Riso Gallo is one of the oldest rice growing companies in Italy dating back to 1856 with a factory in Genoa that processed imported paddy rice. Paul Andrews spoke to Emanuele Preve, part of the sixth generation of the family firm to find out more.
Officially Riso Gallo began in 1856 but as Emanuele explains, “The business probably started prior to that date as the first official document that we have found is dated 1856 but is actually a complaint from someone about noise from the production facility so it is likely that my ancestors started the business even earlier.”
As a business they produce and sell rice, milling and packaging the final product and started with the factory in Genoa and at the same time opened a factory in Argentina to meet the needs of the South American market. The business was successful and with increasing knowledge and experience in the field the focus turned to Italian crops and in 1926 the Genoa factory was transferred to Robbio Lomellina in the heart of the province of Pavia, one of the most well-known rice growing regions.
As Emanuele continues, “My grandfather was entrepreneurial and in the 1940’s took the decision to brand our rice and we were probably the first rice brand in the world. It followed his hunch that resulted in a key moment in the development of the business too with the introduction of the ‘Rooster symbol’ which marked a new chapter in our history. Since illiteracy was still widespread in Argentina at the time, the company used images of animals to identify the different varieties of rice. This resulted in either a giraffe, tiger, eagle, elephant or cockerel (rooster) appearing on all the sacks of rice.”
“The rooster, which identified the best variety soon became the symbol of the company, synonymous with the high quality food products provided by the business,” he adds.
The business grew, expanding around the world and their products are now sold in more than 80 countries. “We have been making Italians happy for six generations,” adds Emanuele, “but our mission is to spread the culture or rice and risotto throughout the world. We are an innovative organisation that is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the modern consumer too,” he continues.
Emanuele is one of the sixth generation involved in Riso Gallo today, working closely with two brothers who are actively involved in the business and a fourth brother is the company President but not involved in the operational side of things. Their father, at the age of 80, is gradually stepping back and retiring from the business. Growing up, the business was an important part of family life. “My brothers and I grew up hearing stories about the business. The company has always been a part of our lives and we grew up talking and learning about rice all the time and we appreciate that everything that we have in our lives has come from the business – rice is effectively in our blood,” explains Emanuele.
Prior to joining the family business Emanuele graduated as an Economic Engineer before working for several large businesses in finance and administration roles (Pirelli, BMW and Unicredit) and then joining the business as Chief Financial Officer in 2013.
Emanuele is well aware of the family business narrative and respectful of the history and heritage that is behind the global brand that exists today. “With underlying values of tradition, quality, passion and reliability at the heart of the family and the business, we have evolved and remain relevant today. As a multi-generational business we have stayed the test of time and believe this is due to tradition and innovation. We were the first rice brand, were pioneers with the development and introduction of parboiled rice, focus on quality and continually invest in brand awareness, all of which help to drive the business forward,” continues Emanuele.
“Our brand is recognised the world over, certainly helped by the rooster image and our products are recognised for their quality,“ he adds.
Working for a family business can be a uniquely special experience too and Emanuele is respectful of the past, noting that “working for something that came from your ancestors and that you plan to pass on to your sons represents so much more than just being a shareholder of a company. There are many positives about working in a family business like ours although it is sometimes difficult to separate the emotion from the business too.”
Governance is also important for the family and the appointment of a non-family CEO has helped in professionalizing certain aspects of the business and helping prepare for the arrival of the next generation too. With eleven nephews ranging in age from 6 to 23, there is a large next generation in waiting so steps have already been taken to prepare the family and the business going forward. As Emanuele adds, “We have rules for the next generation entering the business with one person per family branch, the requirement of a university degree, the ability to speak four languages, three years of experience working outside of Riso Gallo and an appropriate opening of a position within the business too.”
Riso Gallo is planning for the future and continues to be a business full of passion, experience and continuity is on the agenda. This is a ling standing, multi-generational family business with plans in place to continue for generations to come. As Emanuele concludes, “Life in the family business has been good to me and I am proud to have joined the business and to continue to help the business flourish since joining. As I said earlier, I guess rice is in the blood and it is a real honour to successfully continue the work that was started by my ancestors back in the 19th century.”