Fernet-Branca is a household name in Italy, and widely appreciated abroad, but maybe not everyone knows that the Fratelli Branca Distillerie is one of Italy’s oldest family businesses. Present on the market since 1845, with five generations of entrepreneurs who have succeeded each other at the head of the business, from the outset Branca built its success on foreign markets; suffice it to say that the process of internationalization started in the early twentieth century. But numbers alone cannot illustrate just how truly innovative and ethical a company this is. That’s why we wanted to personally meet the company’s president, Niccolò Branca, who is also the author of an incredible book “Per fare un manager ci vuole un fiore” that gives an absolutely revolutionary, or re-evolutionary vision of business, as Niccolò Branca himself explained to us, as follows.
Toward the Economy of Awareness
We asked Niccolò Branca why nowadays ethics has seen a resurgence as a topic of interest for companies. He replied by quoting a Zen motto, “When the student is ready, the master will appear.” According to his vision, it is no coincidence that the economy is currently experiencing certain upheavals: ‘Crises are valuable learning opportunities and demands for profound change that arise when the need emerges to harmonize the economic system by bringing it in line with an evolutionary process already present at social and individual levels. Indeed, signs of a renewed personal awareness can be seen all around us: people increasingly talk about spirituality, we are concerned about the environment, health and nutrition. Our relationship with work has also changed. We have realized that it cannot be just a source of security and economic success, but must also include well-being in a broader sense.’
‘Freeing up individual resources enables access to an immense pool of talents and uniqueness without which business cannot thrive’.
‘But to gain access to this hidden treasure we must work at a human level, respecting people’s dignity, helping them recognize the features that set them apart and that, if valued, will enable each of us to express our capabilities to the full. And this of course will reflect on overall results. It is the advent of the Economy of Awareness, as we call it at Branca!’.
From Italy to the World: Exporters of Humanism
What role can Italy play in this change, given that ours is a country continuously dogged by cases of mismanagement? ‘In Italy, there is a tendency to spread bad news, so what the media shows us is the very worst of our country. But Italy is a lot more than this. There are companies and people who perform good actions with passion every day and create shared value while avoiding sensationalism’.
‘Italian companies and professionals are consolidating their position in the world, achieving successes every day, but few seem interested in talking about it’.
‘Talent and creativity are the result of a culture that has always been centred on human relationships. We have an innate humanity that has driven every positive development achieved throughout our millennia of history and that enabled us to perform extraordinary feats on a vast scale, but that in our daily life also nourishes and informs the actions of all our fellow countrymen. This widespread humanism must be recognized and consciously nurtured; we must take full responsibility for what it means to be Italian’. According to Niccolò Branca, this ability to manage human relationships, especially between entrepreneurs, managers and employees, is the foundation of the success of the family business model that today appears to have been rediscovered even in the US.
Business re-evolution: from success to value
‘We are all part of an organism that, to stay alive, must promote a harmonious relationship between its cells, whether these are companies, entrepreneurs, managers, citizens or the environment’. Thus, Niccolò Branca believes we must not be ethical out of “buonismo”, as do-gooders, but for our own good.
‘Anyone who confuses ethics with “buonismo” or bleeding-heart liberalism, is wrong because “buonismo” kills the social organism and in this sense, is neither sustainable nor ethical’.
‘If we were more aware of the interdependencies that bind us and the devastating effects that unethical behaviours have on those who do them, even before those who are affected by them, we would stop considering ethics as a value opposed to efficiency. Often unfortunately, by adopting a limited and short-term vision, we set our own interests against the interests of others and compete. But well-being and the happiness that derives from it, falls not into the category of “having” but of “being”, and is connected to the condition of the whole system of which we are part. In this view, competing to achieve happiness can only be a contradiction. Understanding the contrast between happiness and competition was the foundation of the teachings of my first master of meditation, Luh Ketut Suryani, who often repeated, ‘Niccolò, remember life is happiness and challenge’ (Niccolò Branca has practiced meditation for 27 years and activated mindfulness courses for his company employees). Our being nourishes itself on exchanges of value: only these can bring us long lasting riches. That’s why when I think of Branca, I don’t think of a successful company, but rather of a company of value, where we pursue a return in which people are the end and not the means’.
As Passodue, we came to this interview with a set of ready questions, but the conversation with Niccolò Branca became too engaging and empathetic to adhere to a rigid journalistic model. We discussed enterprise and business results, but also ethics and dignity. What it boils down to, is that we discussed human beings and how they can reach completeness and experience their own spirituality even through work. ‘We are home to the most widespread religion in the world, and we cannot fail to take into account a sense of spirituality’.
‘I believe that the true meaning of being religious is this: to be aware of the energies of our spirit and to use them to serve of our own evolution as well as that of those around us’.
In fact, as Niccolò Branca reminds us, Hölderlin defined ethical behaviour as, “Living authentically with one’s true self”.
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