BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

Giuseppe Santoni of Santoni shoes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 November, 2014, 5:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 November, 2014, 5:08pm

The Italian shoemaker talks about his father's humble beginnings, early memories of making shoes, and his company's quest to fuse innovation with high-quality footwear

"My father started the Santoni brand in 1975, when I was seven. He opened up the company in the house we lived in. We lived upstairs, and he worked in the garage. He started with nothing except his vision and passion for high-quality shoes.

Life was good at that time. One of his early initiatives was to develop the brand in the US. He did that first, because he had experience in that market in his previous job.

He was very much involved in production, and at the start he physically worked on the production line. But when we got more employees, he stepped back to control and organise the business as a whole. He managed things like leather selection, the daily production goals, and so on.

I grew up in the company, so I've known how to make shoes since I was a child. I worked on the line and built up my experience and know-how there. I joined the company properly in 1987, after I finished school, working as an export manager. I travelled the world, looking for new customers.

The mission was to expand our market, so I had to find opportunities in Europe and Asia. I first went to Asia in 1990, and the trip included Hong Kong and Japan. Little by little, the company expanded.

It was a pretty good period, as I established relationships with people, and I am still close to them. It was definitely difficult at the beginning, as many people didn't know the brand. But I made myself work hard, and now it's looking good. I proved to myself that if you really want something, you can get it.

I've always worked for the Santoni company, so I haven't been exposed to the way people from other companies manage their businesses. When I successfully expanded our family brand overseas, that validated my management style.

I don't feel the fact that I've only ever worked in the family business is a disadvantage. But if my children want to work for me some day, I would prefer them to get some wider experience first. I only have one point of view, and I haven't had much other input.

People don't tell you how to do your work. You can't study that in a book, so it's just a matter of using your own good sense and figuring out how to solve problems. You have to learn by yourself, and go through difficulties. Innovation and technology are important for us. We invest a lot of money in new projects, development, research and materials. This is especially the case with the sneakers line, and with ladies' shoes.

We are looking at new treatments and colouring processes for men's shoes. I believe innovation is very important, otherwise the product becomes old and less interesting. I say to my team that every year we have to prove to ourselves, and to the market, that we are capable of being innovative and creative.

I'm a very easy person, but I can be complicated, too. I'm easy because I think anything is possible, and I'm open to talking to anybody.

If my children want to work for me some day, I would prefer them to get some wider experience first

I'm difficult because standards of quality are high. I expect our team to give their best. When people give the best, we get the best results.

I have more than 400 pairs of shoes. They are from different years in various styles and models. All the shoes are very well made and of good quality. I like shoes, and I never throw them away, which is why this collection has built up over time.

Our company is family owned. Even if we have 500 people in our office, it still feels like home. Everybody knows each other. No one calls me Mr Santoni, everyone calls me Giuseppe. It's a team that works together. We take care of our people, and we try to make sure they are happy.

Our factory is very modern and green. We have solar panels for the line production. The entire building is made from recycled materials. We also have a green garden inside. So it's a modern brand with a traditional way of making shoes.

I don't have a lot of time outside of work. One of the things I don't like about my job is that I have to work too much. But I would say I take care of my family.

I have hobbies, of course. I like nice cars, and I collect watches. During the weekends, I try to spend as much time as I can with my son and daughter, who are at boarding school in Switzerland. I talk to them at least twice a day, even if I am travelling.

Managing a family is very different from managing a company. It's different today to my father's experience. I'm lucky, because I do what I like. I have a job that I love. One of life's great privileges is to be able to do something that you enjoy."