Interview: entrepreneur Gianluca Meloni

Gianluca Meloni’s two passions — fashion and motorsport — have paid hefty dividends since the Italian entrepreneur moved to the UAE five years ago
By Beatrice Thomas
Sat 26 Oct 2013 10:22 AM

Gianluca Meloni is not one to be pigeon-holed.

From his start as a 20-year-old in F1 racing to his move into media and sports management and, more recently, fashion, the enthusiastic Italian is somewhat of a jack of all trades.

However, his business endeavours have one thing in common — drive.

As the general manager of Media & Sport Management in the Middle East, his efforts include the development of the government-owned Abu Dhabi Racing Team.

However, equally as important for Meloni is his work in the fashion sector. He has worked as a “procurer” in a deal to bring Italian brand Gaudi Trade to the MENA region, while he is also developing his own company, the Italian Gentleman, which distributes Italian labels Io Uomo and Duca Sartoria.

Meloni, who is based in Dubai, says his start in motor racing began when as an 11-year-old he wandered down to a racing team’s garage 1km from his home town in Italy and convinced the crew to let him help out.

With no formal training, he learnt on the job and eventually went on to spend seven years in the sport working for three F1 teams: Minardi, Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing. Working on the development of the car using wind tunnel technology, he says his job was to get the best aerodynamic performance out of the car for his team, while in the process he worked alongside some of the biggest names in the game, while travelling the world with the sport.

However, seeking a new challenge he moved to Dubai in 2008, and worked in real estate for a time before diverting back to his beloved sport.

First hired as an external consultant for Media & Sport Management, the worldwide agent for Scuderia Ferrari F1 and manager for a few up-and-coming young drivers, he established the company’s Middle East office in 2010.

Now its general manager, he says he continued to pursue sponsorship for Ferrari and was confident about the development of the Abu Dhabi Racing Team, hinting that a major international sponsor was set to be announced at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. However, bringing it to F1 level was a long-term prospect.

“They are racing in the World Rally Championship with Citroen,” he says. “But, we want to create a motorsport culture that is missing in this country.”

Meloni says the region has young generation who were driving very fast cars.

“But 99 percent of them, they don’t even know how to drive a car,” he says. “So, we want to try to explain and try to teach them that instead of racing on the road, they should go on the track and do a real race. The goal is to find a new talent, a new racing driver that can become a Formula One driver in the next ten or 15 years, because this is a very long project.”

He says the region is well placed for such a feat, with deals such as Emirates’ five-year sponsorship with Formula One and Emaar Properties’ two-year deal with Lotus proving the sport had local support.

In his other endeavours, Meloni says Gaudi Trade has signed with RSH Middle East and Al Futtaim to open 35 stores in the next five years, with a “roadmap to open 50 stores in the next ten years”. Next year it planned to open between eight and ten, with the first slated for Dubai Festival City in January, followed by Dubai Mall in February and then the Abu Dhabi Marina Mall.

“This is a very important deal and I’m very proud of what I have done,” he says.

“Gaudi has signed a partnership with a very strong group and it has been a very long negotiation.”

Meloni says Gaudi was on a significant growth path, with 100 stores planned in China and plans to open in the US.

“There are a lot of bridge brands here, but the quality of the bridge brands is poor,” he says. “They realise that there is a need for these kinds of brands.”

He says Italian Gentleman also met a niche in the market as “you cannot find a real Italian tailor in the UAE and people here can afford to spend money”.

He says his business partner, Max Girombelli, whose family had been in the tailoring business for 150 years, had an atelier in New York but there were no plans for a shopfront in Dubai.

“We just want to keep it as it is with events at the Capital Club,” he says. “We have a private meeting room, Max takes the measurement, the clients choose the material and the lining inside and it’s tailor-made.”

Meloni says of his multi-pronged approach to business: “I love motor sport and I love fashion. So, I don’t want to be in oil and gas or commodities. I like to have these passions as my business.”

And what next for the man who has made a living chasing his dreams?

“My ambition is to own a Formula One team,” he says. “It’s not easy to get it done, but let’s try. You need to dream.”

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