ISSIMO brings together Marie-Louise Sció, CEO and Creative Director Il Pellicano Hotels, creator of ISSIMO and Erica Alessandri, Technogym’s Digital Product Manager and a member of its Board of Directors, ƒfor a conversation on women in business, the evolution of heritage brands and Italianità.
Marie-Louise Scio (MLS): Well, we [EA and MLS] met each other very briefly over a very good Bellini at the bar. I’m the daughter of [not the founder] of someone who runs a hotel business and it’s nice to see other women be in the family business because usually it’s always men. I don’t know if Erica has brothers but I have two brothers and a sister, I’m the only one involved. It’s really nice to see different generations of women getting into the family business.
Erica Alessandri (EA): I’m second generation, we can say, my father founded Technogym in 1983. I do have a brother is nine years younger than me, and hasn’t joined the business yet. I did loads of business abroad before joining the family business. I studied in the UK, US, Central American and Asia (where I did my MBA). After five years outside of the family business, I decided it was a good time to join as I had experienced a bit of other industries.
Both of you have very similar backgrounds – daughters of heads of companies who in themselves are now heritage brands, or close enough, you’ve both of lived and studied outside of Italy, and you’ve both had enough time out of the industry to think about coming back in. What inspired you to jump in full immersion? Neither of you are really dipping your toes in what you do…
MLS: I got in by mistake, the last thing I wanted to do was work in the family business. I actually wanted to be an architect and do what I studied. It just kind of sucked me in some way, I really had no intention of doing it, and I am really happy I do what I do now. It really wasn’t the plan at all. My father asked me to redo a bathroom – I had just come from architecture school – “Yeah sure”- and from that it became “I think you need to redo the who thing because it’s getting-well, do it.” I dipped my toes, my knees, my shoulders, my head, everything in it at this point.
EA: I have a bit of a different experience. I grew up within the family business literally. When I was born the company was seven years old and my dad has been very busy. I spent from the ages 3 to 12-13 years old, when I started having better things to do, I would spend every weekend in the office with my dad. At 10, I started accompanying him on business trips and getting into business meetings from a young age. I’ve grown up with the company. It felt like the right thing to do and I always knew I would eventually end up at Technogym.
Your companies have the same touchstones: quality, Italianità, authenticity, and approach excellence from both micro and macro levels, yet from two different directions whereas Technogym started out as expansion, and it still and now has a hometown destination [with the Wellness Campus], while Pellicano started out as destination and is now digital expansion. Let’s talk about that philosophy within both of your groups.
MLS: The reason we expanded into digital was a series of reasons, you know, it’s always the sum of the parts. We had been trying to expand our hotel group for 10 years and we never found the right property. And the process is really long – research, negotiation – and slow, also because I am really picky about the places. It’s not easy to find places that feel like the perfect match. ISSIMO was a bit of a combination of trying to do something that had a faster process and it went in parallel to make kind of the fourth hotel but make it digital. It’s a reflection of everything that is in our hotels – style, taste, philosophy – and have it both editorial and e-com and really create an experience on line, so you get the same sensitivity. Trying to break a bit those boundaries, same approach I had for the hotels. At first they were really just quite boxes for a good night’s sleep and nothing else, I tried to push those and make it more of a lifestyle. I have to find a new word for lifestyle (I don’t like that word, need a better one) — more of a point of view. ISSIMO is just that – a point of view that we digitalised. So that was that.
EA: I would it’s also kind of similar in the other way. Technogym has always been about experience, that’s the key differentiating point of what’s on the market. Top notch design, pioneers in adding technology, and now to content, so it’s experience-based concept around the company brought us to create Technogym Village which is our headquarters and the first wellness campus in the world where we can host people and really make them live a real wellness experience 360 degrees. Food (with all the produce from the area), a big wellness centre where people can try all of our equipment, format and content. Technogym Village is our wellness experience hub where people can live it. Wellness Valley is a social project that my father started 20 years ago where we put together all the stakeholders from around the territory from both public and private sector to promote wellness and healthy lifestyle, and to use wellness as a lever for sustainable development.
Recently, Italy has seen the rise of women in key positions as entrepreneurs and power brokers. Yes, the glass ceiling is breaking, but it’s still rather new in Italy. The concept of women in prominent roles is still new and you are unicorns. Can you share your experiences?
EA: It is true that the mindset [in Italy] is still a bit old school. However, in all of my experiences, I never had the feeling that I was treated differently for either my gender or my young age. I was quite lucky. I was first born and strong willed and vocal….It is a frequent question that is asked, especially coming from Italy. I am aware that there is a problem in this. As I was saying before, I grew up within the company and we have people that have known me since I was child and they welcome me very naturally.
