Horse Talk

Ferrari North America CEO Marco Mattiacci holds forth on cars, relationships and the U.S.

Photo: Horse Talk 1
July 20, 2012

In 1999, Marco Mattiacci, then working for a strategic consultancy firm in London, got a call from Maranello, Italy. Ferrari wanted to hire the then 29-year-old. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, and it paid off handsomely; today, he’s the president and CEO of Ferrari North America.

Born in Rome, Mattiacci earned a degree in economics from Sapienza University of Rome. His early professional career focused on marketing and business development, and his first position at Ferrari involved overseeing the South American and Middle Eastern markets. At the same time, he served as a liaison to Ferrari North America, which led to him coming to the U.S. to help launch Maserati in 2002. In 2006, he was named the head of the newly created Ferrari Asia-Pacific division, and moved to Shanghai to run Ferrari’s Asian operations.

In January 2010, Mattiacci returned to the U.S. to lead Ferrari North America. Since that time, he’s launched the California, 458 and FF, and worked to strengthen the company’s relationship with its customers. In addition, he’s become a father to, as he smilingly describes them, “three American children, all under the age of three.”

FORZA sat down with soft-spoken Mattiacci during the Ferrari Challenge weekend at Infineon Raceway in mid-April.

What role does a Ferrari Challenge event like this serve?

Ferrari is racing—racing and competition, that is our culture—and the Challenge sums up all these elements. We have today 30 gentlemen drivers with the 458 Challenge coming from all over the country to race and compete and prove themselves. Then we have the history of Ferrari, the heritage; you see some historic cars here. And then you have the enthusiasts, all these fans that don’t today have a Ferrari, but probably dream about it, and maybe one day they will have it.

So it’s all these elements: To stay close to our customers, to stay close to our enthusiasts, to receive their feedback, to create a stronger community feeling and to give to them something nobody else can give them in the automotive industry.

How much of your job is aimed at building that relationship with the client?

It’s fundamental—priority number one. We are in the business of relationships. The factory gives us an incredible product, but in order to be more and more relevant in the industry, and with the consumer, we need to offer something more, something beyond the product. I aim to know all the customers by name, I aim to receive their feedback, to stay close to them, to let them understand what the company is and what they want from the company.

That FXX Evoluzione you see in the box [pits] there, that is the upmost level of integration between any car company and its customers. They develop with our engineers their own cars for their way of driving. It’s incredible. Absolutely one of the most strategic activities for Ferrari in North America, and it’s done worldwide.

Is product design primarily driven from Maranello, or is there direction that comes from U.S.?

The product strategy is strongly driven by Maranello, although definitely there is a fine-tuning of the product through feedback from the market. But I have to tell you, in Maranello there are master engineers, the best engineers in the world, and their obsession is to maintain the driving experience of a Ferrari, to deliver that performance. [An F1 car howls past on track.] As you can hear, we obsess about the ratio of power to weight, making more and more efficient engines and so on in order to deliver unique performance.

But there is now a need for that driving experience in a different kind of lifestyle. Thirty years ago, it would have been quite unique to go to your office in a Ferrari. Now we have seven-year free scheduled maintenance, so we work dramatically on quality, on versatility. We improve the product strategy but always keeping very strong, in a very cautious way, the DNA of the brand.

A few months ago, you received the Automotive Executive of the Year Award; previous winners include Bob Lutz, Carlos Ghosn and Lee Iacocca. What were the reasons given when you were presented the award in Detroit?

The reason, I think, was a statement about a company that is doing great and has spent 55 years in this market. To be awarded as a representative of Ferrari in the cradle of the American automotive business is a big statement. I mean, we do 7,000 cars per year, but I think we have been a leader in technology, in emotion, in letting people dream—for the last, probably, 60 years.

Then, definitely, there was a personal recognition. I came here at the beginning of 2010 with the clear intention to strengthen the connection to our customer, to have an impressive result with the California and, at the same time, to develop markets like South America and Canada. So I think that I’ve been awarded for the leadership and setting clear priorities within the organization—not just Ferrari North America, but all the leaders that work with us—to make sure everything goes in one direction.

Plus, in 2007, one of ten cars in our segment was a Ferrari. Today, it is one out of four. So I think Ferrari is becoming a predominant brand.

You first came to North America in the early 2000s. What was your role then?

I was involved with the launch of Maserati. I was VP of Marketing, but I was working very closely with the CEO at the time. My role was to launch the Maserati brand, and I worked heavily with Ferrari to create these kind of experiences. During my tenure as a marketer, we created a driving school in Montreal, we reinforced the Challenge. I think those kinds of crucial activities make Ferrari relevant.

