By far the best example of a family man who has kept an iron grip on his private empire is Giorgio Armani. Since launching his cutting-edge menswear in 1975, he's created a €1.8bn-a-year business empire that has attracted schools of corporate sharks, none of whom have been able to get their teeth into the business. Currently flanked by two nieces and a nephew, Armani is elegantly side-stepping the question of whom to pass the baton to.
Giorgio Armani (second from right), 78, CEO, managing director of Giorgio Armani
Rosanna Armani (left), 73, sister, former art director of Giorgio Armani and creative director of Emporio Magazine
Silvana Armani (centre), 57, niece, women's design director
Roberta Armani (right), 42, niece, head of entertainment industry relationships worldwide
Andrea Camerana (second from left), 42, nephew, director of Giorgio Armani
Wallpaper*: Would you like to leave the company in the hands of your family?
Giorgio Armani: I'm considering the possibility of a foundation. I can say that as long as I am here, I am the boss.
W*: Yours is one of very few global luxury brands still privately owned. Was it hard to expand without outside investment?
GA: It has never occurred to me to make investments with money that wasn't mine. Each new step has always been carefully explored and the company's solidity has always been backed by our solvency. This gives us an enormous advantage. We can make choices that are not conditioned by outside factors. The fact that my group's net liquidity is once again so high proves that I have made the right choices.
W*: How did you avoid selling to bigger companies in the 1980s and 1990s?
GA: I believe independence is the only way to expand organically. The 1980s and 1990s were crucial for me; my company was shaped distinctly in those years. Selling then would have been unnatural to the whole growth process. I am glad I didn't succumb to outside pressures and offers, of which there were many.
W*: What is so special about the Italian family business model?
GA: Strength and a focus on the future.
W*: What are the challenges moving from the first to second generation?
GA: It's delicate and crucial. I have family members on the board and they also work in the press office and design department. They submit management ideas as well.
W*: How did you develop their roles?
GA: Each one of them joined the company in a very organic way, based on their qualities, inclinations and character. I feel they've acquired excellent experience on the job, which is the only way to learn.
But what is it like be part of Mr Armani's family, yet also an employee? We turned to his nephew and nieces to find out more...
W*: What have you learned most from Mr. Armani?
Andrea Camerana: That one can't speak of strategy without being aware of the importance of details, even the apparently most insignificant ones. Which is also why certain 'experts', who are especially skilled at what they do because they have a profound understanding of their craft, deserve a lot of respect.
Roberta Armani: I have always admired my uncle: his vision, his determination, his attention to detail, his sense of beauty and elegance. I feel that they are qualities of mine as well because these are the values I grew up with. I learned to love hard work from my uncle. I also learned about self-criticism, and being meticulously careful about details, subtleties and nuances, as well as the importance of staying grounded.
Silvana Armani: I have learned never be satisfied!
W*: What is the best part of working with one's family?
Andrea Camerana: Probably, some minor logistical privileges. As well as the feeling that I am working for my future, ultimately investing in it, while I'm doing my daily job.
Roberta Armani: Ever since I can remember our working relationship - both with my uncle and other family members - it has always been based on utter clarity and professional attitude. The advantage of working with one's family is that strong sense of belonging and responsibility, which are also very stimulating.
Silvana Armani: Well, working with family, I obviously feel very much at home...
W*: Are there any difficult aspects to it?
Andrea Camerana: As 'just an employee' I would probably question myself less before taking a course of action and I would probably make myself heard more without the fear of coming across as an arrogant person.
Roberta Armani: Working with family can be complicated if boundaries are not clearly defined. It is crucial to separate family relationships from one's working relationships. On the job, of course I am still a niece or a sister, but I am above all an employee.
W*: Did you always imagine working at Giorgio Armani?
Andrea Camerana: No, I didn't - it all just sort of happened at the beginning of the 2000s, when I joined the Group as it was going through a transitional period.
Silvana Armani: I started working for him when I was 20, as a model, and I certainly would never have imagined then that I'd still be here now, but it's what I enjoy doing. I love it. It's my job.
The Armani family are pictured at Giorgio's home in Milan
Photography: Jonathan de Villiers