The People's Entrepreneur
Born in Ivrea on April 11, 1901, Adriano Olivetti was a true Renaissance man: an engineer, a writer, a politician, an industrialist, and an entrepreneur.
Although Olivetti is known worldwide as the famous Italian manufacturer of typewriters, calculators, and computers, his story involves much more.
Educated by his mother at home where his father felt his children would receive a better education, the sober and disciplined attitudes of his parents were greatly reflected in his upbringing: Olivetti’s father emphasized the equality between manual and intellectual workers to his son.
This discipline and sobriety, however, would spark Olivetti’s “rebellion” when he chose to study a variety of subjects and did not limit himself to mechanical engineering as his father desired.
With a degree in chemical engineering from the Polytechnic University of Turin, Olivetti joined his father’s company which manufactured electric measurement devices and later on, typewriters.
A few years later when Olivetti was labelled “undesirable” by Mussolini’s regime, he was sent to the United States to study the roots of American Industrial power. It was this visit to the States that convinced Adriano Olivetti that productivity and organization went hand in hand.
Upon his return home, and with his father’s permission, Olivetti organized his father’s company into a series of departments and divisions.
This resulted in a doubling of production per man-hour and, for the first time, Olivetti sold half the typewriters used in Italy.
Olivetti shared the profits from these productivity gains with his workers by increasing salaries, fringe benefits, and services.
When you visit Ivrea and the surrounding areas, you will find that it wasn’t Olivetti’s political adventures or misadventures, if you will, that the people remember. What they recall quite fondly and nostalgically is Adriano Olivetti, the man. The man whose organizational methods as well as the respect and gratitude he showed to his workers created something never before seen in Italy.
Olivetti created the new Italian factory, unique in the world at that time, and the idea of the community movement.
He was convinced that it was possible to create a balance between profit and social solidarity. His idea was that a collective happiness within the community generated efficiency. His workers lived in conditions that were far superior to other Italian factory workers: they received higher salaries, the factory offered day care services, and there was access to a library and other culturally-rich activities which put knowledge and skills within everyone’s reach.
The company also welcomed artists, designers, writers, and poets because Olivetti believed that a factory needed not only technicians, but individuals who could enrich the factory with creativity and sensitivity as well.
Olivetti encountered an untimely death, suffering from a cerebral haemorrhage during a journey by train on February 27, 1960.
A man who believed whole-heartedly in the idea of community and that happy workers are better workers, it seems almost impossible to do justice to Olivetti’s legend with mere words. If you are interested in learning more about him, there is the Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti.
In the meantime, however, ask almost anyone in Ivrea, “Who was Adriano Olivetti?” and you will surely encounter nothing but smiles. Smiles that tacitly let you know, that he was a man of the people.
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