The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
Meet Illva Saronno Global Sales Director Domenico Toni, a football-loving twin who has played a pivotal role in the Italian drinks company’s multinational development. 1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born and grew up in Palmariggi, a small village in the south of Italy, 30 minutes from Lecce. It’s currently one of the ‘coolest’ places in Italy, with Baroque architecture, great food and beautiful beaches which make it unique.
I am part of a large family of six children, including twins, one of whom is me. With my brother and my sisters it seemed I always had to fight to get the best piece of cake; but we were, and still are, very close.
Both my parents were professors so discipline and education were important ingredients of my childhood. But I was also crazy about sport and any free time, outside of school lessons, was spent playing soccer with my brother and friends. We didn’t care if it rained or it was good weather; the important thing was to have a ball and somehow it immediately created a football field, whether it was the road, farmland or real sports fields. Football remains my favourite sport!
2. From Southern Italy you moved north to Milan to study. What cultural changes did you face and what was your plan for the future?
From an early age I had a passion for mathematics and economics. And I had a dream to work in the financial markets and the stock exchange. So after completing high school I decided to move to Milan to study finance.
To move from a small town where I knew everyone, and life flowed slowly but serenely, to a big, frenetic and energetic city, which was full of resources but where I had to learn to get by myself, was a shock. The change of lifestyle was radical and sometimes difficult, but it was also fascinating and exciting. And, of course, I had the opportunity to realise my ambition to live in Italy’s most dynamic city, and to feel closer to a world which was typical of Wall Street, the film with Michael Douglas that inspired my passion for the world of finance.
3. How did a summer job with Coca-Cola change your life?
After graduation I received a job offer from Coca-Cola as a merchandiser for three months over the summer period. I thought it could be a useful experience. So I had the opportunity to get closer to the world of sales and marketing and discovered that it was just as fascinating as the financial sector.
Coca-Cola was, and is, a great school; the perfect learning place. When I was asked to stay on in the company as a sales representative, I accepted without hesitation. Thus began my career in sales and that continued with another major FMCG company, Reckitt Benckiser.
4. What led to you to the drinks industry and Illva Saronno?
At the end of 2009 I was contacted by Illva to contribute to the cultural and organisational change that the company wanted to develop. It wanted to approach the drinks business with a more multinational mindset. The impact was not simple, considering the cultural gap between multinational companies in which I had worked until then, and a family business, but the challenge was fascinating.
And then there was the interest in a sector, that of spirits, which was definitely more fun than detergent for washing machines!
5. How is Illva Saronno adapting to market changes and what role have you played in its development?
Illva Saronno is a company led by a bright and clear-thinking entrepreneur who always looks to the future. This has enabled the development of a radical cultural and organisational change, which has seen the company evolve from a traditional approach, typical of an export company, to a multinational company, with offices abroad and overseas development particularly in the USA.
As a consequence, the sales organisation has evolved, with the presence of sales people in all the main markets, thus allowing the acceleration of the implementation of its brand strategy, reinforcing the contact with the markets and consumers.
In 2009, we were only three sales managers to manage the global business. Today the organisation boasts more than 90 people around the world, dealing with sales, trade marketing and administration. A real revolution!
Illva Saronno’s main brand is Disaronno, which is the most-sold Italian liqueur. The revolution has also involved the communication strategy of the brand, with the limited-edition Icon which has become a pillar for the brand’s image and sales in recent years.
I am pleased to say that I have played a major role in those changes, with the support of a great team of course!
6. What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing the drinks category in travel retail?
I see the spirits category changing a lot in the coming six or seven years, with the development of more travel retail-exclusive products and entire ranges in some cases. The spirits category, in contrast to other product categories, must not and cannot focus only on offering quality products. It must develop the promotional mechanics required to offer experiences, with the signature drinks playing a fundamental role. And I believe artificial intelligence, digital and online business will make the difference in the near future.
7. Travelling is second nature in your work. Have you estimated how many countries you have visited, and how many miles you’ve covered, in the past 12 months?
Recently I had fun calculating how many countries I have visited. The total surprised me. It was more than 50 but that still represents only 20% of all countries in the world. I travel about 100 days per year, and more than 60,000 miles a year. That figure would work for the past 12 months. It’s a lot when you think about it!
8. You describe yourself as a passionate traveller.
Yes, along with good coffee, travel is one of my passions.
My wife Laura and I have travelled a lot together, backpacking throughout South America, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, China, India, Nepal, Vietnam, Botswana and many other countries.
We buy only the return ticket and then we try to live the country we are visiting, experience it in depth, moving where we are most interested, in contact with the local population and the culture of the place. Every time we travel we return full of emotions, memories and knowledge. We are doing the same with our children Eleonora and Gabriele now; and we are still backpacking.
The choice to travel as a backpacker is connected with the difference between being a tourist and a traveller; the importance of being in contact with the local people and experiencing the place you are visiting. Our last trip was in Sri Lanka.
9. And the good coffee?
As with most Italians, coffee is a must of my day. I like an espresso; simple, not macchiato, without sugar. You have to taste the quality of the coffee. Good coffee is like good wine… it not only completes the taste of a lunch but also improves the quality of the day!
10. How does Domenico Toni relax?
Football, windsurfing and skiing were, and still are, my main pastimes. I follow football as a fan of the great AC Milan and also support my hometown team, Lecce. I play football with friends a few times during the year but not that often.
Instead, in the winter I spend all weekends skiing, with family and friends. And I follow my children who compete on a regional and national level. In summer I practice windsurfing, but here I still have to improve a lot!
I also work out every day; that combines relaxation and keeping in shape. I try to do a 45-minute work-out or I jog or swim. And I always have a skipping rope with me.
I love music. I listen to a lot of blues and jazz, and music from the 1980s: Talking Heads, Simple Minds and The Cure. The Cure was the first band I saw in concert. I remember travelling to Rome by train to see them; I slept in the station but it was worth it. The last group I saw live was U2 in Turin in 2012. And that was a great concert.
And, of course, I enjoy good food and wine. And that traditional Italian moment, an aperitivo…
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE: