Adriano Olivetti – Businessman

adriano olivetti_top100Adriano Olivetti (born on 11 April 1901 in Ivrea, Piedmont, died 27 February 1960 on a train from Milan to Lausanne) was an Italian engineer, politician and industrialist whose entrepreneurial activity thrived on the idea that profit should be reinvested for the benefits of the whole society. He was son of the founder of Olivetti, Camillo Olivetti, and Luisa Revel, the daughter of a prominent Waldensian pastor and scholar. Adriano Olivetti was known worldwide during his lifetime as the Italian manufacturer of Olivetti typewriters, calculators, and computers. Olivetti was an entrepreneur and innovator who transformed shop-like operations into a modern factory. In and out of the factory, he both practiced and preached the utopian system of “the community movement”, but he was not an astute enough politician to have a mass following. The Olivetti empire had been begun by his father Camillo. Initially, the “factory” (consisting of 30 workers) concentrated on electric measurement devices.adriano olivetti3_top100

By 1908, 25 years after Remington in the United States, Olivetti started to produce typewriters. Adriano’s father Camillo, who was Jewish, believed that his children could get a better education at home. Adriano’s formative years were spent under the tutelage of his mother, daughter of the local Waldensian pastor, an educated and sober woman. Also, as a socialist, Camillo emphasized the non-differentiation between manual and intellectual work. His children, during their time away from study, worked with and under the same conditions as his workers. The discipline and sobriety Camillo imposed on his family induced rebellion in Adriano’s adolescence manifested by a dislike of “his father’s” workplace and by his studying at a polytechnic school of subjects other than the mechanical engineering his father wanted. Nevertheless, after graduation in chemical engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin in 1924 he joined the company for a short while.

Possibly as a result of this reorganization, output per man-hour doubled within five years. Olivetti for the first time sold half of the typewriters used in Italy in 1933. Adriano Olivetti shared with his workers the productivity gains by increasing salaries, fringe benefits, and services. His success in business did not diminish his idealism. In the 1930s he developed an interest in architecture, as well as urban and community planning. He supervised a housing plan for the workers at Ivrea and a zoning proposal for the adjacent Aosta Valley. Under Fascism, patronizing workers at work and at home was in line with the corporative design of the regime. While Adriano showed distaste for the regime, he joined the Fascist Party and became a Catholic. Yet during World War II he participated in the underground antifascist movement, was jailed, and at the end sought refuge in Switzerland. There he was in close contact with the intellectual emigrees and he was able to develop further his socio-philosophy of the Community Movement. He also had contacts with representatives of the British Special Operations Executive. With these he tried to avoid Allied invasion of Italy and to obtain a negotiated Italian retreat from the war assuming a mediation of the Holy. See and making strong the support that he enjoyed with influential Italian political circles.


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