Brunello Cucinelli: What the King of Cashmere Can Teach You About Stoicism

When I met Brunello Cucinelli, I saw this man, standing six foot tall, light brown hair, with broad, intense dark eyes. He dressed in an elegant dark-beige double-breasted coat, light classic beige pants, immaculate white shirt (no tie) and a white handkerchief placed in his patch pocket (in line with the Italian tradition). Cucinelli’s elegance and love for esthetic are clear; however, the most striking thing about this man is humanity together with warmth, and openness.

In 2015 at the “Meeting,” an event hosted each year in Rimini, people surrounded him. Yet he didn’t seem to bother at all. In that occasion, I asked him about a book that really made a difference in his life and leadership style. Cucinelli’s answer?

“Read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

When I asked him to tell me more about that book, he continued

“Those are diaries written by the wise Roman emperor during very difficult times.”

At the time Brunello Cucinelli’s answer struck me. I could not reconcile how a man of action, an entrepreneur that founded the homonymous enterprise, Brunello Cucinelli SpA (worth more than one billion dollars at current prices) could suggest me the diaries of a philosopher. Was there something missing?

When I investigated further, I realized that it made perfect sense. Although a philosopher, Marcus Aurelius was a man of action. Among the wisest emperors of the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius spent his life defending the northern borders of the Empire against attacks from barbaric populations. Those barbarians populations were slowing corroding the borders of the Roman empire initially conquered by Emperor Augustus, almost two centuries earlier.

Marcus Aurelius‘ diaries are thoughts and meditations that helped him during those bloody conflicts. His meditations are part of a broader philosophy of life, called Stoicism, which was first elaborated in ancient Greek as a mix between Epicureanism and cynic doctrines. The new stoic philosophy had an aspect that other philosophies lacked. (Roman) Stoics believed in destiny and the fact that each man should take action in favor of humanity. Therefore, the philosopher is not the individual detached from reality. But rather a man of action that although dislikes material things, does not retreat from helping his fellow humans.

Brunello Cucinelli founded his company in a medieval town, Solomeo (436 residents as of 2001), located in Umbria (central Italy), in 1985. Cucinelli called his company a “Humanist Enterprise,” meaning a company, which puts humanism at the center of all.

In a modern capitalist society still inspired and driven by figures such as Ford and Carnegie, workers became an extension of machines. A cost to cut as much as possible. Brunello Cucinelli proposed an alternative way to look at capitalism; He calls that “Ethical Capitalism.” Not surprisingly Cucinelli created in the same medieval town a foundation and a school with the main aim of providing support to artistic, humanist and craftsmanship traditions.

Cucinelli affirmed during his speech at that event,

“Each man has a quantity of genius inside and our role as entrepreneurs is to make that genius come up.”

The evidence that Cucinelli practices what he preaches came in 2012 (back then Italy was experiencing a severe recession) when he distributed €5mln ($5.5mln) to his employees. It meant an increase of €6,385 (almost $7,000) for each employee. As Cucinelli puts it

“Profit itself doesn’t mean anything if it is not supplemented by a betterment of the human condition and the personal growth of our employees.”

Is the Humanist Enterprise finally gaining ground? This is a business model that challenges the common view that business is just about profits.

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Gennaro Cuofano

Creator of | Head of Business Development at | International MBA

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