There are only a handful of family names that have achieved world fame, and Lamborghini is undoubtedly one of them. Famous for the line of cars launched by founder Ferruccio Lamborghini in the early 60s, this Italian family of innovators have since proven themselves successful in many other areas of business including luxury accessories, watches, furniture, mobile phones, and hospitality. Now in its third generation, the Lamborghini family runs the Tonino Lamborghini Group, a global luxury firm established by Ferruccio’s son, Tonino, in the 1980s. Tharawat travelled to the beautiful Italian region of Emilia Romagna to meet the renowned Lamborghinis in their headquarters near Bologna. Tonino Lamborghini and his two eldest children Ferruccio and Ginevra gave their views on their family history, their current business strategy, and their love for all things mechanic.
Enjoy watching our short film on the Lamborghinis (above) and click through to read up on the full interview.
At the Palazzo del Vignola
Driving up the gravel road to the Palazzo del Vignola, it is hard to imagine that this picturesque 15th century Renaissance manor is the business headquarters of the multinational Tonino Lamborghini Group. In this decorous setting, Tonino Lamborghini sits on a delicate 18th-century canapé in the drawing room, next to Ferruccio, his eldest son. He adjusts his fine Italian suit before launching energetically into the story of his legacy and family business.
The First Generation
Founder and legend, Ferruccio Lamborghini, began his career in his native regionEmilia-Romagna. “My father was a self-made man. He knew no inherited advantages,” explains Tonino. In 1946, Ferruccio returned from his service with the High Command Armed Forces in the Aegean Sea during the Second World War to establish what would become a global business empire. “He started out by advancing the agricultural industry. He realised that the farmers in the region were in need of more powerful tools, so he began designing tractors that were more innovative than anything anyone had ever seen.” Ferruccio’s significant pioneering work in mechanical design quickly established the family name. In the late 50s, he expanded the business, producing burners and air conditioners.
The Lamborghini name is globally known for the cars the family began producing in the early 60s. “The desire to produce cars came from my father’s passion for everything engine driven and, of course, from his dispute with Enzo Ferrari.” As the story goes, Ferruccio Lamborghini proposed changes that would improve Ferrari’s cars but was rebuffed by Ferrari himself. “My father came home determined to prove what he was capable of. In the next nine months, he developed the first Lamborghini car. Two years later we were on the market, and thriving.” Notable celebrities, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Pierce Brosnan, could not, and still cannot, resist the innovative design and incredible engine power. “Many new car brands emerged in the 60s. The industry was booming. Lamborghini cars were in every respect superior to Ferraris, Maseratis, and their American contemporaries because everything my father designed was ours. He didn’t use anyone else’s parts or ideas. It was all made by Lamborghini,” declares Tonino.
The Second Generation
In the seventies, Ferruccio decided to retire and tend to his vineyard in Umbria, leaving Tonino, then in his early twenties, in charge. Famous for his determination, Ferruccio unceremoniously handed over the keys to his son and told him that he would be available once a year for anything he needed regarding the business. Tonino Lamborghini took on the task, but not without apprehension. “Of course I was scared,” he confesses. “Here I was, still at university, and my father just hands me his life’s work. But he retired at that point in time because that was who he was. He believed in excellence and timing.” For young Tonino, the task may have been momentous, but it was also very familiar. “Growing up, I considered our factory my home. I used to play with the workers and eat with them in the mensa. When I was older, I started working on the tractors with the mechanics during the summers. I got to know everything about the business, inside and out,” he explains. “I learnt many things from my father. What was always at the forefront was his belief in quality and content.”
While he inherited his father’s passion for all things technical and mechanical, Tonino felt the urge to prove himself, and decided to start his own business after the family had sold its car brand which today lives on under the umbrella of the Audi, Volkswagen group. “My father wasn’t too keen on the idea of my starting a fashion and luxury business at first,” recalls Tonino. “But he was a fair man, and one day he told me, ‘You know, I always did what I wanted to do, so why shouldn’t you get your chance?’ He did, however, emphatically remind me that the name Lamborghini stood for technical know-how and mechanic excellence.” And so, Tonino established what was to become another Lamborghini success in the 1980s and directed his ambitions towards the luxury fashion industry. “We started with men’s accessories and watches. It took people some time to come to know us, not for cars and tractors, which belong to the memory and historical heritage of the family, but for these fashionable luxury products. We persevered,” exclaims Tonino, modestly referring to the empire he has built over three decades. Today, the Lamborghini name has grown in fame. The Tonino Lamborghini Group operates globally and actively produces a range of hospitality and luxury goods, like watches, sunglasses, and mobile phones, to name but a few. “We still work with mechanics” he adds. “It’s in our DNA. We are specialised in golf carts and also recently designed an electronic town car. We just can’t help ourselves, we remain dedicated mechanics.”
