Brunello Cucinelli on humanistic capitalism, business, life and otium

6 minute read

A fascinating interview by Om Malik with Brunello Cucinelli, named the “King of Cashmere”, leading a company with more than $450 million a year in revenues.

The interview touches a lot of interesting and different themes.


About Information and Knowledge

“I want to take a step backward. Who remembers the last email they sent yesterday? No one. Or the last text message. Emperor Hadrian used to say, “The daily business, the daily life, the daily chores, kills the human being.“ I’m not interested in daily chores. We have now swapped information for knowledge, which is not the same thing.

The distinction between information and knowledge is very well put, and it has been one of my struggles during my school years. I didn’t care about knowledge if it wasn’t a piece of a bigger goal. Sure, I was curious, and that helped me there. But knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a problem, and still, we seem unable to find a way to follow information instead of knowledge.

Mind that, this doesn’t apply just to education. Take for example job interviews. Take how quick you are in evaluating someone that lists you facts as “expert”. This is a normal bias: we assimilate the two. But they aren’t the same.


About Personal Touch

“The first time I was in New York, we had a tiny office, and they were emailing across it. I said, “No way. Just get up and go to your neighbor and ask them one thing, in one split second, in person.” First of all, you look me in the eye. You smell me, my presence. Maybe I take the opportunity to ask you about your family. Don’t you feel better than if you get an email? Maybe I smile and you feel even better.”

This passage deserve attention because highlights the important of human presence. Proximity.

Nowadays people fear this because they think of interrupting someone else’s work. Sure, that can be true, but at the same time I feel we over-obsess about it. We are too extreme in that avoidance. It’s a byproduct of our ever-present pressure for productivity.

We can be smart about it, and we can evaluate when it’s better in person and when not. Let’s just not avoid that entirely.


About Otium

“Do you know the word otium in Latin, meaning, “doing nothing”? The Roman people were all laid back. In all the pictures, they were all laying around. They were doing nothing, just staring. In the winter on a Sunday afternoon, I can spend six hours in front of the fireplace, just looking at the flames and thinking. In the evening, I’m drunk with beautiful thoughts. My wife says to me, “What are you looking at?” I say, “The fire.” We have to take a step backward.”

The Latin otium is something that has gone lost indeed. It’s unfortunate, because it’s the source of so much creativity, insight, reflection and, sure, in the end leads to better results.

We have mixed up otium with lazyness.


About Blending Enlightenment and Romanticism

“Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a great enlightened man, but he was the first of the Romantic movement, too. I think that in the last 30 years, we have tried to govern mankind through enlightenment, through the use of reason, our mind. This is no good.

This century is where enlightenment and romanticism must blend.

In other words, to me he seems pointing out the resurgence in recent years of topics such as emotional intelligence, mindfulnesscompassion, ethics. These are then translating to businesses in terms of leadership, customer care, social entrepreneurship. Coming back not just to individuals, but to businesses and workplaces.

The industrial revolution tore all these important side of life and work apart, and we’re trying to blend them back together.


About Luxury

“There’s luxury, absolute luxury, aspirational luxury and accessible luxury. Luxury is a handcrafted good or a place that is beautiful, well-made, exclusive. It must be exclusive; otherwise it’s not luxury. It’s nearly always something beautiful, well-made, true, and also useful and fair.

But what is this thing, “accessible luxury”? The two words don’t go together. Absolute luxury must be exclusive too.”

This is a passage that many people should read over and over. The above is a very short explanation on luxury, and what it means. That’s a key understanding of what luxury means.


About Transparency and Trust

You must believe in the human being, because the creativity of a company — Let’s say you have a company with 1,000 people. Maybe we were told that there are only two or three genius people in the 1,000. But I think that if you have 1,000 people, you have 1,000 geniuses. They’re just different kinds of genius and a different degree of intensity.

That’s just perfect. Nothing to add, if not his own words in the paragraph that just follows:

“We hold a meeting here with all the staff every two months. Everybody takes part in it. Even the person with the humblest tasks knows exactly what was the latest shop we opened. Everything is based on esteem, and esteem then generates creativity.

These two go together. Transparency and esteem. It’s trusting that everyone is there with you, as a professional but also as a human, and there’s mutual respect.

It’s so easy to hide and start losing transparency, even more when things are going bad. But it’s really the only way. Transparency builds trust, which builds better relationships, which facilitate communication… everything is interconnected, and transparency is one of the key ingredients.


About Moral Dignity of Jobs

“We have to rebuild the basis of all the skills. For example, the schools for arts and crafts. We have to start rebuilding. In order to do that, we need to give moral and economic dignity back to this kind of craft. Say you are a tailor. If you earn $1,200 a month, you are sort of ashamed to say that that’s your trade, because that’s the culture. We have to do the opposite. It should be that if someone sees you are a tailor, they say, “Oh, you are plying a very great trade, the tailor.” That’s the moral dignity I’m talking about.

This is a key cultural element. We’ve mixed up popularity and money with the moral stature of each and every work.

Each kind of job can be done with pride, and can be viewed with respect. Instead, we live in a world where some jobs are inherently “worse” and underpaid, and people try as much as they can to get out of them.


I recall one of my favourite restaurants near Milan, Morganti. There, for years, you could have found a waiter that made an art out of his job. He wasn’t just perfect in dealing with people, dishes, tables and everything, he was just beyond.

I recall one time when I and my friend looked at the menu and we just said “Ohhh, this looks good!”. The waiter looked at us, asking “Two then?” and we got the right dish. Without even asking.

He was an artist, an artisan. He elevated his craft to an entirely different level. And he was also teaching younger waiters with him on his way of doing things.

Yet, for most people, he was just a waiter.

This is the kind of dignity and respect we need to get back, somehow. every profession can be done poorly, or to such an high level that we can’t even fathom. If only we stopped elevating certain jobs on a pedestal, and demeaning others.

Om conducts a great interview, leading Cucinelli to talk openly about so many things, all valuable. It’s rare to find this number of insights in so few words. I highly advise you to read it in full.


Via Matt Mullenweg.