“Unfortunately this is for when you’ve had electric shock treatment at school,” he says, thumbing the pin. “You have to wear it to show that you are not allowed to drive a car or have more than three coffees a day.” An impish grin stretches across his face. The pin is actually the Cavalieri del Lavoro, Italy’s highest honor for services to industry. Della Valle received it in 1996. “We’re a bit like soldiers of the workplace,” he quips of his co-cavalieri.
He’s not kidding. Della Valle’s life is organized with military precision. Every other month he takes a long-distance trip, typically to the U.S. or the Far East. In between he travels around Europe, working 12- to 15-hour days. In total he spends about 400 hours a year on his plane, enough for about 10 laps around the world.
Whenever possible, however, Della Valle spends Friday night through Tuesday at home, in the area where he was born. In the morning he brings Filippo to school, the same one he attended; he eats lunch at home, a former convent surrounded by acres of private parkland that is a short drive from the factory; and he visits the grave of his beloved mother, who died last October. “That is the world in which I feel most comfortable,” Della Valle says. “I prefer a simple, normal life. I avoid the beau monde unless for work.”
According to Montezemolo, he’s always been like that. “Diego is one of those people that we in Italy call a ragazzo del bar, those guys that you see with four or five friends who like to joke around, eat well and hang out in familiar haunts,” Montezemolo says. “He is very attached to where he comes from and his family. These values are important, and despite his success, he has never lost them.”
Over a lunch of ricotta and spinach ravioli, veal, salad, fruit and chestnuts—the majority of which comes from his estate—Della Valle introduces Filippo, his son by Barbara. Filippo, a good-looking boy with chocolate brown hair and eyes, starts a conversation about the latest Bond film, Quantum of Solace. He has his father’s full attention. “It’s really good. There’s loads of shooting,” Filippo says, getting out of his chair to approach Diego.
“And good-looking women?” Della Valle asks, grabbing his son around the rib cage. In Italy, Della Valle is known as much as a ladies’ man as a guys’ guy. But at home he’s just Dad. “Actions speak louder than words,” he says. “Image is something you construct, while reputation starts at home. If you are able to pass on solid values to your children, then they can become citizens of the world.”