MLS: I found it to be difficult to be honest. The hotel world is really male driven, and I wanted to do things very differently. I didn’t have a hotel background (aside from coming here) and I didn’t have the hotel education. I had a more creative approach, and it was all men, and I was the daughter of the boss – it completely backfired so I had to prove myself much more. I was the Girl, Young, Creative and the Daughter of the Boss – and I’m realising now that it was quite difficult and I was really insecure in that I didn’t know the business. Now I see a lot more women getting in the business because it is creative, and there is space for creativity as well. I did find it quite challenging I have to say… I remember when I was doing that famous first bathroom and the guy of the cantiere (crew) said “Do you even know how to take measurements?” I thought “oh man, it’s gonna be all up hill from here”. It was a lot to learn and I am definitely getting my revenge right now . . .
Let’s talk sustainability
EA:When my father started Technogym in 1983, the industry was all about body building and then towards then end of the 80s it moved towards fitness, a hedonistic approach to training – to look good and for aesthetic purposes. Around 1992, he had the intuition of coining the word wellness – wellbeing with the notion of fitness, meaning training not only to look good but also to feel good, a more holistic approach. The Roman philosophy of mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body) – a very Italian idea as well – train, have a positive mental attitude and balanced nutrition. He spread this around the world to create a sustainable future. For the last few years, I’ve been trying to bring forward this legacy and promote wellness. I am involved in the World Economic Forum and we started working with them to bring about the idea of the wellness economy. I take it to heart- both green sustainability as well as people. We really believe that we should focus on humans, the wellbeing of people will bring about the wellbeing of the planet. We started a campaign – healthy people healthy planet.
MLS: In our company we have the same philosophy. We put people back at the centre. The wellbeing of who’s part of your family is fundamental for them to start with, to be able to say “I work in a company that puts me first” is so important. We do a lot things like mediation to create wellbeing. As for sustainability, there is so much waste in the hotel industry. This year, it became a real priority. We want to be a small hotel group that really takes it on our shoulders and be representative of a sustainable Italian hotel group. We are working with Eco Age who is helping us analyse every single process to see how we can be sustainable and what we can do to have most the most impact. It is also really important to be local and supportive of the local community- for example at Il Pellicano we only have Tuscan produce, only Tuscan menu, a rotating regional menu, we invite local producers to really be part of the fabric to work together as a community and to sustain small realities. L’Unione fa veramente la forza. (Together truly is strength). And that is what ISSIMO is about- being a community of Italian excellence whether cheese or Technogym. It goes from small to big- putting all together in ISSIMO and wave that Italian flag of excellence and community.
EA: This is also one of the reasons we started the Wellness Valley project. Giving back to the community has always been very important to us. Not just to our local community, but also to Italy as an opportunity for the entire country since we are always very proud of being Italians. In general, the whole sense of community and belonging to something is very important now, especially to the younger generation. We’ve always tried to create our products thinking of the different peoples and communities. We don’t only have equipment but also wellness experience and dynamic content.
What is Italianità?
MLS: I don’t think there is a country in the world that has so much quality in so many different areas: culturally, artistically, architecturally, gastronomically, you name it. Italy is so complete. It is a feast for every single sense. It offers so much quality in so many areas and you interact with it in a natural way. Everything is very spontaneous and natural. For me, Italianità is that – lightness and elegance. I always use the word sprezzatura, the art of concealing the big effort you put into something but it’s actually all extremely natural. It’s just this way of living in this apparent lightness that is full of content.
EA: I do agree completely. As you were saying, the quality in the way of life, the quality in the way we make things, the passion, you know there is so much love in everything Italians do. You can really see the love and passion. What is unique is how we live, our lifestyle, the Mediterranean diet, the fact that in general we are quite positive. This why we believe wellness is distinctly Italian because we have that holistic approach in everything we do.
ISSIMO is all about celebrating the very best of Italy. What is your favourite word that you use with-issimo?
EA: After talking about health and healthy lifestyle, I have to say sanissimo!
MLS: Bellissimo! I get very excited by beauty – it could be a tomato or a work of art.
Il Pellicano has teamed up with Technogym as the only hotel (in the world!) to offer Technogym Case to its guests. The perfect at-home or on-the-go training solution, the Technogym Case is a beautifully designed anthracite black leather bag packed with a foam roller, mobility ball, 100% sustainable exercise mat, and loop and power bands (for resistance training), as well as Technogym’s innovative digital virtual training service which give’s access to Technogym Training App training programs and videos.