Leonardo, you are the newcomer in the workforce of Lucano 1894, introduce yourself and describe us what working in your family's company feels like.
My name is Leonardo Vena, I am 34 and I’m currently the Chief Executive Officer at my family company, Lucano 1894, with duties related to the commercial and marketing parts. I made my economic studies at Bocconi University of Milan and I continued my training by working and studying in Italy and even abroad, for instance in the United States and Czech Republic. I worked for an Italian food company, so I approached a sector that was very similar to my family’s. The type of training I have achieved derives from family rules; we sons have to do specific studies and experiences outside of Lucano 1894. When I joined the company, together with my brother Francesco, I’ve initially worked in the marketing sector, then in the commercial area until I had various responsibilities and became the CEO. Working in the company of my family is a wonderful experience from many points of view: business and personal life blend together, so it’s impossible to make distinctions among work, family, a business meeting or even a lunch with my relatives. I always say that working with one’s own relatives might be somehow complicated, nonetheless the fundamental thing is, when necessary, to take steps back and be open to debate, because, let's face it, no one’s holding the truth!
Can you briefly tell us the story of Amaro Lucano?
My great-grandfather, Pasquale Vena, founded the company. He was a pastry chef. Together with his many brothers, who left their native village, Pisticci (Matera, Basilicata), they wanted to move to the U.S. Someone left but not my great-grandfather Pasquale. He was an apprentice at an important Neapolitan pastry shop, where he came into contact and developed a deep knowledge of herbs and botanicals. Back in Pisticci he opened a pastry shop and started to produce liqueurs. The product portfolio included many spirits; the most successful was the Amaro Lucano, the same as we know it nowadays. Amaro Lucano was born as a medicinal product with restricted production, just for friends and relatives. Thanks to the success of the liquors created by Pasquale, the production has expanded and he started working with his two elder children (my grandfather and his brother). Sales first increased in the 1960s, thanks to advertising activities and participation in various fairs, and then during the 1970s and 1980s thanks to TV and the introduction of other products. In the nineties the company passed under the direction of my father Pasquale who focused on the growth of the brand especially in Italy. Now the management of Lucano 1894 is in my and my brother’s hands: the new generation
Is there any anecdote concerning the Lucano 1894 company you could tell us?
Funny things always happen! Obviously there are several stories, linked to many people who have worked at the company throughout the years. I will tell you an anecdote linked personally to my brother and me. Now I'm the CEO of this company, but I remember that once, during our childhood, we went to the Lucano 1894 office in Pisticci and we had fun among the desks, under the tables, and played football using the bottles’ cardboard boxes to delimit the goals. We didn’t understand that it was a working environment, we had fun chasing each other in what we thought to be an extension of our home. That’s why it’s still difficult to supervise people who have seen me grow up.
What’s your first memory related to Lucano 1894?
My first memory linked to Lucano 1894 perhaps dates back to 1994, when the company was 100 years old. I was 10 and I remember that there was this great party: I was aware of its importance but, honestly, I still couldn’t realize what it really meant. There are even some photos portraying me a bit annoyed! Naturally children get bored at these slightly formal parties. We can say this is my first memory linked to something official within the company.
The economy of the South has undergone a sharp recession until 2016, when it started recovering, recording high performances. Your company is always good in its business, even in moments of great difficulty for the rest of southern Italy. Do you have any advice for new startups that could be included in your sector?
Surely the advice is to never give up, no doubts. Lot of patience, sacrifice and commitment are needed because you don’t get something for nothing, it seems a banality but it is precisely what I was taught by my family. In this period, with the market being increasingly competitive, there are more and more players an advice would be not to get down after the first failures. Our competitors are large multinationals, so it is not easy for us to resist, but we must commit ourselves and above all we must study a lot, never stop collecting information about the market and new trends. I'm not the first to say it and I will not be the last one, but it's actually like that. It is a business in which one must necessarily be prepared, thus looking at what happens in the new generations in order not to risk being excluded from the market.
Amaro Lucano is distributed all over the world. Where is your flagship product getting the most positive feedbacks?
Italy certainly represents our most important market, because historically it’s the place where the world of bitter meets the culture of the “after meal”, so it is where we are stronger, similar to Germany. We are growing in other countries like the United States, England and even China, where, instead, our product is proposed by bartenders as ingredient for many cocktails recipes.
You, Leonardo, travel often and you know many insiders. What kind of relationship do you have with bartenders?
I consider the bartenders as my colleagues. I always say "we are on one side of the supply chain, you on the other and it is thanks to you that the product achieves success". So I think they are important not only from a marketing point of view, but also because of the assistance they can possibly provide in improving our products based on their own expertise.
What do you think of the way mixologists are recently approaching the Amaro world?
It is certainly a very interesting trend because Amaro is a complex and great quality product, made with herbs and botanicals coming from all over the world, which derives from a long tradition of Italian liqueur. We could say that Amaro itself might be considered as a cocktail, given the large number of ingredients it’s made of. Besides, this trend in mixology means Italian bitter products are having a strong visibility. Talking about Amaro Lucano, bartenders use it as bitter in aperitif cocktails, but it is also used in after-dinner drinks recipes. From the “Negroni” cocktail, to the “Americano”, up to the “Manhattan”. The herbs inside Amaro Lucano possess various properties: they are able to create the optimal conditions to start a meal, and digestive, stimulating the production of gastric secretions helping the digestion phases. The fact that bartenders are using our product for their mixes is certainly making the company proud, as it represents a quality certification.
Which is the cocktail you would like to find in your favourite cocktail bars worldwide?
I really like Negroni Cocktail. I particularly like it made with Amaro Lucano, of course, instead of standard bitter. I love drinking the Negroni as a pre-dinner in a large glass, with a good vermouth, the Amaro Lucano, which gives it a bit of a citrus taste, a dry gin, a large ice cube and a very thin orange peel. This is my favourite drink.
Finally, the most inconvenient question. Which would you choose between Lucano 1894 and Juventus?
This question is actually very inconvenient. I follow my team everywhere, even when it’s playing away, it is my passion. It is difficult to answer. Both make me rejoice and occasionally get angry. We can say that one plays the role of a wife and the other represents a lover, I’m not going to say which is which, I cannot!