By Salma Awwad
With CEO Gianluca Filippi on board, Tonino Lamborghini is planning to take over the luxury world of hotels and “techno-luxury” smartphones
Gianluca Filippi is looking worried. The chief executive of Tonino Lamborghini has just spotted a Ferrari on the cover of a car magazine in the room where we are having our interview, and he’s clearly not happy about it.
“Can I do something, because I am quite disturbed?” he asks, before getting up, walking over to the bookshelf and flipping the magazine face down onto the table.
“I can see that and I can’t stay in front of this kind of car,” Filippi smiles, returning to his seat once more. “Really, for us, we have the DNA of a bull, and our DNA cannot match with a horse.”
It’s immediately obvious that some of the characteristics of the charging bull, the powerful symbol that represents the hugely successful Italian car brand, still run through the management of Tonino Lamborghini as well.
It was Ferruccio Lamborghini who began the story of the carmaker in 1963, having already established successful tractor and heater manufacturing brands. The logo that has now come to symbolise some of the world’s most recognisable sports cars came from his beloved star sign, Taurus.
But just 11 years after founding the marque, Ferruccio was forced to sell Lamborghini after the firm was hit by the 1973 global oil crisis. However, his son Antonio, or ‘Tonino’, kept alive his family’s link to the brand by introducing the eponymous luxury lifestyle collection.
Filippi, an engaging and personable Italian, was commissioned by the man himself to revamp the company and take it to the next level.
“After my arrival our turnover doubled every year,” says Filippi, while knocking firmly on the table three times so as not to jinx his statement.
“Now you can say our retail turnover is close to €357m [$458m],” he continues.
The company, which is owned by the Lamborghini family, bears the same iconic symbol and translates its heritage through high-end watches, eyewear, leather goods, writing instruments and, more recently, mobile phones.
“After two months, I completely changed the top management, because the previous business model was based on licensing,” says Filippi. “I hate licensing. Absolutely. For us it’s dangerous. We focused on partnership instead, which means we are in charge of communication.”
It’s a cutthroat strategy that has proven to be successful.
Filippi’s past experience was mostly in the luxury fashion industry, and it shows through his impeccably tailored navy blue suit. What drew him to Tonino Lamborghini, he says, was the challenge to turn the company around.
“Mr Lamborghini is a very interesting and volcanic man, and a top designer. He manages four people in-house in the design department that follow all the crazy ideas that he comes up with.”
“We are not fashion,” he continues. “We want to stay in the luxury industry but outside of fashion. The problem was to understand where and when to start to clean the market. Cleaning the market means to forget our position before I arrived and to completely reposition our brand. Now we can see a good combination of the full portfolio.”
It looks like a perfect time to introduce Tonino Lamborghini’s first mobile phone, Antares. Selling for $4,000 a pop, it was introduced to Dubai for the first time last month.
“When we started to analyse the market we discovered that it is divided into two segments: One that is premium owned by the American and Korean companies, as in Apple and Samsung. The other is very high-end luxury, mainly Vertu and just a little bit Tag Heuer,” states Filippi.
“We saw that there is a clear gap and decided to combine the premium specs with high-end packaging. What we want is to create a new segment, the techno-luxury segment.”
So what exactly do you get for your $4,000?
The phone’s body is made from stainless steel, with a leather back. It features a quad core processor; a scratch-proof Gorilla Glass screen and it uses the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean platform. Each unit is completely hand assembled, from start to finish, by a single craftsman in Italy.
However, all the software is currently exported from Taiwan and Filippi’s goal is to move the entire manufacturing process to Germany.
“We are producing 1,947 pieces in various colours, which is the date of birth of Mr Lamborghini. We will launch the 4G version of the phone in November globally,” he states.
The Middle East was the third region to experience the phone, with the first launch taking place in Moscow, followed by London’s Selfridges and then Qatar and Dubai.
“Our biggest market in the Middle East is certainly Dubai; we launched in Qatar first out of respect for our local partner, but our focus is on Dubai. Dubai is an international hub. I love Dubai,” says Filippi.
The company chose Dubai to be the site of their very first flagship store in the Middle East. It then has an aggressive two-phase plan to open a total of 21 retail outlets by the end of 2016.
“We are close to setting up a flagship store in this area. There are two phases, phase one is to open 11 retailers by 2015. Phase two will be another ten stores by the end of 2016. The first one will be in Dubai. Then we branch out to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Muscat, while Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are part of phase two,” he states.
It is clear that Filippi has sees the region as a key part of his firm’s future.
“This region can be one of the most important markets for the Tonino group. My future expectation is very high, but for now it represents 15 percent of the total revenue. 93.4 percent of our turnover comes from foreign countries [outside of Italy], but 65 percent comes from the Far East: China, Korea, Japan and Indonesia,” he states.
The brand’s hefty chunk of Asian turnover can be largely credited to the firm’s three luxury hotels based in China.
The first is a revamped palace and library in Suzhou from the 17th century. A 99-room boutique hotel, it sits quaintly on the shore of the city’s famous Jinji Lake.
The second is a business hotel in Kunshan with close to 200 rooms and the third, which just opened last December right before Christmas, is a lakeside hotel in Huangshi, is a fully-fledged resort. Designed in the shape of a wave, it is the biggest hotel now owned by the Tonino Lamborghini Group with a total of 251 suites.
Right now, Filippi has his sights set on expanding the company’s hospitality business into the Middle East.
“We are discussing opening a fourth hotel here. I say discussion because we didn’t sign an agreement yet, but I think everything is done,” he reveals.
“Dubai is incredible. The occupancy rate of hotels in Dubai reaches more than 83 percent, which is crazy. You cannot find another country in another part of the world which can reach this type of occupancy. All the hotels are full.”
Now the company has three different concepts: the resort, the business and the boutique. All the three concepts follow the Lamborghini heritage.
“Dubai would be more iconic, as in close to the boutique hotel concept. Not a business hotel. I would like to have my hotel opened within the end of 2016.”
Filippi also expresses interest in even taking it a step further and establishing a sister company here to manage the whole area.
“For me it would be a very special hub. It is six hours from Bologna and Hong Kong where we have a sister company, so Dubai can be a very strategic area for Tonino Lamborghini,” he states.
And when asked about what car he drives, the CEO replies: “I drive a CLS Mercedes. I don’t drive a Lamborghini because I would lose my licence in one minute. I love it when I can drive a Lambo, but it’s a sports car and you can’t drive it under 120km/hr. You just can’t.”
“We call our cars our babies, we love cars, we love sports cars. Two weeks ago we opened our first museum which is located next to our headquarters in Bologna, Italy, and people can finally see our first Miura there.”
A day in the life of...Gianluca Filippi
“I love my job so much and I wake up every day at 6am feeling so enthusiastic. I tell myself: ‘Ok, let’s do it’.”
“My Chinese partner calls me almost every day at that time right before his lunch.”
“I head to the office at about 8am. Our office is a villa from the 18th century outside Bologna. The percentage of women in our company is very high, over 70-80 percent because I think women are more professional, smarter and more clever than us.”
“I love all my team together and I can share with them my enthusiasm. I love motivating people every day. Sometimes I use my voice higher than what would be considered to be polite, but, [I’m the boss] I can do that.”
“We are working often by phone, often by conference call.”
“We work together until 8 pm and in the last two three hours when the office is empty, I can think of the future strategies.”
“I stay in the office everyday till 10pm because that’s when the United States opens.”
“I fly a lot, now I got all the platinum cards from all the airlines. On a personal basis, I spend a very short time with my family. My daughter studies in Korea and my wife is American.”
Nice piece... but
When did Filippi join Lamborghini?