In 2017, Matteo Torre became the President and CEO of Ferrari North America. While his name wasn’t familiar to most American enthusiasts, at that time he had been inside Ferrari for nearly 20 years.
Born and raised in Italy, Torre earned a Master’s in Economics at Milan’s Universita’ Cattolica Del Sacro Cuore (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart). His degree led him to a senior role at Electrolux Zanussi, where he was responsible for the company’s purchasing. In 1999, he took on a similar position at Ferrari, but soon switched to a commercial role. This change ultimately led to his appointment as the President and CEO of Greater China in 2014 and, a few years later, his current position.
We caught up with the open, affable Torre in Monterey, California in mid-May, at the Ferrari Racing Days weekend held at Laguna Seca.
Growing up in Italy, what did Ferrari mean to you?
I was not just born and raised in Italy, I was born and raised in a part of Italy that is very close to where Ferrari was established; I was born in a region 100 miles from Maranello. I know the brand well, I’ve been exposed since I was a kid. In Italy at the time, there were many Ferraris on the streets, so they connected with the population in a very unique way.
It was, and probably still is, the pride of Italy—an expression of success, elegance, beauty, sportiness. I think many of the Italian values are represented in the brand. When people see a Ferrari, they really get inspiration from the car. It’s something unique; I don’t think there is any other car in Italy that gets the same reaction. If you are on the motorway and there is a Ferrari behind, you give way, you pay respect, they have to go. Nobody dares to stop it.
When I was a teenager, my father was a member of a tennis club, and one of the members had two F40s. I remember going with my father and just waiting in the parking lot for that car to turn up. It was like the space shuttle, because at the time my family probably had a Fiat Uno. The F40 had nothing to do with any other car, it was completely different. The sound was so physical, the body vibrated when he fired the engine. I still have memories of that F40.
Before you joined Ferrari, you were a Commodity Manager for Electrolux, responsible for purchasing. Your first position in Maranello was very similar, although the title was Purchasing Manager. What did that job entail?
I was in charge of buying commodities, so steel, aluminum, leather, whole interiors. I was in charge of purchasing for Research & Development, as well, and I worked closely with the technical department. At the time, Mr. [Amedeo] Felisa was in charge of the technical department, before becoming CEO. It was a very interesting moment. In 1999, when I arrived, it was the start of the relaunch of Maserati, and I was in charge of both.
I had also been in charge of purchasing at Electrolux, but it was clearly completely different components! [Laughs] In purchasing, volume is a big asset, you have a negotiation power that is very high. At Ferrari, it is completely the opposite; you sell the brand more than the business case, because the number you are purchasing is very limited. I had to completely change my approach. You see people that are more interested in the association with the brand, the fact that we are innovating, that we are the perfect platform to bring in new technology to the industry. We are an entry point for every supplier who really wants to innovate.
After working as Purchasing Manager, you shifted over to Ferrari’s commercial side. Why the change?
Purchasing and sales are two sides of the same coin, and I wanted to challenge myself in another area of the business. It was a natural evolution. I’d been asked to move to that department, and it was a very interesting time for Ferrari because we were starting our next development strategy to expand our footprint in terms of the dealer network, especially in Eastern Europe. I was in charge of the development of the brand in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Greece, Turkey, Russia.
Then I moved to Paris, where I ran the Charles Pozzi Ferrari-Maserati dealership for almost three years. At the time, the strategy was to run all the importerships we had in Europe, so when we purchased back the importership for France from Daniel Marin, we also purchased the two dealerships that Marin ran personally. We sold the dealership in Lyon straightaway, but we kept the one in Paris, which I ran until we sold it in 2009.
Running a dealership and having consumer sales must have been a very different challenge from being responsible for and working with dealers.
Absolutely, a big difference. But it was very functional for my career, having retail experience, especially in the positions I held afterward. I learned a lot, and it gave me the point of view of my partners today; I understand the way they operate. In an ideal world, I wish that everybody who runs a market had dealer experience. First, because it’s really rewarding when you sell a car, when you have a successful day, when you deliver a car. It’s very people-oriented, it’s not a B2B business, it’s B2C. There is a different energy in what you do every day, and you manage a different type of person. I think it was one of the most interesting parts of my career. It’s stimulating, and I really enjoyed my time there.
After Pozzi, you…
After Pozzi, I took over responsibility for North Europe. I was based in Slough and living in London. At the time, North Europe consisted of the UK, Ireland, Holland, and the Scandinavian markets. Then I took responsibility for Southwest Europe: France, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg. After that, in 2013, I went back to Maranello to run Global Sales and Aftersales for Ferrari. That was a corporate job, more about the strategies, more about the development.
After a year and a half back in Maranello, you went to Shanghai to become the President and CEO of Ferrari Greater China. What led you there?
I think it was a natural progression. A position opened up and I was asked by the top management if I wanted to do it. China was, and still is, a market where we pay attention. It’s a market that has many complexities, but it’s very rewarding because the energy you see in that part of the world is unique. It’s a very new market, where people don’t know the whole history of Ferrari; they have never been exposed to the successes of the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s. There are almost no classic cars in China, because you cannot import a used car. Even racing is a very new thing.
