Dubbed the “king of cashmere” by The New Yorker, Brunello Cucinelli is the founder of the eponymously named fashion house that is well-known for making luxury cashmere sweaters and over $450 million a year in revenues. But he runs a different kind of business, slowing down to spend time on Italian craftsman traditions while still growing tremendously. Cucinelli has figured out how to overcome the constant need to check overloaded email inboxes, work around the clock and be a slave to the machine. His business-place practices are a sharp contrast to the notification-mad world of Silicon Valley, and there is a lot to learn from a man whose business keeps growing at a healthy clip. In a 24/7 world that moves constantly and quickly, here’s how he does it.
Work hard during the day, and then rest. “Here in the company, you start at 8 AM, and at 5:30 PM you are forbidden to work any further…You think that you have worked one hour less, but the morning after, your rate of creativity is sky-high.”
Spend time on quality, not quantity. “We have to rediscover the quality of work. Do you think that during the first five hours of the day you are the same as you are in the last five hours? No way. You’re tired, and if you’re tired, you stop listening, and the decisions you make are risky.”
Become a master at doing nothing. Cucinelli calls it otium, the Latin word for “doing nothing.” He says, “In the winter on a Sunday afternoon, I can spend six hours in front of the fireplace, just looking at the flames and thinking. In the evening, I’m drunk with beautiful thoughts. My wife says to me, ‘What are you looking at?’ I say, ‘The fire.’ We have to take a step backward.”
But don’t waste time. “I do not want during the day to see funny emails or joke emails,” he said.
Believe in each person. “If you have 1,000 people, you have 1,000 geniuses. They’re just different kinds of genius and a different degree of intensity.”
Your cell phone is not a part of your body. “No one is allowed to bring them into the meeting room. You must know things by heart. You must know all of your business with a 1 to 2 percent error rate.” In fact, if you send Cucinelli a text during the day, he won’t get it until after 6 PM.
Why must a single email be read by 10 different people, unless it’s the 10 people who are interested in that specific issue?”
Don’t email if you can talk. “Just get up and go to your neighbor and ask them one thing in person. First of all, you look me in the eye. You smell me, my presence. Maybe I take the opportunity to ask you about your family. Don’t you feel better than if you get an email? Maybe I smile and you feel even better.”
And don’t you dare send an email to more than two people. “Why must a single email be read by 10 different people, unless it’s the 10 people who are interested in that specific issue?”
Bring dignity to your work. “Before going public, I asked our shareholders, ‘Are you looking for a company that grows very fast, that makes profits that are too high, in our view, quick profits? Do not invest in our company. Do you want a company that grows in a gracious way? That allows suppliers to grow alongside it, so that your artisans can grow as well as the company’s staff?’”
Take care of your body and soul. “There are three things you cannot buy. Fitness: You have to keep fit, whether you’re rich or not. Diet: You cannot pay someone to be on a diet for you…Then, looking after your soul. No one can possibly treat your soul but you yourself…Let’s try looking after our soul while working.”
This piece has been adapted from my interview with Cucinelli, which is now featured here in its entirety.