24 September 2018

Riccardo Illy - businessman

Grandson of Illy coffee company founder who became firm’s chairman

Riccardo Illy is president of
Gruppo illy Spa
Riccardo Illy, whose paternal grandfather, Hungarian-born Francesco Illy, founded the world-famous illy coffee company, was born on this day in 1955 in Trieste.

Illy is president and former chairman of Gruppo illy and vice-chairman of illycaffè. Under his leadership, the company has expanded to include Domori chocolate, Dammann Frères teas, Agrimontana - which makes fruit preserves, jams and confectionery -  and Mastrojanni, a winery located in the Montalcino region of southern Tuscany.  It also holds a stake in Grom, a chain of premium ice cream parlours.

The company now has a presence in 140 countries and as well as coffee shops the company also operates ice cream stores in Italy, as well as in New York, Malibu, Los Angeles, Paris, Dubai, Osaka, and Jakarta.

Although the company’s roots are in Trieste, where Francesco opened for business in 1933, Gruppo illy Spa is based in Rome.

Riccardo’s first job was as a skiing instructor at the Piancavallo resort in the Dolomites and a sailing instructor at Monfalcone, near Trieste. He married the food and wine journalist Rossana Bettini, with whom he had a daughter, Daria.

He joined the family firm illycaffè in 1977, as the company's business director and for the first time gave the firm a marketing department. Now the company’s annual revenue is in the region of €400 million and reckons to serve more than seven million cups of coffee per day in around 100,000 outlets worldwide.

Francesco Illy founded the famous coffee company in Trieste in 1933
Francesco Illy founded the famous coffee
company in Trieste in 1933
Parallel with his business career, Riccardo also spent 15 years as active politician. He was elected Mayor of Trieste twice, in 1993 and 1997, became a member of the Italian parliament in 2001 as an independent and in 2003 was elected President of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, with the backing of the Democratic Coalition Party, remaining in office until he failed in his bid to be elected for a second term in 2008.

Away from business and politics, Illy’s passion is for fast motorcycles, an interest which began when he would ride along the Italian and Yugoslavian coastlines as a teenager and continued when he and his wife traveled to Greece on his Kawasaki 900 soon after they were married. As regional president, he rode to his office each day on a 1200cc BMW.

As a music lover, Illy is president of Trieste's Theatre Giuseppe Verdi.

Piazza Unità d'Italia is Trieste's main square
Piazza Unità d'Italia is Trieste's main square
Travel tip:

The seaport of Trieste, capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region,  officially became part of the Italian Republic in 1954. Trieste had been disputed territory for thousands of years and after it was granted to Italy in 1920, thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.

The Caffé Pirona was a favourite of James Joyce
The Caffé Pirona was a favourite of James Joyce

Travel tip:

Trieste’s coffee house culture dates back to the Hapsburg era. Caffè Tommaseo, in Piazza Nicolò Tommaseo, near the grand open space of the Piazza Unità d’Italia, is the oldest in the city, dating back to 1830. Within a short space of time, more than 100 had opened, including Caffè degli Specchi, on Piazza Unità itself, which was popular with the authors James Joyce, Italo Svevo and Franz Kafka, who at different times were part of Trieste’s thriving literary scene. Another favourite of the Irish writer Joyce was the Caffè Pirona on Largo della Barriera Vecchia.

More reading:

How Turin shopkeeper Luigi Lavazza built a coffee empire

Angelo Moriondo - inventor of the world's first espresso machine

Trieste becomes part of Italy

Also on this day:

1934: The birth of exiled royal princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma

1954: The birth of footballer Marco Tardelli


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