But it’s impressive how quickly they learned the values of our brand, our uniqueness. It’s impressive how the customer base in China, despite being quite young, because the wealth is younger in Asia, is still very knowledgeable, very passionate for Ferrari.
If they don’t have the many decades of history, what is it about the brand that appeals to them?
They are no different than other countries. They like Ferrari because of the technical side of our product, the design, the innovation, the exclusivity, the driving pleasure, the emotion they get from driving the car.
What is different is the story-telling. They love our story, but you have to tell the story in a way that resonates with them. They like the romantic part. They love the self-made man in northern Italy who started with one passion, and it was about racing.
For you personally, how much of a change was it to live in China?
I had a soft landing because Shanghai is really an international city. It was absolutely easy for my family, for me and my wife, to integrate in Shanghai. The language can be a barrier, but it was not for us, we could communicate quite easily. You’d be surprised how many points in common we have with the Chinese people, even though it is the other side of the world. We are very similar in the way we prioritize our lives—family, the pleasure we get from enjoying life—so it was quite similar, not difficult at all.
How did coming to America compare with going to China?
America clearly belongs to the Western part of the world, and I belong to this part of the world. I’m not American, but it’s more similar…and the whole Italian community, especially in New York, you feel really at home! [Laughs]
It’s not the biggest market by chance. It’s a unique market with the perfect combination of wealth, passion, and exposure to motorsport. People here really love Ferrari, and in this country you can show off, you can drive your Ferrari in the street. It’s not an understated culture. It’s quite different from some countries in Europe, where you do not have the same freedom to drive the car on the street. Here it is socially accepted.
Success is part of this culture. People love to see the success of other people, and Ferrari is considered a reward, a symbol of success. It’s something that you see dramatically in this country.
Is your job here the same as it was in China?
The title is the same, the scope of the job is the same, but it has completely different priorities and a completely different mission.
How does the mission differ?
In China, it was more about development, as we are in an earlier stage of our presence. In America, it is about consolidation. This is the real difference between the two. China is a market where we are growing, America is a market that we have to protect. To grow as well, but we are already very well-established with a market share that is already very, very strong. The North American market represents around 30 percent of Ferrari’s annual production.
In America or in Europe, your dad, your granddad was talking about Ferrari, you were born with someone telling you about Ferrari. In China, they didn’t have this opportunity. This is the first generation of Ferrari in China, and they are learning the passion for themselves. We have not arrived at the second generation yet.
Is there a plan for how to bring that enthusiasm to the next generation?
The secret is to nurture the relationship, and it will organically be transferred if you do your job right. We don’t have a specific strategy to target the next generation. [Laughs] I think it’s a legacy that transfers.
Do your current responsibilities include more than just North America?
I’m responsible for South America, as well. We have a presence in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Panama, Puerto Rico.
There can’t be very many Puerto Rican or Panamanian customers!
Yes, it’s not a big market, but it’s a very important market for us and our customers. Ferrari is present in 60 markets, and we want to be close to the people who have an interest in and a loyalty to our brand. When you enter a market, you have the responsibility to keep nurturing the relationship with customers. It’s a long-term commitment.
Looking at the U.S. market in particular, what’s the biggest feedback you get from customers about what they want, what they like, what they don’t like, what direction they want the company to go?
I think the customers rely on us. I don’t think they want to influence our strategy. They respect us a lot in terms of decision-making about what’s next. The customer wants to be surprised, and they rely on us surprising them.
They have great respect for our ability to innovate and our ability to add technological content to every car we produce. It’s not just cosmetic. We deliver features that change the drivability, the driving pleasure, the sportiness, the performance… These pillars of our brand are very clear in our mind, and we keep innovating and investing in them. So far, we are not disappointing anyone. Every time they ask about the future, I say, ‘Listen, rely on us and trust us because we are working for you.’
I drove a 488 Pista for the first time yesterday, and what was more impressive than the power and speed was the driving involvement. I felt connected to the car, even though there were so many electronic systems working away in the background. That must be a very difficult thing to create.
It’s not just about the performance, it’s not just about acceleration, it’s about responsiveness and driving pleasure. Our philosophy is that the car helps the driver go to the performance limit, and all the controls we have are in place to allow our customers to do that, to allow them to have the driving pleasure, the responsiveness, the crispness. The metric for success is probably the smile that people get when they drive a Ferrari! This is what we want.
Three final questions: One, what is your favorite current Ferrari?
I love the 12-cylinder cars, maybe because I belong to that generation. I think that the torque, the power, the presence of the 12-cylinder cars is what I admire the most.
Maybe this is the same question, but do you have a favorite Ferrari of all time?
The F40. The F40 is the car of my teenage years, a car that is still clear in my memory, a car that is one of the recurring milestones of my journey
The F40 is intimidating; I think it is not a car for everyone. You have to respect the F40, as it does not forgive. It’s brutal, especially the turbos, which are very unpredictable; it’s on or off, there’s nothing in the middle. In terms of driving emotion, it is quite special.
Last question: What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
The people. It is meeting great people, people who I have something in common with, who I learn from every day. I also learn a lot from my team, from the staff, from the dealers… I have a lot to give, but in the final equation, I learn more than I give every day.