Adriano Olivetti was a brilliant and eclectic Italian entrepreneur, intellectual, publisher and politician. He was born in Ivrea on April 11, 1901. His father, Camillo, founded the Olivetti company, Italy’s first typewriter maker.
After earning a degree in Industrial Chemistry, Adriano worked as a factory hand in the family company. He believed that a good manager needed to acquire a full understanding of workers’ issues.
In 1925, Olivetti traveled to the United States, where he visited several plants in order to investigate modern organizational systems.
He soon became convinced that to be efficient, a factory needed to nurture its workers on a human level.
He returned to Italy in 1938 and took his father’s place as chairman of Olivetti. He immediately implemented these new principles, guaranteeing his workers lighter schedules, higher salaries and longer maternity leaves than required by Italian regulations.
He immediately invested in innovation. His earliest success was the MP1, the first portable typewriter. Adriano was a firm anti-Fascist. He sought refuge in Switzerland during World War Two in order to avoid retaliation for his views.
He returned to Italy following the war, touching off a period of great development at his company.
He was one of the first businessmen to consider product appearance a key to success. The most famous example of this was the portable typewriter Lettera 22. Designed in 1950, the Lettera 22 is now considered a symbol of Italian design and showcased in museums all over the world.
Olivetti soon expanded its product range, making some of the world’s earliest electronic calculators, the forerunners of computers. It opened state-of-the-art factories in Italy and abroad, including a plant in Pozzuoli, near Naples, immersed in nature.
Olivetti was involved in numerous other activities, especially social issues. He reinvested part of his profits in projects to improve Ivrea, financing the creation of entire new neighborhoods with homes for factory workers, cafeterias and nursery schools.
He entered politics with the Community Movement, a group promoting local autonomy. As head of the movement, he was elected mayor of Ivrea in 1956 and member of Parliament two years later. Adriano Olivetti died of a stroke on February 27, 1960, on a train from Milan to Lausanne. He was 59. He left his company in excellent health, with 36,000 employees.
In the following decades, however, the company sank into a long and deep crisis, primarily owing to its attempts to penetrate the computer market. Orphaned of its creator, Adriano Olivetti’s project vanished into utopia.