As a committed coffee lover, a piece in the FT recently caught my eye – an interview with Andrea Illy, Chairman of the world renowned coffee company Illy. Operating in 140 countries worldwide with an annual turnover of Euros 483m Illy is a 3rd generation family owned business that started in 1933. Issues such as sustainability and environmental impact are clearly a key issue for a coffee business. The FT reports that Illy has paid its growers on average 30 per cent more over market value for decades in order to maintain its supply of top Arabica beans. “This is not just good for society and workers but it is good for business,” the Illy chairman says. “It is about shared values. It builds a long-term relationship with growers, which is good for customers because of the quality of the coffee and for our business too”.

He goes on to say “This is about social responsibility, but the real one and not the fake one. This is about being a stakeholder model and not a shareholder one. The business leader is always asking people to do things for him, but instead he should be asking: ‘What can I do for you?’”

Reading the article, which you can find here, I was struck by the clear commitment of the company for further growth sitting alongside flexible thinking and innovation on how to do this by staying true to their mission whilst minimising environmental impact.

The Illy mission

Our mission, passion and obsession is to delight all those who cherish the quality of life, through our search for the best coffee nature can provide, enhanced by the best available technologies and by our search for beauty in everything we do

If you’ve ever enjoyed a quiet moment over an Illy coffee in one of their beautifully designed cup and saucers, you might recognise some of that!

Their website brings to life more about their company, the vision, mission, values and ethics and is worth visiting whether as a coffee lover or a business leader interested in learning from their approach. I’ll leave you with this quote from Andrea’s father Ernesto, written in 1976, which might help explain the continued enduring success of the Illy company.

The function of an industrial enterprise is fundamental and undeniable, but its economic purpose alone cannot make its actions legitimate. It must be integrated with respect for people, the community and the environment.”

Ernesto Illy – 1976


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