A chat over dinner with Alberto Baldan, CEO of La Rinascente.

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You may think that I am exaggerating, and to some extent it is true. I did not dine privately with Mr Baldan, but this is how the evening felt like 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 be 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 who you were talking to.

As soon as he arrived, Baldan started mingling with the audience, being very welcoming and kindly replying to all 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.

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 runned a very successful department store in the heart of Milan, decided to go and fund Italy’s fist Business School to pass on their knowledge. And Baldan actually confessed that this part of the department store heritage, together with its name (which was 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.

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Going a little fast forward the story of “la Rinascente”, mister Baldan became CEO in 2012, after the thai Central Retail Corporation had bought it from its previous owners, not in a very good shape. And in 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 millions of sales. And with a very humble attitude, he told us what he believes were the drivers of such a quick turnaround.

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 its goal is to make that experience the most unique one.

Then, he also talked a lot about all the partnership he proudly signed during these years, which of course have boosted the name of “la Rinascente” both in Italy and abroad. Some of these partnership include the Milan Design Week, Michelin star chefs, artists and 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, as he believes that by doing so the returns to “la Rinascente” multiply exponentially under form of 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 sponsor does not bring in revenues directly to the business.

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However, what it seemed like half an hour of talk and questions was actually more than 2 hour long and 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, open minded, innovative and energetic will take control of the situation. But this is another story and it would take another blog post to talk about it.

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In conclusion I personally believe I will cherish in my memories this talk over dinner as few others very meaningful conversations which I was lucky enough to engage with. And while I put myself to practice being able to talk to audiences like 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.

Chiara Avino

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