Women of Brummell: pen and paper

Across an extensive career in business, brands and luxury retail, Daniela Riccardi, chief executive of Moleskine, has spent most of her career travelling around the world. Now back in her home country of Italy, she tells us about the importance of mentorship and her faith in Gen Z for more equal leadership.

People 6 Nov 2023

Chief executive of Moleskine, Daniela Riccardi

Chief executive of Moleskine, Daniela Riccardi

You’ve been at the helm of several global powerhouses, from consumer goods brands to those in fashion and luxury. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you started your career?

I studied political science at university, and as a young woman I had the idea of becoming either a professional ballet dancer or an ambassador. It was never my intention to follow the path my life has taken; I imagine it’s like this for many people. In any case, when the opportunity arose to start working at P&G [Procter & Gamble], I took it as I knew it was a great place to learn. I spent over 25 years at P&G and lived and worked in seven different countries. I still think today that the training and experiences I had in those years were from the best school.

You studied ballet from the age of five. How did your dance background influence your personal and professional life?

As I mentioned, I really wanted to become a ballerina and most of my life was preparation for that. But when I started going to university, I realised that it was not possible to do both properly. I chose my studies. But dance has taught me the importance of balancing passion and discipline, it is like using both the right and left brain. And that also works in business.

What have been the main challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

I have been very fortunate in my career; like many, the work-life balance is a tricky thing to achieve with a family of two small children, and changing countries with them every few years. New schools, new languages, new cultures, new food! My husband has always been supportive of my career and he also loves travelling. Having a supportive network is essential to go through life’s challenges.

What motivated you to join Moleskine and in what ways are you challenging the status quo?

I actually had other plans when I was asked to join Moleskine. But I liked the brand and the idea of working for an Italian icon, and the thought of shaping a great pool of talents to be the leaders of the future convinced me to take this opportunity. The greatest challenge for any brand is to stay relevant throughout the years and for younger generations, without following the fashions of the moment but rather staying true to its values and DNA.

What do you believe are the keys to effective leadership?

I believe leaders are driven by vision and courage in all they do, both in business and with the organisation. They need vision for where to go, how to change the game and the courage to make it happen.

What advice would you give specifically to women in leadership roles?

I’d advise them to think about what really motivates them in life and to go for it while believing in themselves. And once we are in leadership positions, we need to be role models: walk the talk, support other women, be a good coach and mentor – particularly for the younger generation.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Do the right thing.

Although things have substantially changed in the past 25 years, women’s lack of progress into key executive roles is still visible. Do you see a near future without the gender gap at the top of companies?

I do see progress and, of course, I hope that progress will continue. There is not yet adequate diversity in leadership roles, but change is happening – slowly, but it’s happening. And the Gen Z workforce will not be as tolerant and patient as we were in my generation. So, if companies want to have the right talent, they will have to make bigger and bolder moves.

After spending many years in South America, China and Russia, you are back in Italy. What’s your relationship with your native country?

I love my country – the beauty of nature, the history, the art, the culture, the people. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in any other place.

You mentioned you have a soft spot for shoes. What is your relationship with fashion?

Like many Italians, I grew up surrounded by elegance and a taste for beautiful things, including fashion. My mother was tailoring clothes for my sister and me. Growing up and living in many different places where maybe fashion was not so easily accessible as in Italy, I had tailors working with me to make my clothes. I always enjoyed dressing dolls and friends – and myself!

Travelling, houses and obviously dancing are among your passions. How would you describe your work-life balance?

I take my work seriously and I take my life seriously. Understanding that they both matter to me is how I have achieved the perfect work-life balance, as I do my best to balance my mind and my time.

What is your next focus or goal?

My boutique hotel is one, but I have a few others in progress: a coaching school, a dance school for seniors and more. In addition to running my boutique hotel in Ischia, I also look forward to teaching one day. I find coaching very rewarding. I enjoy sharing the benefit of my years of experience with young people and passing on ideas, strategies, ways of working and thinking. I do it with my people now at Moleskine and I look forward to sharing my learnings and the observations I’ve come to over my 40-year career.