INSIDE LA RINASCENTE: A Chat Over Dinner with CEO Alberto Baldan

You may think that I am exaggerating, and to some extent it is true. I did not dine privately with la Rinascente CEO Mr. Baldan, but this is how the evening felt to me. When I saw the event promoting a tasty aperitivo with the CEO of the most famous department store in Italy, I thought of one of those networking events where the guest awkwardly speaks for 5 minutes and then has to rush away. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Organised by Hub Giovani, a group of inspired young students and professionals who get together to discuss about work, culture, innovation and much more, the aperitivo with Baldan was so enjoyable and relaxed that you almost forgot to whom you were talking.

Alberto Baldan, la Rinascente CEO with a wooden model of the store. Image Amplified www.imageamplified.com
Alberto Baldan, la Rinascente CEO with a wooden model of the store

Meeting Mr Baldan

As soon as he arrived, Baldan started mingling with the audience, being very welcoming and kindly replying to all the sorts of curiosity anyone could think of. When he started addressing everyone, the real “talk” of the evening, he narrated the story and later develpoments of “La Rinascente” with such pride that you may think he actually funded it.

La Rinascente, view from piazza Duomo. Image Amplified www.imageamplified.com
La Rinascente, view from Piazza Duomo

The History of la Rinascente

Interesting to know (and maybe not everyone actually knows it) is that la Rinascente was funded by those Bocconi brothers who, after having established and run a very successful department store in the heart of Milan, decided to go and fund Italy’s first Business School to pass on their knowledge. And Baldan actually confessed that this part of the department store heritage, together with its name (actually proposed by one of the major Italian writers and artists of the twentieth century, Gabriele D’Annunzio) is what makes him so honoured to work in such a well known establishment.

Fast forwarding through the story of la Rinascente, Mr Baldan became CEO in 2012, after the Thai Central Retail Corporation had bought it from its previous owners. At the time la Rinascente was not in very good shape. However,  in just a few years Alberto managed to bring the department store to its old successful economic performance, and of course even overcoming it. During 2015 la Rinascente recorded 500 million sales. And with a very humble attitude, he told us what he believes were the drivers of such a quick turnaround.

The beauty department on the ground floor at la Rinascente. Image Amplified www.imageamplified.com
The beauty department on the ground floor at la Rinascente

The La Rinascente Experience, Partnerships and Community Relations

First of all, the luxury experience when entering the store is the heart of any element: from the sales assistance, to the displays and even the choice of brands, for Alberto it is normal to think that the customer deserves all this attention. He doesn’t even call them “customers” anymore: they are “visitors” who are enjoying a special experience and the goal is to make that experience the most unique one.

Then, he also talked a lot about all the partnerships he proudly signed during these years, which have boosted the name of la Rinascente both in Italy and abroad. Some of these partnerships include the Milan Design Week, Michelin star chefs, and artists. Many more were mentioned for the coming future (but if I tell you them now, is not a surprise anymore right?).

Finally he stressed the importance of giving back to the community. He believes that by doing so the returns to la Rinascente multiply exponentially through brand loyalty. He gave us a very practical example: every year the store sponsors a particular exhibition in Milan and of course local people and tourists are grateful for this. Not too bad considering that this selfless sponsorship does not bring in revenues directly to the business.

Detail of la Rinascente's windows. Image Amplified www.imageamplified.com
Detail of la Rinascente’s windows

The Future

However, what seemed like half an hour of talk and questions was actually more than two hours long.  There was a moment when I thought that we could actually keep going like that until late, simply chatting to the CEO of la Rinascente. Besides the lessons he gave us regarding running a department store, he didn’t miss an opportunity to tell us how much he believes that Italy will be a better place when young people like us, who are open minded, innovative and energetic will take control. But this is another story and it would take another blog post to talk about it.

In conclusion I personally believe I will cherish this talk over dinner as few other very meaningful conversations, which I was lucky enough to have. And while I put myself to practice being able to talk to audiences the way he did, with such a simplicity and charisma, I think I will schedule another trip to la Rinascente soon. As he said, you cannot ever get enough of that experience.

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