start a much more interesting commercial and industrial development.
With the collaboration of graphic designers like Erberto Carboni (1899-1984) and of intellectuals as Pietro Bianchi (1909-1976), in 1952 a modern advertising campaign was launched which won the company a “Golden Palm of Advertisement” award. Curious and fascinated with the world of culture, he supported with considerable funds a large number of initiatives: from the convention on Italian Neorealism cinema to the literature and arts publication “Palatina” directed by Attilio Bertolucci (1911-2000). His relationship with exponents of the world of culture in Parma and in Italy lead him to naturally start a modern art collection that he chose to place in the offices and the plant of the Company.
In 1955 Pietro Barilla married Maria Maddalena Da Lisca (1935-), of Venezia. From their marriage, five children were born: Guido (1958-), Luca (1960-), Paolo (1961-) and Emanuela (1968-). alongside with the development of the company, Pietro Barilla devoted particular attention to the “human factor”. His policy for personnel supported the building of housing for his employees, the creation of the “Riccardo Barilla Solidarity Fund”, and to the birth of the “Golden Medals” group (retired employees). In 1959 Barilla produced 400.000 kilograms of pasta daily. The company, which by now was in the top list in Italy in the market of pasta, transformed into a limited shares society (1960): the organizational structure base on a general direction and seven operative branches was born.
In 1965 the bread-sticks and Rusk bread factory was inaugurated in Rubbiano di Solignano. In 1968 Pietro Barilla was made Knight of Work of the Italian Republic. In the same year in Pedrignano the construction of the largest and more technologically advanced pasta factory in the world began.
1971 was a key year in the history of Barilla. Pietro and his brother Gianni were leading the company together, but did not share the same strategic views. These were difficult years because of a historical context dominated by terrorism, recession and oil crises that caused a strong increase of the price of Durum wheat and a drastic reduction of profit margins for the pasta industries. Pietro did not have the resources to buy Gianni’s 50% shares and this brought on an inevitable decision: Barilla was sold to the American tycoon W. R, Grace. He felt like he had abandoned the ship that had been entrusted to him. So, from the day following the sale, and for the rest of the eight years that followed, Pietro Barilla’s constant thought was to buy back his company, doing all that he could to succeed in his plan. The entrepreneur tried to do so for the first time in 1978, but was not able to put together the necessary resources and left the American offices of Grace disappointed and literally in tears. He tried again the following year. The operation was strongly advised against by the
deus ex machina of Italian finance Enrico Cuccia (1907-2000) to whom Pietro had asked the opinion hoping in the support of Mediobanca: “Cavalier Barilla, I saw the accounts and the numbers, and it is not worth it”. Fortunately, no forecast was ever more wrong.
In 1979 Pietro Barilla’s offer to buy back the company came true and Barilla went back to being an Italian industry. Pietro was 66 and he invested all of his resources in the company: an extraordinary case in the history of our national entrepreneurship. Thus Pietro went back to being the president of the family company and after the birth of the Mulino Bianco brand in 1976 he launched again in great style the central role of pasta in the context of correct nutrition in Italy.
On January 13th , 1987, the City of Parma awarded him the gold medal of the Saint Ilario, an honor conferred to those who have contributed to better the life of people and community with their work, and elevate the prestige of the city by distinguishing themselves in the fields of arts, science, sports, industry or charitable work.
On September 26, 1987 Pietro was awarded an honorary degree in Business economics from the University of Bologna and the following year Barilla donated the school building for the College of Engineering of the University of Parma. Pietro’s oldest children, Guido and Luca, became operative as Vice Presidents of the society in 1989, year in which Barilla was the leader food industry in Italy with 2,070 billion Lire of revenue, 27 plants of which two abroad, and 6,000 employees. Between 1990 and 1992 the Pavesi society was bought by the Barilla Group. Its revenue was 3,330 billion Lire with 8,300 employees.
On his eightieth birthday Pietro Barilla wished to organize an exhibit of the most significant works of art of his collection at the Magnani Rocca Foundation so that anybody could enjoy it. «Art is beauty that must be shared» he loved to say, and this passion had been the reason of his friendship with important journalists and intellectuals such as Indro Montanelli (1909-2001), Valerio Zurlini (1926-1982) and Riccardo Muti (1941-) to name a few, but also with extraordinary entrepreneurs like Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988).
The restoration of the monumental staircase of the Rangoni palace which hosts the Prefecture of Parma. The stained glass windows of the the Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle designed by Carlo Marrioli (1911-1994), the restoration of the church of Santa Maria della Steccata and of Toscanini and Boito study rooms at the Cosnervatory of Parma were all possible thanks to the generosity of Pietro Barilla. An important collection of the Library of Maria Luigia was bought by him to be donated to the Palatina Library.
Pietro died in his sleep in his home of Fraore on the night of September 16, 1993. The first gift to his city was the monument of the Via Emilia, a work of Pietro Cascella (1921-2008), inaugurated in Piazzale Santa Croce on January 13, 1994.
The alley where the historic pasta factory stood in Parma (which now hosts the Barilla Center), together with the Children’s Hospital financed by the Barilla society and inaugurated in 2013 in the centenary of Pietro’s birth are dedicated to him and to his father’s memory.
Pietro was a one of a kind art collector: in his vision, art was strictly connected with business and was never disconnected from his being and entrepreneur, but it was functional to the concept of an ideal company that he wanted to achieve. The plant of Pedrignano hosts great part of his collection still today. After all, art marked the memorable moments of the company: the sculpture-square by Pietro Cascella (1921-2008), Campi di grano (Wheat Fields), was commissioned immediately after Barilla began a family company in 1979, as well as the bronze horse by Mario Ceroli (1938-), is an homage to the first generation of Barilla and to the times in which horses carried the wagons filled with pasta to the train station. For Pietro, art was always an occasion to meet people and the list of his friendships with artists is long: from Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) to Mino Maccari (1898-1989); from Marino Marini (1901-1980) to Giacomo Manzù (1908-1991); from Ennio Morlotti (1910-1992) to Renato Guttuso (1911-1987).
The figure of Pietro Barilla emerges clearly like that of a man who loved his family and his work; an enlightened entrepreneur who knew how to create the largest pasta industry of the world and to change the way to advertise by his dialogue with genial artists; a passionate patron who wished to promote and support works of collective interest for his community, and was grateful and thankful for what he himself had received.
Sources and Bibliography
BELTRAME A., in Grandi di Parma. Bologna, Resto del Carlino, 1991, pp. 9-10.
“Gazzetta di Parma”, 1993, 17 September p. 3.
LASAGNI Roberto, Dizionario dei Parmigiani. Parma, PPS, 1999, pp. 285-286.