An Interview with Jacopo Mazzei

Don’t expect florentines to take the first step

Nita Tucker
December 1, 2005

As a Marchese, Jacopo Mazzei is part of the Florentine aristocracy.  He is a member of a Florentine noble family, patrizi fiorentini, with roots in the arts and in the mercantile industries.  His ancestors, involved in business, politics, and civil services, are known for having been ministers to the Medici. The Mazzei family has owned a vineyard estate in Chianti since 1435. 

 

Jacopo Mazzei is the CEO of Fingen RE, one of the largest real estate companies in Italy.  Fingen is currently working towards the creation of a 5-star hotel, The Four Seasons, in the centre of Florence and a clubhouse in Palazzo Corsi Tornabuoni (a historical building that once belonged to the Medici family).  Other projects include a new ski resort and residence in the Apennines (Val di Luce) close to Abetone. This undertaking is considered the most important project currently being carried out in the Apennine region.

 

Famous for adopting the American retail model and redesigning it with an Italian concept in mind, Mazzei is dedicated to achieving a successful blend of different cultures.  The main part of his retail operations business is a joint venture with an American group called McArthur Glen and with British investors (the Richardson family). Serravalle Scrivia (AL), which opened in the year 2000, continues to be Europe’s largest designer outlet. Fingen has other outlets in Rome at Castel Romano, and a third will be opening in Barberino next March. A fourth will soon be built in Naples.

 

As a businessman, what do you think is the strength of the Florentine and Tuscan economy?

 

We are highly creative, and we are used to working and developing our businesses in harmony with the land. Other strong points are food, design, fashion, and jewellery. We are also strong in finance and banking by tradition.

 

What’s the main problem for business in Florence?

 

We are not used to doing business on a large scale, nor are we used to transforming successful local operations into worldwide businesses. We don’t think that it can work in the world. For instance, here in Florence, every restaurant is a single entity; each place is unique. In New York, restaurants multiply their model. The main limitation of the Italian way of thinking is that we think we are unique and unrepeatable.

 

How would you define leadership?

 

It is something that you have in your own nature, in your history and tradition. I’m timid but open to people and making them feel that I can lead them to achieve great results. And then, energy, passion, and a clear vision of what is possible and feasible.

 

What is your company’s greatest challenge?

 

We are working for a synthesis of great cultures: English, Italian, American. Our goal is to apply Italian ingenuity, creativity, and sense of beauty and design (values, which up to now have only been produced on a small scale), to more conventional and large-scale projects.

 

What is your greatest quality?

 

First of all, I don’t think I’m great at anything. But I trust in tradition and the strength of culture, and I have a very open mind as to how they can be used successfully in the world.

 

What do you love about Florence?

 

It’s the perfect combination of history, landscaping, and environment designed by man.

 

What don’t you like about Florence?

 

The arrogance and sense of isolation, our habit of thinking that we are “the centre of the world.” Our inability to more effectively protect the resources we have. Our lack of sociability and our individualism.

 

What do you miss about Florence when you are away?

 

The feeling that the city’s the perfect size for living in.

 

Where do you most enjoy getting a cappuccino?

 

Rivoire, inside though.

 

An aperitivo?

 

Procacci, the wine bar in via Tornabuoni (very good panini tartufati, the best in Florence).

 

Your favourite place to go for dinner?

 

Fuor d’Acqua, Garga, Sostanza (detto Il Troia).

 

What’s your preferred wine?

 

Wine from Tenuta Belguardo.

 

And your favourite Italian dish?

 

Spaghetti ai carciofi (Garga); tuna tartar (Fuor d’Acqua).

 

Where do you like to go on excursions?

 

The seaside, Bolgheri, and my wine estate resort (Tenuta Belguardo).

 

Where would you take a foreign guest?

 

For me, the most interesting experience is walking along the Corridoio Vasariano, and visiting San Lorenzo, the biblioteca Laurenziana, and the Cappelle Medicee.

 

What misconceptions do Americans/English speakers have about Italians?

 

They feel we are still living in the Renaissance times, and that we can’t compete with the modern world.

 

What misconceptions do Italians have about Americans/English speakers?

 

We underestimate their culture; we think they are not very aware of history, or that they limit their focus to things related to business.

 

Do you have any advice for foreign residents in Florence?

 

Don’t expect the Florentines to take the first step. They may seem snobbish, but they are just shy. If you take the time to keep knocking on the door, you will find the heart and the warmth of the Florentines. The person who keeps insisting will find a home in Florence, and the one who doesn’t, will not.

 

What “gift” has Florence given you?

 

Experiencing Florence makes you a different person because you understand what it means to have a high-quality standard of living.

 

Besides Florence, where else would you like to live?

 

New York for business and relationships; Paris for culture and city style.

 

What’s your favourite idiom?

 

Maremma!

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