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Italian CEO’s sweet taste of success

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Michele Ferrero only gave one interview and kept one secret: the recipe for his hazelnut-chocolate spread, Nutella.

In that one interview, though, Italy’s chocolate king revealed three other trade secrets:

1. Do something different. Gianduja paste has been a staple in northern Italy since Napoleonic times. Ferrero’s father tested sweet spoonfuls on his family, saying “What do you think?” It was his son Michele, taking over the café in 1949, who added just enough drops of vegetable oil to make the ‘Supercrema’ spreadable. In 1964, he dreamed up the name nutella and put it in glass jars.

2. Plug away at your own pace. Ferrero expanded slowly, resisting all acquisitions except for a Turkish hazelnut company, and he refused to be listed on the stock exchange. As a result, his 4,000 workers were treated well, never went on strike and when the factory flooded just before Christmas 1994, turned out with buckets and brooms to clean up and reopen in 15 days.

3. Listen to your muses. Ferrero kept two women at the core of his business. One was “la Valeria,” his imaginary customer, a woman who had to decide what to buy every day. The other was the Virgin Mary. Under her influence, he channeled much of his billions back into his home turf, the Alta Langa, with its delectable hazelnut crop.

—Adapted from “Sweet secrets,” The Economist.

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