Flavio Briatore, 62, is the colourful head of the Billionaire luxury lifestyle brand, which encompasses a Sardinian nightclub, a Tuscan resort, a Kenyan spa, London's Cipriani restaurant
and a chain of high-end menswear shops. He began his career with Italian clothing company Benetton before moving into Formula One, where he led both the Benetton and Renault teams to world championships. He resigned from Renault following a race-fixing scandal. In 2007 Briatore and F1 magnate Bernie Ecclestone took over Queens Park Rangers football club, successfully steering it into the Premiership before ending their involvement. Briatore
has proved to be something of a magnet
for supermodels, and in 2008 he married Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci,
30 years his junior. The couple have a two-year-old son.
business:life: How's business?
Flavio Briatore: We are very happy. After just a few years we already have 20 Billionaire shops and we plan to have 50 shops within the next two years. There's not one shop at this moment that is losing money. People keep coming back and they are very proud to wear Billionaire. You go to Russia right now and it's the brand to be.
bl: Do you worry about the state of the European economy?
FB: The European economy is flat, but we are more interested in the new countries. We're
very strong in Russia and in Dubai, and we're looking to go into China and Brazil. We have
the flexibility to go wherever we think there's a market. We follow the money. We don't have any shops in France or Italy — except for Sardinia, and Sardinia is really not Italy — and we're not looking at Europe right now.
bl: How did you go about building your brand?
FB: We started with the nightclub in Sardinia 14 years ago. To me, the atmosphere in a club is always the key. You can paint the ceiling with gold, but if there is no atmosphere inside, it will not work. But if you have no furniture at all and 37 beautiful girls, it works much better! I called it Billionaire because it was all about dreams. After that we had the beach resort in Tuscany, the spa in Kenya, the restaurant in London and of course the clothing. It's all part of a lifestyle. Next will come womenswear and children's clothing. Then Billionaire Home. I love interior decoration. If I wasn't so busy I would want to be a decorator!
bl: What do you think has been the secret of your success?
FB: Whether it's Formula One or clothing, it's exactly the same. You need a very competitive product. So in Formula One I made sure that I had a good car and a good driver inside the car. At the time I didn't have the money to
hire a driver like Senna or Prost. I needed to
find someone to grow with us and we found Schumacher. Seven years later we did the same with Renault and found Fernando Alonso and we won the championship again.
bl: You make it sound very simple.
FB: I believe it is simple. If you are an artist, you have creativity and you paint. If you are an entrepreneur you need to have the creativity to find the right people for your company. I believe entrepreneurs are creative people. They create new brands, new jobs, new adventures.
bl: Do you miss Formula One?
FB: I don't miss the travelling. But Formula One was part of my life. I have a lot of friends there and I'm happy to watch the races. Now it's fun and more relaxed. Back then the two hours of
a Grand Prix were never fun. I still have a very good relationship with everyone. Just today I had lunch with Christian Horner and Bernie Ecclestone. I talk with Bernie three or four times
a day. He is a genius. I mentioned before about following the money, but Bernie taught everybody that lesson. When he suggested racing in China, everybody laughed. Without Bernie, I don't think Formula One would be around today. He was the only one with the
big picture. 360°. Sometimes 400°!
bl: Your website describes your "unique and innovative management style". How would you define that?
FB: Firstly, you need to be able to spot whether people have the potential to succeed. You
feel it when you discover a new driver such as Schumacher or Alonso or Fisichella. You feel it is somebody special. And management is the same. If it's, say, somebody managing a shop, you have a sense of whether they can do it. Then after you have put the right people in the right places, you need to be a dictator as well. Democratic but a dictator. Because in a company you can't have two or three people making the decisions. Some people like my style of management and some people don't. At QPR I changed six or seven coaches — because they were no good. Simple as that. If at the beginning I had found a Mourinho, I would have kept him forever. But I didn't find any Mourinhos.
bl: What did you learn about the football business at QPR?
FB: I learnt that football is not for the entrepreneur. No way is it a business. You have people who pay £20 to come to the stadium insulting you and telling you what you need to do. After you've invested millions! In Formula One, if you are smart, if you know what you
are doing, you make money. In football — it's impossible. If you're a billionaire and want to
be a millionaire, invest in football. If you're a millionaire and want to have nothing, invest
in football. People criticised us because we didn't want to spend money. But we achieved our goal and were promoted from the Championship. And then we sold the club. In the Premier League it's only a question of how much money you pump in every year to make the people who pay £20 happy.
bl: How much has your life changed now you're married and have a small child at home?
FB: For me, having a child at this age is fantastic because I can appreciate it. It's something that makes me happy. And whatever you're doing in life, being happy is always the most important thing.
Interview by Tim Hulse. For more information visit billionairecouture.com.
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