“I am a cocktail of science and business.”
That’s how Ernesto Illy liked to define himself, with an epithet as uncomplicated as he was. Yet read in another light, it reveals the complexity of his story and his boundless capacity for innovation and experimentation.
The son of Francesco Illy, the founder of illycaffè, Ernesto was born in Trieste on July 18, 1925. In 1947, he graduated with a degree in Chemistry from the University of Bologna, and in 1957 he became the co-owner and director of illycaffè. From 1963-2005, he served as the company’s chairman, then honorary chairman, until his passing on February 3, 2008.
He co-founded the Association Scientifique Internationale du Café (now the Association for Science and Information on Coffee) and the organization on Physiological Effects of Coffee (PEC) in Paris, France. He was a member of the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, and chairman of the Coffee Promotion Committee of the International Coffee Organization (ICO).
In 1994, Ernesto received the Italian award Cavaliere del Lavoro, the order of merit for industrial achievement, and in 1996 he became chairman of Centromarca (the Italian association of the brand industry) a position to which he was re-elected several times until his passing.
Ernesto revolutionized the importance of coffee growing in Brazil and elsewhere in the world. In his tireless quest for the perfect espresso, he encouraged the production of top quality coffee and continued investment in research. Known as the Ambasciatore del caffè (Coffee Ambassador), he promoted illycaffe’s initiatives, Premio Brasil de Qualidade do Café para Espresso, Università del Caffè in Brazil, and the Clube illy do Café, all of which provided incentives for public and private institutions.
His hard work in Brazil over the years led Ernesto to become an honorary citizen of the Brazilian cities of Monte Carmelo, Venda Nova do Imigrantes and Araponga. In 2004 he received the highest award from that nation’s State of Espírito Santo, the Comenda Jerônimo Monteiro. That same year, the National Coffee Association of Guatemala bestowed him with its highest decoration, as member of the order “Flor del Cafè“.
“Our conduct is guided by a compass of ethics.”
In Italy, Ernesto Illy was among the pioneers of the modern concept of branding. He believed that a brand is the basis of a promise given to the consumer, the ethical dimension of which should distinguish a company’s inner life as well as its business.
In 2007, he became – for the second time – one of the “three wise men” of Confindustria (the Italian employers’ federation), responsible for determining the strategies and possible candidates for the association’s top-level management.