“What an original stroke, don’t you think? Look at that P…it looks elastic, like rubber”. These are the words that launched the celebrations of 150 years of Pirelli, with the setting of the Piccolo Teatro of Milan where a theatrical story brought together testimonials, voices, and images to represent a history of industry, culture, tradition, technology, and passion that began on January 28, 1872.
The most significant moments were revisited by Ferruccio De Bortoli, Stefano Domenicali, Paolo Mieli, Renzo Piano, Ferruccio Resta, and Annamaria Testa, alongside the Executive Vice Chairman and CEO, Marco Tronchetti Provera, and Alberto Pirelli, representing the bond between family and company. The event, conducted by Ilaria D’Amico, recounted Pirelli’s journey across three centuries through the things that most distinguish it: international scale, factories, relationship with culture and artists, creativity in communication, presence in sport and motorsport, a constant search for innovation, and cutting-edge technology.
“Today we wanted to take a journey together through history but with our eyes on the future. Anticipating change is what Pirelli has done for 150 years thanks to the solidity of its entrepreneurial culture and ability to be a protagonist of the present. These things have allowed us to reach this milestone with a brand established around the world. We felt it important to share this story with our city, our country, and all the international groups and communities that we work with every day. A thank you to all the 30,000 people who every day at Pirelli build our history”, said Marco Tronchetti Provera, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Pirelli.
On stage at the Piccolo Teatro, immersed in a set made up of five large screens, four actors told the story of Pirelli, beginning with its history. Images, videos, and photographs of the past and present alternated with the voices of the actors, who revisited the company’s different moments together with Ferruccio De Bortoli, Paolo Mieli, Alberto Pirelli, and Marco Tronchetti Provera. The dialogue centered on the figure of Leopoldo Pirelli and his father Alberto through the recollections of his grandson. His role in the company’s contribution to the modernization and industrialization of the country was discussed.
A journey, Pirelli’s, began on January 28, 1872, by Giovanni Battista Pirelli, who at only 23 years of age bet on something absolutely new: rubber. In the beginning, the company produced insulators for telegraphs and cables that linked the most distant points of the newly born Italy. It grew rapidly around the world and produced objects of everyday use (from swimming caps to toys to raincoats) and tires for wagons and bicycles. From its birth, it focused on innovation; the company offered products that also become symbols of the country’s progress. But even Pirelli encountered obstacles: the failed mergers in the 1990s with Dunlop and Continental and the plan to integrate networks and content in telecommunications, pursued from the early 2000s through Telecom Italia and cut short by external interference. Crises were overcome restarting from the core business, leading the company to focus on tires.
The journey onstage at the Piccolo Teatro continued with the exploration of the company’s industrial tradition. Through its factories, Pirelli put down roots in many countries, currently 12, building plants that are light-filled, safe, and sustainable. They are welcoming places for people working with passion and for industry 4.0 with simulators, artificial intelligence, and robots like MIRS invented by Pirelli itself. In summary, there are 18 beautiful and efficient factories, with Settimo Torinese the model, designed and built by the architect Renzo Piano.
Culture, communication, and image
On its journey, Pirelli was always in dialogue with artists and intellectuals to keep an eye on society. It did so, and continues to do so, through innovative languages and instruments, such as the “Rivista Pirelli“, Pirelli Calendar, Pirelli HangarBicocca, publications and exhibitions of the Fondazione Pirelli, products of Pirelli Design, World Magazine, and the volumes of its Annual Report enriched with the contributions of artists and writers. The list to emerge from the Piccolo Teatro’s stage is rich and begins with the iconic Pirelli logo, born in New York at the beginning of the 20th century, with that long P which stretches as if it were rubber. The company experimented with new languages, produces tires, and interviews Umberto Eco. It talks with writers, philosophers, poets: from Carrère to Kureishi, from Elio Vittorini to Eugenio Montale and Salvatore Quasimodo. It hosts Luchino Visconti and John Cage and puts Carl Lewis in high heels.
These themes were addressed by Annamaria Testa, Ferruccio De Bortoli, Paolo Mieli, and Marco Tronchetti Provera—recounting different worlds with the underlying idea that when you are involved in the industry with passion you are also producing culture.
Motorsport and passion for sport
What is the passion that makes people excited at Pirelli? Motors. That is an area where technology is fundamental, as explained by Alberto Pirelli. Now, Pirelli is present in over 350 motorsport competitions. The Beijing-Paris of 1907 is particularly memorable. Prince Scipione Borghese, driving an Itala equipped with Pirelli tires, covered 17,000 kilometers to finish 20 days ahead of the team in second place. This was a great success that transformed mobility into innovation and spectacle, and competitions into open-air laboratories. The onstage discussion of the greatest motorsport competition involved Stefano Domenicali, who now heads Formula 1, on the eve of an important change: the introduction of 18″ tires in a competition where, in the midst of Italian flags, there is also Pirelli’s. For Pirelli, however, sport is not limited to motors, but also football, cycling, winter sports, and sailing, with Luna Rossa.
Innovation, research, product
History reveals that Pirelli is a company that always moves with its eyes on the future. “Look inside to understand, to discover new solutions,” was once said Mr. Emanueli, who signed many of the 6,700 patents registered by Pirelli in 150 years. A lesson told by Mr. Emanueli is now known by the over 2,000 people who work in Research & Development, a sector of fundamental importance for the company. Its collaborations with leading universities (over 50) are also fundamental, as explained by Ferruccio Resta, who tells Ilaria D’Amico also about the relationship of reciprocal inspiration that links Pirelli and the Politecnico di Milano.
The “heirs of Emanueli” are involved in managing the acceleration of innovation, as in the case of electric vehicles, where Pirelli is already present with Elect, a package of technological solutions ad hoc to handle the different weight, acceleration, and consumption of these vehicles. Also, new connected products like the Cyber Tyre, with sensors that supply real-time information to the driver, are being developed.
At the center, as always, there is natural rubber with which Pirelli produced the world’s first FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified tire, testifying to a 100% sustainable supply chain. A great safeguard for the environment occurs, for example, with Pirelli’s participation in the Birdlife project to conserve biodiversity in Indonesia. Thanks to its commitment at the social, environmental, and economic levels, Pirelli finds itself at the top of the most important sustainability indices.