Diego Della Valle can’t stop touching people. The Italian entrepreneur works the room, greeting friends and local dignitaries. “Benvenuto,” he says, offering a smile, a handshake and a squeeze of the arm just above the elbow to each and every guest. Of average height and build, with a full head of graying hair and round glasses that make him look like Harry Potter’s older alter ego, Della Valle, 55, is one of Italy’s most powerful industrialists. On this brisk November evening in Florence, his role is that of honorary chairman of the Renaissance city’s soccer club ACF Fiorentina, which he rescued from bankruptcy in 2002. “I always come to the stadium knowing it’s a game. If we win, I sleep better,” he says in the executive lounge of Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi. His voice is rusty and lulling.
The soccer club is but one of many commercial endeavors through which Della Valle has become a pillar of Italian capitalism, amassing a fortune estimated at close to a billion dollars. He has holdings in RCS Media Group, which owns the Corriere della Sera newspaper; Banca Nazionale del Lavoro; furniture firm Poltrona Frau; film studio Cinecittà; eyewear company Marcolin; and Piaggio motorcycles. He is also working on a project with Ferrari president and longtime friend Luca Cordero di Montezemolo to launch a high-speed train company. Dubbed NTV, the service is slated to compete with a state-run network starting in 2011. But it all started with his family’s leather business, which he developed into the luxury conglomerate Tod’s SpA.
The morning after the game, Della Valle’s pilot, Franco Macchi, readies his silver Falcon 2000 10- seat private jet for the short flight back to Milan. Like many who work for Signor Diego, the pilot has been doing so for more than a decade. A half dozen pens, a notepad and stacks of papers in tan folders fastened with a single blue and yellow striped ribbon await Della Valle, tokens of the busy day ahead. Twenty minutes later he boards, accompanied by an entourage of three: a bodyguard, Della Valle’s brother and a cousin. Last night’s jacket and jeans have been swapped for a navy suit and tie. “Sorry I’m late,” Della Valle says, adjusting the leather bangles on his right wrist as he relaxes into his seat.
Behind Della Valle, on the wall of the cabin, a plaque bears the letters d.d.d., which stand for dignita, dovere, e divertimento, or “dignity, duty and fun,” a phrase he coined. “It’s the synthesis of what’s important in life,” Della Valle says as he fastens his seat belt. “As a family joke, we made it into a coat of arms in blue and yellow, which are my favorite colors. We all have one in our homes and on our boats as a reminder of what it means to be a Della Valle.”