“I feared my father as much as I loved him,” says Tonino in his characteristically straightforward manner. “He never beat me or even reproached me. There was, however, always a clear authority that emanated from him. Back then it was not unusual that parents were distant from their children. But times change. For our generation it is different. I am friends with my children. We have an honest and affectionate dialogue,” explains Tonino, who turns and looks at his eldest son who was named after the businesses’ founder with great affection. Twenty-four-year-old, tall, blue-eyed Ferruccio works with his father representing the third Lamborghini generation. “Yes, of course, there is the need to live up to the expectations of this brand, or even this myth. But what is most important is always knowing where we stand with our consumers,” he says, shrugging off the weight of his legacy. “The way our clients think has dramatically changed since the time of my grandfather. With the Internet and social media, our clients are now more informed than ever. We must continuously keep ahead of the curve.”
Tonino’s eldest daughter, Ginevra, who has recently also taken a more active role in the business, has her own agenda when it comes to her contribution to her father’s company. “I certainly see my future in the family business. I would like to add to its growth, making sure I honour what my grandfather and father have built for us. I am also very interested in giving this very masculine brand a feminine touch,” she says in her soft voice while her eyes shine with a determination reminiscent of the preceding Lamborghini generations.
At the Ferruccio Lamborghini Museum
Celebrating the Past
Tonino Lamborghini has done more than just take over his family business and set up his own. He wants to make sure that the world remembers his father and what his life’s work was about – mechanics and people. Standing in the Ferruccio Lamborghini museum space dedicated to founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s life’s work, it is almost overwhelming just how much the family has achieved in 70 years. “It was important for us to establish this museum honouring my parents,” says Tonino while strolling down the long gallery of Lamborghini tractors, cars, helicopters, motorboats, golf carts, and more. “I really want to emphasise here the role of my mother, Annita. She was instrumental to all this. Behind every successful man you will find an intelligent woman. My mother built this business together with my father. They were a great team. This museum, however, is not only dedicated to them, but also to the many people involved in our family’s success.” It is soon obvious what Tonino means. The halls are teeming with pictures of mechanics and co-workers who where part of the Lamborghini team at one point or other in its history. “This museum also exists so that future generations can understand just how many people, how much work, and how much collective dedication it takes to achieve such success and excellence.” Ginevra enthusiastically chimes in, “This museum is a reminder of what we are part of. It is inspirational and gives many people a lot of joy. We are the third generation of a great legacy and feel the pressure. But it is also a huge opportunity.” Ferruccio adds, “We are keen to prove ourselves and show that we can achieve even more! We will continue to strive to maintain our identity while venturing even further into luxury and fashion.”
Planning the Future
While surrounded by the rich heritage of his past, Tonino Lamborghini does not lose focus on the future. “Today we are very emotionally attached to our watches. It is, I believe, because they are a mechanical product. That has always been and will always remain where our hearts are. From a business perspective, we are powerfully expanding into the branded hospitality and real estate sectors. Today’s consumer wants more than just a beautiful product. They want a name that guarantees excellence, and we can provide that. My father was always adamant that everything you do must have content. Design with no content is like a beautiful woman with no intellect. You will soon grow bored,” he states with a mischievous smile. Tonino constantly tells his children that excellence in business is a matter of dedication and endurance. “It is a matter of adding something new, not just about copying what others have done. What is the point of that?” he says. In fact, Tonino, like his father, is a business pioneer in terms of how he expanded his firm. “We were amongst the first to penetrate China in the 80s. It was an unbelievable experience that taught us a lot.” Ferruccio adds, “We know that today we cannot operate alone. We must collaborate with other cultures, which is enriching. Our name presents us with great opportunity. We are proud of our legacy, but there is also no telling what we can do in the future.” His sister agrees whole-heartedly, “Yes! I hope that what seems insurmountable to me today, will become achievable in due course. We will continue to take the risks that are expected of us.” Tonino looks at his children with considerable affection as they all stand in the museum dedicated to his late father. “What I wish for my children is that they go beyond what is familiar, that they explore the world. I hope they get the chance to live and thrive through their creativity, just as my father and I both did.”