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Emanuele Preve on siblings, succession, and sector diversification

The sixth-generation family member and managing director of Riso Gallo talks about the joining the family firm, branching out of the rice business, and planning for next-gen succession.
Emanuele Preve, sixth-generation family member and managing director of Riso Gallo.

Riso Gallo has been proudly serving up the finest risotto rice since the company was first documented in 1856. Founded in Genoa, the company – made famous by its recognisable red cockerel logo – has since grown to sell its products all over the planet.

Sixth-generation family member Emanuele Preve joined the business in 2013 after successful stints at multinationals, including BMW, Polaroid, Pirelli, and Credit Agricole. Now he’s the chief financial officer and managing director at Riso Gallo’s Swiss headquarters and has been tasked, along with two of his brothers, with ensuring the company’s growth while dealing with the impending retirement of his father and the succession planning that comes with such a move.

Here, he talks to Campden FB about how good governance and a strong foundation of trust is taking the family business to greater heights...

Riso Gallo's iconic logo

Was it always your intention to join the family business?
No, not early on in my life. My father and his brothers – who are the fifth generation – disagreed on the future of the business. My father’s brothers sent him out of the business, and he was without a job. Fortunately, as he was a good manager, he found another job and, within five years, they found a solution and divided the group, leaving my father to run the Italian part of Riso Gallo. By the time I was 15 years old, I realised working in a family business wasn’t so easy, so I started my career with other companies. Years later, my father asked me to join the company because he wanted to improve the office in Switzerland and he needed a person with my experience. So, I joined and I'm very happy that I did because it changed me a lot.

You previously worked for several big brands. How did those companies influence your approach to managing the family business?
They gave me an opportunity to better understand how to work with other colleagues at the same level, as I was one of thousands of employees. I think if the son of the owner enters a company without any experience, that would be a problem. To come in with experience of working with big multinational companies is, I think, very useful. It’s important to understand how other companies work and how to create and manage relationships.

"We recognise that the family, as much as the brand, has a lot of recognition and that ought to continue."

As a sixth-generation family member and managing director of one of the oldest rice-growing companies in Italy, do you feel the pressure to keep the family legacy going strong?
Yes, of course. It is very important to maintain the aptitude and the values of the family. We recognise that the family, as much as the brand, has a lot of recognition and that ought to continue. We are known to be innovative anyway, we have a research and development team because rice is a commodity - if you don't find new a product, a new way of eating, it’s difficult to continue to grow.

You work closely with three of your brothers – two of whom are actively involved in the business – is it tricky to maintain a good working relationship? 
Well, it’s not always easy, we’ve had some tough times. But I think the solution to bring in an external chief executive officer (CEO) was the right decision. That takes away a lot of the emotion and is a better way to run things.

Your 80-year-old father plans to retire from the business, can you talk about the succession plan that has been put in place?
Because he's now retiring and with our external CEO in place, succession planning is going on now. We’re discussing what will happen to the running of the company, but, because our family governance has been done fairly, there is clear communication about how things will be done moving forward.

The Riso Gallo headquarters

You’ve also been instrumental in the family’s growth and investment outside the business’ traditional focus…
My family has always been very keen on the rice business. I'm more open, so I've invested in more than 20 start-ups that will maybe help to open minds. There are some in the family who fear investing in something other than rice. If you want to grow, you need to look at other opportunities that are not strictly related to rice, so I decided to do it by myself and gave me the chance to look at some opportunities for investment and then propose them to the family. It was an interesting approach and it’s now something that we decided to take some family money and invest in.

What influences your own investment decisions?
I’m looking for companies that have something to innovate. It’s pleasing to speak with people that work with innovation in mind. When it comes to investing, I try to learn the business, get to know the founder, and really understand what it is that they’re trying to do. If they’re innovating, I’m interested.

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