Business Insider Edition

Meet secretive Nutella billionaire Giovanni Ferrero, who built a R456 billion fortune off Tic Tacs, Butterfingers, and his namesake chocolates

Taylor Nicole Rogers , Business Insider US
 Jan 06, 2020, 06:02 PM
Ferrero Group executive chairman Giovanni Ferrero inherited a multibillion-dollar fortune.
Nazeri Mamat/Shutterstock; Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images; Taylor Borden/Business Insider
  • Giovanni Ferrero is the richest man in Italy and the secretive billionaire behind the Ferrero Group.
  • The Ferrero Group is the world's second-largest chocolatier and the maker of Nutella, Ferrero Rocher, and Tic Tacs.
  • Ferrero is also a part-time novelist.
  • Ferrero made $9.63 billion (R137 billion) in 2019, bringing his current net worth to $32 billion (R456 billion).
  • For more visit Business Insider South Africa.

Nutella has a devoted fan base that supports Nutella cafes and even a Nutella-themed hotel in Napa Valley. But no one might love it more than Giovanni Ferrero, the Italian billionaire who built a multibillion-dollar fortune from the chocolatey spread.

Ferrero's father invented Nutella in 1964, and its immense popularity in Italy helped grow the family chocolate shop into a multibillion-dollar business that now also produces Ferrero Rocher, Tic Tac mints, Kinder chocolate, and Butterfinger bars, Forbes reported. Despite the ubiquity of its products, both Ferrero himself and the company have maintained an extremely low profile, to the point where their security measures have been compared to those of NASA.

A representative of the Ferrero Group did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment on Ferrero's net worth, career, or personal life.

Keep reading to see what we know about the secretive billionaire at the helm of one of the world's largest confectionery empires.


Giovanni Ferrero, 55, is the youngest son of Nutella inventor Michele Ferrero.

ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

Giovanni Ferrero was born in Italy in April 1964, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Ferrero attended the European School, a Belgian boarding school, according to the National Italian American Foundation.

Ferrero went on to study marketing at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, according to NIAF.


Ferrero joined his father and brother in the family business after graduating.

Ferrero's first job at the family company was for the Tic Tac brand in Belgium, according to Forbes.

The Ferrero Group originated when Ferrero's grandfather, Pietro Ferrero, opened a chocolate shop in Alba, Italy, in 1946, Forbes reported. The store's main product was Supercrema, a hazelnut spread born from wartime chocolate shortages; it was the precursor to Nutella.

Over 70 years later, the Ferrero Group is the world's second-largest confectionery company. The company sold $11.9 billion (R169 billion) worth of sweets in the fiscal year ending in August 2018, Bloomberg reported.

Thanks to various product additions and company acquisitions, the Ferrero Group's products now include Tic Tac mints; Kinder chocolates; Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, and Crunch candy bars; and Keebler, Famous Amos, and Little Brownie Bakers cookies; in addition to Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, according to a July press release.


Giovanni and his brother Pietro became the company's co-CEOs in 1997.

Pietro managed the day to day logistics of the business and product development, while Giovanni focused on the creative aspect, Forbes reported. However, their arrangement ended abruptly when Pietro died in of a heart attack during a 2011 bicycling accident in South Africa, according to Forbes. Giovanni then became the Ferrero Group's sole CEO, while his father Michele stayed on as executive chairman.


Michele Ferrero died in 2015, leaving the company solely in Giovanni's hands.

Ferrero subsequently took over the role of executive chairman in 2015, Forbes reported. Ferrero held both the titles of CEO and executive chairman for two years until he hired Lapo Civiletti to take over as the company's CEO in 2017.


Ferrero doesn't have the personality you'd necessarily expect of a billionaire businessman.

ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

Giovanni was the "more introverted" of Ferrero brothers, according to The Wall Street Journal. Forbes' Noah Kirsch described Ferrero as "thin, well-dressed, and with a disarming giggle," with "more the air of a game-show host than a billionaire factory owner," after interviewing him in June 2018.

However, Kirsch did note that Ferrero "speaks in streams of corporate jargon ('dimensional thresholds,' 'growth momentum,' 'focalisation') inflected with arcane data."


Since becoming the company's sole leader, Ferrero bucked some of its decades-long traditions.

Since taking over as executive chairman, Ferrero made the first acquisitions in the chocolatier's history and hired its first CEO who was not a family member, Forbes reported.

The Ferrero Group bought British chocolatier Thorntons for $170 million in 2015, Butterfinger and BabyRuth maker Nestlé's US candy business for $2.8 billion in 2018, and Kellogg's cookie businesses in 2019, according to a Forbes report and a press release. The acquisitions are in stark contrast to Ferrero's father's business plan, which focused on building in-house brands.

"Tradition is like a bow," Ferrero wrote in an email to The Wall Street Journal's Manuela Mesco in 2016. "The more we stretch the bowstring, the farther we can throw the arrows of modernity and innovation."


Ferrero's innovations seem to paying off. The billionaire added $9.63 billion to his net worth in 2019.

GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

Ferrero is now worth $32 billion (R456 billion), Bloomberg estimates, up 43.1% from the start of 2019. That makes him the 27th richest person on Earth, worth more than both Elon Musk and Michael Dell, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Ferrero and his family are the sole owners of the Ferrero Group, according to Bloomberg. Giovanni Ferrero's stake alone is worth over $23 billion (R327 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.


Ferrero doesn't spend all his time working. He also writes novels on the side.

Rizzoli

Ferrero has written eight novels, several of which are set in Africa, according to Forbes.

His most recent book, a novel entitled "Il cacciatore di luce" ("The Light Hunter") that follows a African painter who is diagnosed with leukemia, was published in 2016 according to its Amazon page.


Ferrero is married to European Commission official Paola Rossi.

MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

The size of the couple's family is unclear, however. Forbes' Billionaires List and Reuters each say the couple has two children, while the Bloomberg Billionaires Index indicates they have none.


The family lives in Brussels, Belgium.

Ferrero runs the company from Luxembourg however, Forbes reported.

Ferrero's father Michele lived in Monte Carlo and worked in Italy, commuting between the two locations via helicopter, according to The Washington Post, so it's possible Ferrero has a similar arrangement.


Both Ferrero himself and his eponymous company are extremely private.

GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

The Ferrero Group is "one of the world's most secretive firms," The Guardian's John Hooper wrote in 2010.

The chocolate maker allowed journalists to tour its plant in Alba, Italy,for the first time in the company's 65-year history in 2011 and its chairman did his first-ever interview with an American media outlet in 2018.

The Ferrero Group previously banned tours of its factories for fear of "industrial espionage," as the designs of its equipment and Nutella recipe are closely guarded secrets, the Washington Post's Sarah Kaplan reported. One anonymous executive compared the company's security measures to those of NASA, according to The Guardian.

Ferrero's father behaved similarly, hiding the details of his life from the press and wearing dark glasses whenever he appeared in public, the Washington Post reported.

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

  • Indicators
  • JSE Indexes
15.40
-0,85%
19.85
-0,71%
16.91
-1,77%
$1,640.18
-0,24%
53444.83
-2,91%
DAILY BUSINESS INSIDER UPDATE

Get the best of our site delivered to your inbox every day.

Sign Up