Born in 1952, Giorgio Busnelli, son of company founder Piero Ambrogio Busnelli, attended Bocconi University in Milan to study accountancy before joining the family business, B&B Italia, in 1973. He started as an assistant to the production manager in the upholstery department, a core business of the company: there was no easy ushering into a senior management role for him.
Like his compatriots and in keeping with Italian tradition as far as family businesses go, Busnelli did not go out to work for any other firm. "In 1973, my father [Piero Ambrogio Busnelli], who had founded B&B Italia, asked me to help him out, so I followed his footsteps and began my career there," Busnelli recalls.
The company had actually started life as C&B Italia in 1966, founded by Busnelli Sr and Cesare Cassina. Seven years later, Busnelli Sr took over the and modified the company's name to B&B Italia, offering state-of-the-art furniture to customers around the world. It had in fact distinguished itself from the start with its innovative industrial approach to manufacturing, in contrast to the small traditional artisan competitors typical of the sector. Based in Novedrate (Como), north of Milan, the firm's headquarters were in fact designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in 1972.
It was in 1975 that the Maxalto Collection was unveiled, closely related with architects Afra and Tobia Scarpa, who designed all the collections until 1992. Busnelli Jr, with just two years of experience at the time of its launch, became the sole director of this line, which specialises in the production of wooden furniture with the application of cabinet-making and lute-making methods.
B&B Italia has long collaborated with acclaimed designers, including Antonio Citterio, Zaha Hadid, Naoto Fukasawa and Jakob Wagner. According to Busnelli, while design remains a critical priority, practicality should always come first for furniture. "Furniture is not like fashion, which we can throw away after only a few months," he muses.
"Practicality is always preferable to aesthetics. Comfort is everything. Our R&D department has the ability to challenge designers, as every product has to have certain characteristics and, most importantly, must not be similar to any other products available in the market."
Having now worked for the family business for more than four decades, Busnelli says his life has changed in recent years, especially since the birth of his granddaughter. "I stopped playing golf three years ago," he says with a laugh. "Now I prefer staying in with my family — but that does not mean that I have no ambition for B&B Italia. I still have big plans for the company."
Indeed, the opening of B&B Italia's branded store in Hong Kong is testament to that. Today, B&B Italia has flagship stores in the heart of leading global cities from Milan, London, Paris and Munich, to two in New York and one in Washington DC.
"I hope B&B Italia will be a listed company in the future," Busnelli concludes. "Though it is still just a plan at this moment, I am confident that it will be realised, perhaps in three to five years' time."
Stay tuned for the exclusive conversation with Busnelli in Perspective’s May issue.