Les Schirato Cantarella Bros


established 1947; 150 full-time,


fifty part-time employees;f


$160 million turnover|


Only twenty-five yearsf


ago Les Schirato was

laughed at when he suggested to supermarket chains that they should sell his company's Vit- toria brand coffee.

Then it was available only in Italian delis, cafes and restaurants, and in the international sections of gourmet food stores. Schirato was advised that Australians would find the coffee too strong. Now Italian staples are everyday items in most Aussie shopping trolleys, and the elegant Schirato is reaping the benefits of his persistence—with a multimillion-dollar business, a Bentley in his garage, a sleek motor- boat and a wardrobe of Italian designer suits.

Schirato left school at seventeen to join his father at Cantarella Bros. The aspiring young salesman fell in love with the boss's daughter, Luisa. Realising he would have to prove himself elsewhere if he wanted to marry her, Schirato went to work for Italian car company Fiat.

That largely personal decision gave him invaluable professional experience as well as nurturing his love of cars. 'I learned about sales management and people skills,' he says. 'I would be selling trucks one day to a big corporation, and the next day I'd be in Wollongong talking to coalmine workers. Business is all about relationships. Today, people don't spend the time understanding others. Human relations are important—at every social level.'

As for the relationship with Luisa Cantarella, it flourished. They married in 1983, and Schirato returned to the firm as part of the family. 'I have to be honest, I love what I do. I love to sell coffee and wine and deal with the restaurants and hotels. The money became a fringe benefit.

I never expected the money on the scale it is now; I loved what I did and I had a passion for it.

I never sold the business, even though merchant bankers tried to buy us.'

When Schirato came back to Cantarella Bros he launched his push into supermarkets withVit- toria, along with European cheeses, Barilla pasta, Italian mineral water and the then exotic chocolate spread Nutella. Realising that food editors could influence public tastes, Schirato ensured that they received information and ideas on Italian cooking. In an era of chops and three veg, Schirato and his contemporaries helped bring about a food-culture revolution—and make mil-lions for the company in the process.

His father-in-law—whom Schirato bought out, along with his brothers-in-law, in the 1990s—was proud to see Italian foods become such Australian staples. 'He started the company in 1947 when he brought in a roasting machine from Italy,' Schirato says. 'He stuck to strong Italian coffee and he was proud to see how tastes had changed. It's like our coffee beans from all over the world that we mix to make the brand— Australia also takes things from everywhere and blends them together.'

Back then, Cantarella producedVittoria coffee but was merely a distributor of other products.

Schirato got his next big business lesson when companies for which he'd created an Australian market, such as Barilla, moved in to import and distribute their products themselves. Schirato responded by creating his own products—Aurora Pasta, Santa Vittoria mineral water and Nutino spread—which are made to order in Italy and sold by Cantarella Bros.

This investment, along with Schirato's earlier

ambitious push into mainstream markets, took

Cantarella from being a $2.5 million company

in the early 1980s

It felt like I was taking to one with a turnthecontro|s of a big p|ane over of $160 million

with a|1 the passengers and today. But starting shareholders on board. I ,

to produce its own had their lives in my hands, r

and I was in the cockpit brands was a big risk.

trying to fly this thing. J 'It felt like I was taking the controls of a big plane with all the passengers and shareholders on board. I had their lives in my hands, and I was in the cockpit trying to fly this thing,' he says. 'And, let me tell you, I hate flying.'

But he learned to do it, and he's landed smoothly. 'We learnt there was no future in building other people's brands,' he says. The average Australian now consumes around 3 kg of pasta a year (a trifling amount compared with Italians' 54 kg) and drink $90 million worth of coffee. Cantarella is the largest Australian vendor of pure coffee.

For Schirato, however, money is not the measure of success. Family remains his cornerstone. His wife, Luisa, is a co-owner of the company, as is his sister-in-law. His son, Rolando, is now marketing manager. 'Find your own balance between work, family, health, community and anything else that's important to you,' he advises. 'Give back every chance you get, and enjoy the journey.'

Kerrie Davies

golden rules

Think like a pilot. Know what your critical gauges are and keep your eyes on these. If they stay green, everything should take care of itself. If you see any flash red, like cash flow, act immediately.

Have a flight plan. Give clear directions about where you're going.

Look after your profitable customers. First-class passengers are not always the most profitable.

Focus on the little things as well as the big things. Pilots have a checklist for a reason. If you miss any of the little things, it could spell disaster.

Train your crew. Get involved in key appointments. Give everyone clear, measurable performance indicators and set them up to succeed.

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Источник: Nick Gardner. How. I made-.my first million. 26 self-made millionaires reveal the secrets to their success. 2010

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