What Ferrari's CEO Learned From Apple's CEOS

Ferrari President and Chairman Luca di Montezemolo sat down with Apple's CEO Tim Cook for an exclusive meeting of the minds earlier this week. The Ferrari chief, in the San Francisco Bay Area for the season opener of Stanford University's View From The Top lecture series, gleaned insight from Steve Jobs' successor and found shared values between the two brands.

Speaking to the assembled masses of students at Stanford, di Montezemolo honed in on each company's core tenants, saying "attention to the brand, exclusivity, attention to the people, attention to the environment" and control from a central location are fundamental to each company's success and continued growth.

Di Montezemolo drew a parallel between himself and Jobs' role in Apple's renaissance. The Ferrari president and former chairman of FIAT S.p.A took the reigns of the ailing supercar manufacturer in 1991, helping to reestablish the marque in Formula One racing and position Ferrari as a leader in automotive performance and technology.

During his meeting with Cook, di Montezemolo came away with a few insights into Apple's methods and goals, specifically the company's focus on simplicity, design and "a passion for product."

Di Montezemolo went on to praise the management style and leadership at Apple, including its employees' commitment to producing world-class products and the continued inspiration that Jobs instilled in its workers.

"When you've got a leader in a company like Steve Jobs," di Montezemolo said during his talk, "people have big respect and big gratitude for what he's done."

The talk was primarily aimed at Stanford's MBA students, with di Montezemolo espousing his own management style and what it takes to succeed on the world stage.

"Vision is something crucial for your people." di Montezemolo said. "Give them clear goals, clear priorities and give everyone the possibility to grow up [internally]."

He also took the opportunity to throw a few barbs towards Ferrari's competition from Germany, admitting that, "Porsche, after Ferrari, is the best car," but while "they're perfect, they're like a freezer. Cold. I prefer the red technology; the hot technology."

Technological advancements were an underlying thread during di Montezemolo's talk, with the Ferrari head citing the automaker's push towards maximum performance and maximum efficiency, not just for outright speed, but in his words, "emotional driving."

In an interview with WIRED, the Ferrari president touted the advances the automaker has made with its Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), specifically the hybrid V12 drivetrain shown at this week's Beijing Motor Show and destined to power its next mid-engine, flagship supercar later this year.

When asked about the possibility of moving beyond hybrid technology and into fully electric vehicles, di Montezemolo shakes his head and simply answers, "No."

"To do electric you need big batteries," di Montezemolo says, citing both weight and technological concerns. "I believe a lot in the hybrid. I want to [build] cars that have performance and can travel far. I want to drive from here to New York if I want." But he concedes that smaller cars for inner-city travel are better suited to electrification and that the Chevrolet Volt – with its plug-in hybrid drivetrain and range-extending engine – is a solid concept.

He also admits that Ferrari is looking at the possibility of a plug-in hybrid, but for now a KERS-based hybrid system is what the automaker will be focusing on for the foreseeable future.

However, what Ferrari isn't considering is an SUV – a competitor to the recently revealed Lamborghini Urus.

"Ferrari has to remain a dream and has to remain a car with very innovative technology," according to di Montezemolo, who chuckles when he says, "It must remain a hedonistic car."

"Because we have Maserati in our group, they can do as they do," he says, referring to the forthcoming Kubang SUV from Ferrari's corporate sibling and its planned launch next year. "I want to maintain our identity," and di Montezemolo maintains an SUV would dilute the brand.

Towards the end of his address, Ferrari's president recognized he was speaking to future customers, joking that he'd happily show them one of the 458 Italias parked outside. But after pulling off his tie during the Q&A session, di Montezemolo concedes to a round of applause that, "I'm not here to sell. I'm here to let you dream."


This story originally appeared on WIRED: Autopia on April 25, 2012, and was republished with permission.

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