Olga Urbani and BELLA Publisher, Daniel Hall
By Daniel Hall
Truffles are perhaps the world’s most expensive food, often called the “diamonds of the kitchen.” BELLA had the honor of sitting down with the queen of truffles herself, Olga Urbani from Urbani Truffles. Talking with Urbani, it’s clear why this 164-year-old family- run business continues to thrive.
Born to Paolo and Olga Urbani, the truffle heiress, as she’s been referred, learned the meaning of hard work, tradition, and ethics early on. She has been a game changer for women in Italy through her foundation, Fondazione Marisa Bellisario. Urbani has also helped countless families with their medical needs through a medical facility, Fondazione Giulio Loreti Onlus, that she created and funds. For these reasons and more, BELLA is proud to spotlight Olga Urbani in our Influencer Issue.
What is a typical day like for you?
It is always crazy, even on Saturdays and Sundays. I work 15 hours a day becauseof the company in America [headquartered in New York]. When I finish my job in Italy, I have to start calling America and with the six-hour time difference, it is very hard. In the morning I go early to my company because my employees need me. They need to be guided. Even if I imagine my company being a great family, we are all at the same level. The formula for success for an entrepreneur like me is to be all together facing the problems of the company.
What is the formula for having six generations of success?
The formula is to not think you know everything. I am there every day to learn from my people. They deal with everything, and they teach me a lot. The formula is humility – to never think I’ve arrived, that I am number one. I always think I have to learn a lot and better myself.
What inspires and motivates you?
What inspires me is the name “Urbani.” The name comes first, before anything else. We have to do everything to increase the prestige of our name. Our goal is to make a larger number of people think of us as serious people who are doing great business and doing it properly.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
In the beginning, my father was not confident in me. I remember hearing him tell someone, “I created an empire and all I have is a daughter.” That was sort of like advice, because I said to him, “So, that is what you think? You think just because I am a woman, I cannot run the company? Okay, I will live my life to change your opinion.” From that day on, I did my best. Every effort was to demonstrate that a woman could do better. At the end of his life he recognized that and said, “You’re much better than I am.” He saw that I was very modern and very smart.
You’ve done a lot for women in Rome. Where do you see that going?
I am a member of Fondazione Marsia Bellisario, which was created for managers who are women. We changed the law in Italy so that in public companies, a certain percentage of the administration committee needs to be women. Before that law it was a disaster –[it was] all men, everywhere. Now you see men and women in very important spots because of this law. I am very proud to be part of the group that did this. It was very hard to protect. We had to go against all the political parties and the people who were scared of what we could do, but now it’s getting better and better. We are all satisfied.
You’ve also done a lot of work with the sick. Tell us more about that foundation.
The foundation started with the intention of taking care of cancer patients, but then a baby came. How can you say, “No, we can’t help you” to a baby? From that moment on we started helping those with all kinds of problems, not only cancer. Sometimes we deal with children with other diagnoses. The foundation became bigger and bigger, and now we have 180 doctors who work for us.
Public medicine in Italy doesn’t go very well. People need to be cured first in their soul, and then medically. Public medical care is very fast; they don’t pay attention to the real needs of someone. I feel that if you have the opportunity, you have to help people. The most important thing in my life is to give someone else what I have, not to keep everything for myself. That is the only moment I really am happy – when I can help and heal.
Who are your mentors?
Through the medical foundation, I have had a chance to meet a lot of people who are suffering; people who are suffering teach you a lot more than people who are happy. Also, as we suffer we grow. When we are very happy we don’t think about our growth.
You have been part of your family business for a long time. If you weren’t, what would you have done instead?
My dream was to be a writer. I like to write very much; I do it as my secret. In my bag you can always find a booklet that I use to write down what I think. In writing, I really recognize myself.
What makes Urbani different?
We are authentic. We are a real story of a truffle family business that started 164 years ago. In this period, we increased the quality, technology, and volume of our products, organization,
and service. I think we are the only company that gives such service with truffles and truffle products. This year we worked on 140 tons of truffles – can you imagine?! I think this makes us very special because we have inherited from past generations what no one else can. Six generations is a lot. It is also very weird because in Italy all the companies break, they fight. You don’t see a family business making it for a long time like Urbani. This is an important added value.
What advice would you give to young female entrepreneurs?
They have to learn to dream. I talk very often to young people in interviews, people who want to work for me, and I see that they do not have dreams. They think everything is impossible. I suggest that they start thinking that everything is possible if they want it.
What would you consider your greatest accomplishments so far?
My biggest satisfactions in my life are my two children, Luca and Francesco, taking over the family business. I did it in a very strange way. I started showing them that I didn’t want them coming in, but when I realized that they were following me, my tradition, my business, I was very happy. That was the number-one thing in my life – I know that they will carry out the business and it’s not finished with me.
How do you define beauty?
Beauty has to do with your inner self. You are beautiful if you are beautiful inside. Beauty also has to do with the relationships you have with others. Beauty is if you have a big heart, if you’re generous, and if you’re positive. Beauty is loving your family and taking care of them.