Gilberto Benetton was one of the co-founders of the Italian fashion label United Colors of Benetton. He died of leukemia on Monday at the age of 77, the Benetton group announced in a brief statement. “Gilberto Benetton died at home today in Treviso (in the north-east of Italy) following a brief illness. His wife, Lalla, his two daughters Barbara and Sabrina, and his son-in-law, Ermanno, were with him in his final moments.”
Gilberto Benetton passed away just three months after his younger brother Carlo’s death last July, at the age of 74.
The Benetton family is one of the most powerful families in Italy and has investments in construction, transports and catering. Gilberto Benetton, who ran the group’s finances, took charge of the diversification of the Benetton group through the family’s holding company Edizione, which was created 30 years ago and saw Gilberto serve as deputy chairman until his death. Edizione – which last year booked an annual revenue of $13.8 billion, has investments in transport through its main asset Atlantia; in catering through highway and airport restaurant chain Autogrill; and recently also in telecommunications, with its investment in Cellnex.
The last few months were very intense for Gilberto Benetton, always described as the brain behind the family business: as the only member of the family on the Atlantia board, Gilberto was the one faced with crisis when the Morandi bridge in Genoa collapsed last August 14th, killing 43 people.
The Benetton family expressed “deep sympathy” for the victims of the disaster and vowed to work with the authorities to determine the cause. In the official statement, it affirmed that Atlantia and its Autostrade subsidiary have invested more than 10 billion euros in Italy’s roads over the past ten years.
“He was a man of extraordinary value and rare entrepreneurial vision,” Marco Patuano, Chief Executive Officer and Fabio Cerchiai Chairman of Edizione, said in a statement. “His capacity to foresee economic and social developments guided Edizione into its most important strategic choices.”
The Benetton empire was born in the Sixties when the three brothers Luciano, Carlo, and Gilberto, along with their sister Giuliana, started selling sweaters out of small store in Ponzano Veneto, a small village close to Treviso, in 1965.
Their label, United Colors of Benetton, quickly became popular in local stores, but it was between 1982 and 2000 that the company really developed, becoming one of the biggest retail giants in the world, opening 5,000 stores in 120 countries. In those years, the Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani suggested controversial and provocative marketing campaigns for Benetton, including an image which featured a black woman breastfeeding a white baby in 1989, another one depicting the pope Benedict XVI kissing an imam in 2011, and one which exhibited the anorexic model Isabelle Caro.
Gilberto Benetton was a role model: devoted to his family and work, he also loved sports. He played golf and transformed his home-town Treviso into a sort of sport capital in the 1990s when Benetton-backed teams won several championships in rugby, volley and basketball.
The funeral will be held in Treviso at 11 am on October 26th, Italian local time.