How an ex-F1 driver became billionaire and the head of the largest pasta producer

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How an ex-F1 driver became billionaire and the head of the largest pasta producer

Paolo Barilla won the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans before moving into the world of Formula 1, but the Italian was destined for success outside of motorsport after inheriting a food empire. Barilla (61), excelled in karting as a youngster and became famous by winning the "24 Hours of Le Mans" together with German duo Klaus Ludwig and Louis Krages in 1985.

The driver born in Milan got a chance in Formula. in 1990 when he was hired by Minardi, but he recorded bad results and was fired before the end of the season. Barilla then ended his auto-moto career shortly before his 30th birthday and turned to the family business.

It turned out to be a phenomenal decision considering that back in 2018, Forbes estimated the Barilla Holdings CEO to have a net worth of $1.1 billion. Paolo is the fourth generation heir to the "world's largest pasta producer", and he has a share of 85 percent of the shares with his sister Emanuele, as well as his older brothers Guido and Luca.

Despite his fascination with Formula 1, it's easy to see why running one of Europe's biggest food brands required a more hands-on approach. Barilla's 2020 annual report states a turnover of €3.89 billion, with just over 8,500 employees on the books.

Paolo Barilla's working days are now occupied by pasta production, and the family company operates in more than 100 countries and has two American pasta factories in New York and Indiana.

Prices are creating challenges for Italian

“We take food for granted, but some organizations and people work to provide it and it’s very fragile.

We see this year a lack of wheat production, it can be a very tough period,” Barilla, 60, who leads the family-owned company with his siblings, said in an interview ahead of the Swiss Economic Forum. “We didn’t expect that two or three months ago, so that is where the system is fragile.

We also start seeing the effect of climate change, it might negatively affect production in our category,” said Barilla. Barilla said the situation was very unstable at the moment and high raw material, energy, packaging, and logistics costs left little room for flexibility.

“We are not a very flexible company when it comes to these costs ... there is no way we can absorb them. This year and next year will be very tough,” said Barilla, who had a career as a Formula One race car driver before entering the family firm.

Founded in Parma as a bakery in 1877, the Barilla food chain has grown to a much wider range of products over almost a century and a half of business, including sauces, biscuits, pastries, and cakes.