ROME — At a ceremony to bestow an honorary doctorate in management, banking and commodity sciences, one would expect remarks about trading, financial planning and investments.
But not if it is up to Brunello Cucinelli, who turned to his beloved Immanuel Kant, Epicurus, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Roman emperor Hadrian and 15th-century humanist, merchant and scientist Benedetto Cotrugli for his speech at Rome’s prestigious Sapienza University on Thursday.
Rather than reading his prepared remarks, Cucinelli — wearing an all-white suit under the black and red gown and cap and flanked by the university’s top academics — confidently and without hesitation addressed the crowd of students, journalists, family and friends that gathered in the lecture hall of the storied educational institution.
“You will be in a better mood when you leave,” Cucinelli promised, and, to be sure, in his signature can-do mode and positive attitude, he approached some of the subjects that are more dear to him.
“Open up to the world, have hope, be gentle and kind, discover the values and joy of life, and follow your own path,” he urged. “I started with cashmere but I knew nothing about it, I used to play cards before,” he said with shrug, to a round of laughter. “But I wanted to do something that would be passed on from one generation to the next, that would stand the test of time. When I told my father I wanted to create cashmere pullovers, he looked at me without understanding what pullover meant or what cashmere was, but he responded: ‘Do what you wish and God be with you.’ Pave your own way, but do listen to the elders and their advice on major issues such as politics or religion.”
Cucinelli spoke more than once of his family of farmers, and how he learned by example from his parents. Despite the location, he spoke about how the town bar was actually his first place of learning about real life and his self-taught education.
“There is an intelligence coming from education and one of the soul. Study the right amount so that you have time to nourish your soul,” he advised.
Rector Antonella Polimeni explained the reasons for offering the honorary recognition, praising Cucinelli’s “successful history combined with the respect of the territory and of social values, giving life to a new entrepreneurial humanism, building his company in the full respect of the moral and economic dignity of man, conceived not only as a tool to generate profit but also as a means to develop a model of capitalism that puts human beings and their enrichment at the center. He aims for profit without damaging or offending anyone and channels parts of this profit to realize initiatives that can concretely improve the human condition.”
Cucinelli, whose namesake company was publicly listed in 2012, is eyeing sales of 1 billion euros in 2024, two years sooner than planned.
The rector also pointed to Cucinelli’s training of artisans through his dedicated schools, “so as not to abandon traditions,” and the work done through the Foundation Brunello and Federica Cucinelli to promote cultural activities and support people and the territory they live in. She cited the restoration of the medieval hamlet of Solomeo, where the company is headquartered, and the upcoming library that Cucinelli is building, which is expected to be completed in 2024, in addition to the restoration of the Cathedral in Perugia among the initiatives he has undertaken over the years.
Balancing profit and giving back, which he has learned from his parents and named “humanistic capitalism,” and human sustainability have long been priorities for Cucinelli as much as giving moral and economic dignity to work and limiting the use of technology, which “is a gift of creation but it can steal your soul,” he warned. As per Kant, he related, “There are only two fascinating realities: the starry sky above us and the moral law within us. And looking at the sky and stars for me is always a source of inspiration.”
Citing Cotrugli, a merchant he sees as a master, he said that “each thing should be bought and sold at the right price.”
He touted Italy as “a wonderful country” and its manufacturing prowess, “but the fathers have transmitted fear to the children, if you take fear away and give hope, the world will be different.” He trumpeted its “quality as a real welfare state” and the “best in the handling of the pandemic.”
Cucinelli waved away concerns over the recent elections that have seen the rise of a far-right political party to the government. “Italy is the utmost expression of democracy with a strong president watching over it.”
Among previous recognitions, Cucinelli was bestowed the Cavaliere del Lavoro, or Knight of Labour, honor by Italy’s president; the Global Economy Prize for the World Economy from the Kiel Institute; an honorary degree in philosophy and ethics of human relations from Perugia University, and an honorary doctorate in philosophy from the Messina University, to name a few.