Pietro Barilla was born in Parma Italy on April 16 in 1913. He is a third generation Barilla. His grandfather, after whom Pietro was named, had founded the store and the company between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Together with his brother Gianni, Pietro would be responsible for the growth and development of the Barilla brand.
In particular, it was Pietro who decided to stop the production of bread, in 1952, to focus solely on the production of pasta, opening the path toward Barilla's transformation into the most famous Italian brand of pasta in the world: where Barilla is, there is Italian pasta too.
That same year, Pietro Barilla traveled to New York in order to observe the packaging, advertising, production and distribution methods used in one of the world’s largest consumer-driven economy.
It was in the United States that the interest was sparked to build Barilla into Italy’s premier pasta brand. It was a time in which the company looked at the expansion of its European and American markets as a fundamental target for its establishment and further development.
In an ironic twist of history, however, Barilla's actual commercial expansion beyond the peninsula would take place only after its 1971 acquisition by an American chemical company called W.R. Grace, which took advantage of the economic crises faced by Pietro and his brother at the beginning of the 1970s. Contacts between the two companies had in fact been in place since the early 1970, especially after Grace's failure to buy another Italian food company, the Alemagna. The sale was perfected in January 1971, despite Pietro's perplexities and resistances. Oversall, the Barilla brothers gave up 80% of the company stocks, for 40-45 billion lire.
While W.R. Grace had ownership, Pietro and Giovanni still kept day-to-day control for a while, remaining, respectively, President and Technical Director of the Company. In the first months of 1972 they decided however to step back and resign from their executive roles, to mantain only the symbolic president and vice-president office.
In 1974, the American company acquired another 18,9% of Barilla stocks, thereby controlling 98.9% of the company. For Pietro it was a serious blow: he had to settle for the remaining and symbolic 1.1% of the company's shares. He would later declare: "I was a man suffering for many reasons, the most important of which was having dropped out of the "ship" that had been entrusted to me."
The Americans had however no intention to govern the Barilla company: the kept for themeselves all the classic functions of a detached property, but left the management in the hands of the Italians.
In taking control of Barilla, Grace immediately relized that the company was one of the most modern and advanced Italian companies of the time, already provided with a clear badget and planification structure. Many of Barilla's collaborators and managers had travelled to the US in the course of the 1960s, improving the company's marketing and planning strategies.
In 1979 Pietro reacquired control of the company, creating also the foreign branches of «Barilla France», «Barilla España» e «Barilla Deutschland».
It was his drive for success that led him to hire Federico Fellini in 1984 to make one of the most famous campaigns calling in Paul Newman, Gerard Depardieu and Cindy Crawford to portray pasta as a sexily simple entrée. This commercial helped make Barilla - even more - one of the most known brand in Italy, as well as abroad.
Pietro died in Parma, Italy on September 16 in 1993. His legacy and contribution to the Barilla Brand is however still alive and gaining international success.
Italian Food Brand and Company
“Pietro Barilla.” Archivio Storico Barilla. https://www.archiviostoricobarilla.com/en/explore/focus/biographies-of-barilla-family/pietro-barilla/.
“Barilla G. E R. Fratelli S.p.A.” FundingUniverse. http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/barilla-g-e-r-fratelli-s-p-a-history/.
Giancarlo Gonizzi, Barilla. Centoventicinque anni di pubblicità e comunicazioni. Parma: Barilla, 2003.