In the mid-2000s, you moved to Asia to oversee operations there, including the official launch of Ferrari in China.

I was President and CEO of Ferrari Asia-Pacific, President and CEO of Ferrari China and CEO of Ferrari Japan, we took over the business in Japan. We were managing countries like South Korea, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore—so all of Asia. When I arrived, we moved something like 620 units in Asia; when I left, it was almost 1,200. We changed 40 percent of the network.

How does the Asian customer differ from the American customer?

I’ll start to answer this question from the demographic. The average age of the Ferrari customer in the United States is 48 years old; in China, it is 32 years old. In the U.S., at the most five, six, seven percent of the customers are female; in China, it’s a good 20 percent. In China, 50 percent of our customers have created their wealth in the last 24 months.

Then if you go to the psychographic, Americans have an incredible knowledge about our product, incredible knowledge about our history. There are the best, largest collections of cars here in the United States. Americans have a great tradition of racing. In China, racing is still in the beginning.

The similarity is that they both strive and dream about becoming number one. They are both very ambitious.

Were you involved in Maranello’s push to redesign the Ferrari dealerships?

In some ways, but I wouldn’t define it as a “push.” In Maranello, we always strive for perfection—to deliver the best engine, we want our image to be the best and we want the customer experience to be the best. So our President [Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo] and top management, we decided it was important to give relevance to the beauty of the products, to make the sure that the customer in Hong Kong or New York or Paris or Rome will have the same experience with the same look and feel.

Ferrari opened an atelier inside the factory when it launched the One-to-One personalization programs There’s also an atelier in the U.S., correct?

Yes, there is currently one in New York City. In the next few weeks, we are starting to work on one in Beverly Hills. Probably we’ll be ready by the end of the year.

China recently replaced Germany as Ferrari’s second-largest market. Will there be a day when the U.S. market is no longer the largest?

You are asking the question of the wrong person. I grew up watching the Los Angeles Lakers with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I grew up watching Dan Marino making incredible passes, I’ve been pro-American all my life. I believe in it. This is the country that produces the most intellectual property of any place in the world. We, myself and Montezemolo, just came back from visiting [Apple CEO] Tim Cook and we went to Google. This country has assets like creativity, diversity. I struggle to see the U.S. falling behind any other country. I would be very careful to say that China is going to be bigger than the U.S.

Given the fact that Ferrari builds a limited number of cars to order, what is the impetus to attract new customers?

It is a very good question. People go to other marques, the dealerships, and there are cars in stock. But you know, we go back to the saying that buying a Ferrari is not buying a normal car: It is a dream. At that moment, it is the achievement of your life. The average time a customer spends with us [at a dealer] is two hours and a half, the time he spends making the specs of a car, because they love it. In that moment, they are building the dream into reality. They want to wait. They are available.

How many options does the typical customer add to their car?

The average amount of optioning in this country is $47,000 on top of the base MSRP. The California comes into the market with a $196,000 MSRP, but there is not one California entering the market for less than $214,000. The customers nowadays want to be unique. It is a hedonistic purchase.

How many Ferrari retail stores are there currently in North America, and are there plans to open more?

Five: San Francisco, Beverly Hills, New York, Miami and Las Vegas. We are interested in many other areas; for instance, Toronto, Canada. Then there probably are cities where we will see more than one store. We want to grow organically, so we see that people are appreciating the quality of our product, the variety of the mix.

Tell us a little about yourself: Are you a car guy? A marketing guy? A business guy? Or some combination?

I am a person that is very intrigued by other persons; I like to understand what other people like. But at the same time, being Italian, I am so very nuts for Ferrari. I love it. I love the product, the passion that is behind it. I have the luck to see our cars start on a blueprint and arrive to the assembly line, workers working hard to make things happen—engineers, marketers. It’s an impressive business. You see dramatic pressure on all the 3,000 employees. I eat, breath and sleep Ferrari every day.

Do you have a favorite model in the current lineup?

This is hard to answer. I’ve driven the 458. It’s impressive; that car makes me feel like a super hero. It’s incredible.

The impressive thing is that when I arrived at Ferrari in 1999 we were launching the 360 coupe. I have seen the amazing work the engineers have done in the span of 12 or 13 years. It’s incredible. The 458 is five years ahead of its time. It’s so pretty, so comfortable, so versatile. It’s impressive how you master that amount of horsepower. And the sexiness of the design, the ergonomics of the interior…there is an enhancement of your self-confidence when you drive a car like that.

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