Patrizio Bertelli: The Guardian Angel of Prada!

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You may have already read my article on one of the most reputed fashion designer brands ‘Prada’. We all know Miuccia Prada, the female fashion designer, that has been shown and talked about a million times now; however, there is another equally great personality behind the great success of Prada, and it is Patrizio Bertelli, the CEO and husband of Miuccia Prada!

Though little is mentioned in the regular media, he has been there behind the scenes at every level of Prada’s progress as a multi-billion fashion brand. In fact, from what I have learned so far, I can declare that it’s been his business acumen and knowledge in juggling numbers that made Prada what it is now.

A Skilful Cobbler with a Business Mind:

In the early 1970s, he was doing his engineering course at the university of Bologna, the university of the largest city in the Emilia-romagna Region of Italy, when a great idea struck him: the possibility of producing the much sought after wide leather belts at a much lower price than that of what retailers priced in those days.

Being urged by the businessman in him, Bertelli dropped out of his course at the university to start a modest leather accessories company, a leather factory named ‘(Mr) Sir Robert‘ in Arezzo, and another one named ‘Granello‘. (It is the first and only business venture that Patrizio Bertelli operates independently from Prada, in his own capacity.)

The Confluence: Creative Force Meeting Branding Architect:

He met Miuccia Prada, a budding fashion designer, managing her family business, at a trade fair in Milan, and things started taking shape. He became Prada’s leather goods supplier, and the business association developed into a romantic relationship. They were together.

When Miuccia Prada took-over her family business in 1978, Patrizio became the business manager, besides being her husband. Miuccia did not change her maiden name ‘Prada’ in order not to upset the growing popularity of the Prada Brand. In 1996, Bertilli merged his business with Miuccia’s to form a new holding company called Prapar BV, and though he had been managing her business since the moment they met at the trade fair in 1997, he officially became the CEO of Prada. While Mrs Prada looked after the fashion side and production, Bertelli looked after the accounts and the very important aspect of their business – the outlets. He made tie-ups with popular department stores, and by 1980 he expanded Prada Brand with many of its own outlets world over.

Very few people know that it was Patrizio Bertelli who made Miuccia design women’s ready-to-wear apparel and it was he who convinced Miuccia to take up menswear designing in 1990s. As a sign of her gratitude to him, Miuccia is known to confess openly that Bertelli was far more of provocateur than she was.

A Man Who Could See the Future:

Lauren Goldstein Corwe, the fashion design writer for 20 years, wrote in one of her reviews in Fortune (1999) about a business move that highlighted the business tactics Bertelli had and how when Bertelli spent about $ 260 million to buy 9.5% of Gucci, a much larger company than Prada, other companies laughed at his ‘thoughtless’ move, but Bertelli had the last laugh when he made a gross profit of $ 140 million by selling that share the next year to another company which had been trying to buy out Gucci! And she went on to say that Prada was known for its cutting-edge design, and Prada wouldn’t be Prada without Bertelli and she even expressed her suspicion that if you took Bertelli’s attention away from Prada, you took the spirit away from Prada, and I’m sure, those who have been reading about Bertelli won’t hesitate to agree with her.

Whether Bertelli could see the future or not, he certainly saw where the money was and how to get it…legally.

He was the one who made Prada own shares in several other huge fashion designing brands. He moved chess-mates to acquire shares in Helmut Lang, De Rigo Group, Church & Co, Jil Sander and some other top class design brands that made Prada a Super Brand. (In recent years, some of those brands have bought their shares back from Prada.)

A Generous Paymaster and Hard Taskmaster:

Patrizio Bertelli, grey-haired Italian with a large aquiline nose, is known to be a generous paymaster. He is a gourmet and likes to cook good food, and he invites his best or the most efficient employees to dine with him, serving them the dishes he cooked.

On the other hand, according to some employees who left Prada’s employment, Berelli is a bully… a nightmare. They say he often shouts at anyone who ignores his instructions, or even at those who happened to be around him at a wrong time. Some say he has a very short temper – he broke a glass window because it was not set properly and he broke mirrors because he believed they showed people fatter than they actually were. In my opinion, he’s right in being hard on his employees. He is not a pastor in a church preaching his congregation; he’s dealing with about 11,000 employees from different back grounds and at different places around the world. When the difference of a couple of centimetres on the length of the heel of an ace shoe makes a difference in millions, how can we expect him to be lax with details? He is often referred to as the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar who led an army of numerous legions of soldiers under his disciplinarian iron fist, and incidentally, Bertelli also has that trade-mark Caesar’s aquiline nose, and he’s the Emperor of Prada, and he has his wife’s permission to say so!

About those whining employees who left Prada, he says they leave the company because they can’t take the pressure-cooker environment in the fashion industry. His own wife, Mrs Prada, says, often fondly, that working with him is exhausting; nevertheless, she admits that she admires and respects him.

Patrizio, a man worth $ 5.2 billion in the current market, likes to stick to business ethics and principles, come what may. In his view, if there is a key to Prada’s success, it’s cast from the principles they have had all along this long struggle, and he advises start-up entrepreneurs to stick those principles which are universal and can successfully be applied by anyone.

A Keen Sailor with a Competitive Spirit:

Patrizio, a six-footer, likes sailing and is known to compete in international sailing competitions in 1970s. He bought a 75-foot sailboat in 1997. In 2004, he launched the Prada “Luna Rossa”, a sailing team, in partnership with the Telecom Italia Group, and entered the America’s Cup, the world’s most important sailing race, and came in second place. In 2012, he invested $ 52 million of the company money to enter the race in 2013 which was their fourth time, but lost.

The Pradas and the Long hand of the Law:

Patrizio Bertelli is such a juggler with numbers that he escaped inquiries by the Tax Authority of the Italian Government doubting Mrs Miuccia Prada and Mr Patrizio Bertelli’s tax returns. However, he countered that they both paid 470 million Euros in the month of January this year (2014) in taxes in accordance with an agreement with the government for bringing Prada Brand’s legal headquarters back to Italy and for resolving any previous tax payments.

Such is the power of Patrio Bertelli, the mastermind behind Prada Brand, and his knowledge of finance!