Adriano Olivetti biography

Adriano Olivetti

Adriano Olivetti was born in Ivrea on 11 April 1901. His engineer father, Camillo, an eclectic and original thinker, founded "Italy's first typewriter factory" in Ivrea in 1908. During his formative years, Adriano developed a keen interest in social and political debate, moving in liberal reformist circles and writing for the reviews "L'azione riformista" and "Tempi nuovi". Piero Gobetti and Carlo Rosselli were important influences.

After graduating in industrial chemistry at the Politecnico di Torino, in 1924 Adriano began an apprenticeship as a factory worker in the family business. The following year, accompanied by Domenico Burzio, he toured the USA, visiting dozens of factories. On his return, he drew up a wide-ranging programme of innovative projects to modernise operations at Olivetti: a decentralised staff organisation, function-based management, rationalisation of assembly work, development of the Italian and overseas sales network, etc. He subsequently launched work on a project for the first portable typewriter, which was launched in 1932 as the MP1.

The new organisation led to a significant improvement in productivity and sales. In 1931 Adriano travelled to the USSR with a delegation of Italian industrialists. The same year, he set up an Advertising Department in Olivetti, which immediately began working with major artists and designers; the following year, he formed the Organisation Office.

At the end of 1932, Adriano Olivetti was appointed General Manager; in 1938 he became company Chairman, taking over from his father Camillo. He continued his analyses and experiments in working methods, and published essays dealing with technology, economics and industrial sociology in "Tecnica e Organizzazione", a journal he himself had founded.

Adriano Olivetti's polyhedric personality led him to broaden his activities from industry and business to a wider sphere including urban planning, architecture, culture, and social and political reform. In Ivrea, he launched projects for the construction of new production facilities, offices, employee housing, canteens, nurseries, developing a complex system of social services. In 1937, for example, he commissioned the construction of a residential housing estate for company employees, designed by architects Figini and Pollini.

For Adriano Olivetti, territorial organisation and architecture had an enormous importance at the social and economic levels. In 1938 he joined the "Istituto Nazionale di Urbanistica" and in 1948 became a member of the institute's Steering Council. In 1949 he personally financed the revival of the review "Urbanistica". As head of the Institute supported by a team of young architects (including Ludovico Quaroni), from 1950 Adriano was able to develop his views on the political primacy of Urban Planning.
Reflecting the great importance Adriano Olivetti placed on the company's relationship with the territory, in 1937 he took part in the preparatory work for a planning scheme for the Aosta Valley, and in 1951 he worked with the Ivrea city authorities on the launch of a new urban plan.
In 1956 Olivetti was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Planners and deputy chairman of the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning; in 1959 he was appointed chairman of Italy's "Istituto UNRRA-Casas", an institute for post-war reconstruction.
The many awards received by Adriano Olivetti included, in 1955, the Compasso d'Oro for achievements in industrial aesthetics and, in 1956, the Gran Premio di architettura for "the architectural merit, original industrial design, social and human objectives incorporated in every Olivetti achievement".

After the Second World War, Adriano Olivetti intensified his activities as a publisher, writer and intellectual. Together with a group of young scholars, he had already formed a new publishing house, NEI (Nuove Edizioni Ivrea), which became Edizioni di Comunità in 1946. The house published major works in a number of cultural fields, including political thought, sociology, philosophy, organisation of labour, introducing many radical thinkers and distinguished foreign writers to the Italian public.
During his exile in Switzerland (1944-1945), Olivetti completed work on his book "L'ordine politico delle comunità" (the political order of communites), which was published at the end of 1945 by NEI. The volume illustrates the fundamental concepts of the Movimento Comunità, the movement founded by Adriano Olivetti in 1947, and his proposals to stimulate the creation of new political, social and economic ties between central and local governments. The "Comunità" magazine, founded in 1946, became the key cultural reference of the Movimento Comunità. At the end of 1959, Edizioni di Comunità published a collection of essays by Adriano Olivetti entitled "Citta dell'Uomo" (the human city).
In order to translate his community ideas into reality, in 1955 Adriano Olivetti founded the IRUR institute for the urban and rural renewal of the Canavese, the area around Ivrea, as a tool to combat local unemployment by promoting new industrial and agricultural ventures. The following year, the Movimento Comunità ran for the local elections and Adriano Olivetti was elected mayor of Ivrea. This success led Movimento to present candidates for the national elections in 1958, but only Adriano Olivetti won a seat.

Urban planner, publisher, writer, intellectual; first and foremost, however, Adriano Olivetti was an industrialist and entrepreneur who regarded the enterprise as the key driver of economic and social growth.
Under his guidance, the Olivetti company worked to achieve technological excellence, innovation and international leadership, and at the same time strengthened its focus on industrial design and improved living standards for its employees.
In 1948, the Ivrea plants formed a Works Council (Consiglio di Gestione), for many years the only such body in Italy, with general consultative powers on funding for social services and welfare. In 1956, ahead of national employment contracts, the Olivetti company reduced the working week from 48 to 45 hours, on an unchanged wage basis. Employee housing estates were built, as well as new premises for the social services department, the library and the canteen. Many leading architects worked on these projects: Figini, Pollini, Zanuso, Vittoria, Gardella, Fiocchi, Cosenza, etc.

In the industrial design field, too, Adriano Olivetti called some of the country's top talents, including Marcello Nizzoli and - later - Ettore Sottsass. Between the end of the 1940s and the end of the 1950s, the company launched a number of products that would become cult objects in terms of design, technological content and functionality: these included the Lexikon 80 typewriter (1948), the Lettera 22 portable typewriter (1950), the Divisumma 24 calculator (1956). In 1959, an international jury of designers named the Lettera 22 as the best of the one hundred top products of the previous 100 years.
Graphics and advertising were also a prime concern and the company became a worldwide reference model for its work in the industrial design field.

As the Olivetti product range broadened, production capacity was expanded to meet growing demand on the Italian and international marketplaces. In Italy, the company opened factories in Pozzuoli and Agliè (1955), S. Bernardo di Ivrea (1956), Ivrea (the "new ICO") and Caluso (1957). In Brazil, a new facility opened in São Paulo in 1959.
The outstanding success of the company's office products on the international marketplace did not distract Adriano Olivetti's attention from developments in the new field of electronics. As early as 1952, the Olivetti company opened an electronic computer research laboratory, in New Canaan, USA. In 1955, it formed the electronic research laboratory in Pisa; in 1957, together with Telettra, Olivetti founded the Società Generale Semiconduttori (SGS) company and in 1959 launched the Elea 9003, Italy's first electronic computer, developed and manufactured at the Borgolombardo laboratory.
In 1957 Adriano Olivetti's entrepreneurial achievements won further recognition when the National Management Association of New York awarded him a prize for "ground-breaking activity in the field of international company management".

In 1959 Adriano Olivetti signed an agreement for the acquisition of Underwood, a US organisation with almost 11,000 employees, which had been the inspiration for his father Camillo when he formed the Olivetti company in 1908.

Adriano Olivetti died suddenly on 27 February 1960, during a train journey from Milan to Lausanne. He left a business enterprise with operations on all the major international markets and 36,000 employees, of whom more than half overseas.

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