The global menswear brand’s CEO, grandson of its founder, tells Brunswick’s Natasha Aleksandrov, Lidia Fornasiero and Brendan Riley how his grandfather’s commitment to social value still guides the company.
The culture of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group seems tailor-made for this moment in history, when companies must address mounting challenges related to a myriad of social concerns.
Corporate responsibility, diversity, equity and inclusion and sustainability are no longer buzzwords thrown around by a select few, but rather a necessary part of many businesses’ corporate strategies. The treatment of employees and the value of an enterprise to the surrounding community are now of significant importance to all sectors of business.
Since its founding in 1910, Zegna has remained a closely knit, family-run organization dedicated to giving back to its customers, its employees, its community and the environment. In the 1930s, as part of that effort, its founder, Ermenegildo Zegna, created a nature reserve and reforestation project around the town of Trivero, where his wool mill was located, and developed a constructive relationship with employees and the surrounding community that continues to this day.
As it has grown into a global leader in menswear with 500 stores and 6,000 employees worldwide, Zegna’s leadership has kept its mission closely focused on those core values. Today, the company has expanded the reserve into the 100-square-kilometer Oasi Zegna in Biella Alps, and its commitment to community has blossomed into a brace of initiatives, including #UseTheExisting, which aims to foster sustainable practices in fashion industry manufacturing, and #WhatMakesAMan, a campaign that elegantly advocates for a more fluid and compassionate definition of masculinity.
Ermenegildo Zegna, the namesake and grandson of the founder, represents the third generation of the Zegna family at the company’s helm. At Zegna, 2020 was meant to be a celebratory year, with the brand celebrating its 110th anniversary. But COVID-19—which struck the company’s hometown of Milan especially hard—upended any sense of jubilation. We spoke to Ermenegildo Zegna about the company’s response to the pandemic and its current role in the global conversation toward a better world. Despite leading the company through one of its most difficult moments, his commitment to its founding values remains firm, and he is putting them to the service of the new challenges facing businesses around the world. At the peak of the pandemic in northern Italy, Zegna made direct donations in Italy and abroad and converted part of their manufacturing plants to produce much-needed personal protection equipment.
“My grandfather’s philanthropic foresight continues to lead us generation after generation,” Mr. Zegna says. “If he were running the business today, I have no doubt that he would be making the same commitments we’re undertaking with the same sense of dedication.”
Your grandfather’s vision for the company seems ahead of his time. Why do you think that was?
My grandfather realized that establishing a positive relationship with the local community was key to obtaining the quality he sought for his products. He wisely understood that that was necessary to create the best possible social and environmental conditions—to use resources for the good of others; to give back to the people and to our employees; to take care of the territory and communities from which we come, and in which we do business.