The marksmanship of a family dynasty
Franco Gussalli Beretta, President and CEO of La Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta, belongs to one of the oldest industrial dynasties in the world – some say the most ancient of them all. The company was originally the first of its kind. Back in 1526, Mastro Bartolomeo Beretta was in Gardone Val Trompia (in northern Italy, 80 kilometres from Milan), where his company is still situated today. He was delivering 185 arquebus firearms to Venice’s Arsenale. Over the course of five centuries the brand continued to gain in popularity until decades ago, when it became the official weapon of several armed forces, from Italy to the USA. Today, business is handled by Beretta Holding S c7l9tzd.p.A., which encompasses thirty companies worldwide, and is the most important manufacture of portable weapons, in terms of income (650 million euros), employees (3,000), types of weapons, and investments (40 million euros). The profits of the Weapon Factory cover a third of the total income of the Holding.
Beretta is synonymous with defence and, most importantly, sports. Up to 80 percent of income comes from weapons used at shooting ranges. While it might seem paradoxical, it is during periods of international conflict that production diminishes. “We are more productive in times of peace, when departments can dedicate themselves to verifying what is required. In wartime, countries can not be provided for,” said Mr. Beretta.
The weapons are exported to 100 countries, and have conquered unexpected worlds, starting in Hollywood. Take Mission Impossible. Weapons used in the film are Beretta, as in the Minority Report, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Die Another Day, The Matrix, Terminator, X-Men, Resident Evil, Robocop, and Inception. The first gun used by James Bond was a Beretta calibre 6.35mm, the famous model 418. From the 1980s forward, Beretta expanded and diversified its products developing outfits and accessories for hunting, shooting, and leisure. This choice has helped the company shift from being a mere producer of weapons to an actual brand specialised in outdoor gear. Not just commercial products, Beretta embodies an actual lifestyle.
Experiencing the wilderness is a must for Franco Gussalli Beretta, who is fond of sailing and aviation. And the CEO likes to drive his own ride. “I would like to dedicate more time to these passions of mine, but unfortunately I don’t have enough time. My boat and small aircraft are the means that allow me to live the best of two worlds: sky and sea. Throughout the years I’ve realised that if you don’t explore the water world or the sky you can’t say you have truly seen the world, even if you’ve travelled for your entire life.” Furthermore, Beretta also went ‘underground’ and has put down roots. He created the first wine label, out of four, known as Agricole Gussalli Beretta. “It is part of Beretta’s DNA to invest in new enterprises in a diversified manner. With wine there is the intent to renew the primordial connection to the Earth. We had my grandfather’s plots of land in Franciacorta (a region known for wine production, close to where the Beretta company is located), so we came up with our first label and began with Lo Sparviere. My father later decided to diversify, so we expanded to include Chianti, the Langhe, and Abruzzi. Wine is affected by fashionable trends and this is the time of bubbles, those of Barolo… and we cover several portions,” Mr. Beretta said.
The family has a passion for boats, airplanes, cars (especially Maserati), but also for timepieces, all purchased in Brescia. Franco, with his older brother Pietro Beretta, President and CEO of the holding, represents the fifteenth generation. The previous shone with his father Ugo, who bequeathed his leadership last year at age 87. He is a member of the French Les Henokiens association that gathers 38 entrepreneurial dynasties currently lead by the descendants of their respective families, and which have been in business for at least two centuries. Amongst these are the Swiss Les Fils Dreyfus & Cie S.A., Pictet Group, the Japanese Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten, and the French Pollet, and Viellard Migeon.
What is surprising about Beretta is that for five centuries the company has never relocated from the northern part of Italy, Gardone Val Trompia, in the province of Brescia. “Here we have always found excellent working conditions, such as raw materials like iron and the river’s energy. And though the material has diminished and the industrial mechanisms changed, many things remained the same, such as hydroelectric energy, which is the cleanest amongst all renewable energies. As far as the quality of our team, our employees are all locals and are known for their efficiency, motivation, and skill.” Mr. Beretta also explained that these skills are passed on from father to son. “On some occasions even a specific artistry is passed on from one generation to the next. We are the owners of the company, it is true, but we strongly believe that the strength comes from the bottom: we are the ferrymen of a family company.”
What are the greatest challenges faced by Franco Gussalli Beretta? “At the beginning of my career, my uncle accompanied me to see the luxury rifles that were handmade. He explained with dismay that this department would be phased out; that the younger generations, at the time my peers, would never continue this craftsmanship. But I was in awe of the beauty of those works of art. Therefore I convinced my father to ensure that the department would survive and that younger employees would be trained by the older generations. I won that battle.” That department thrives today and produces weapons that cost more than 50 thousand euros. “The rifle that was designed for my father’s 70th birthday is worth more than one million,” he said, adding “it is an artefact with special engravings and peculiar casings.” What one would call a masterpiece of Italian craftsmanship.
Article by Piera Anna Franini