'Go Back to Your Tractors': 4 Business Lessons We Can Learn From the Iconic Rise of Lamborghini Lamborghini's story is one of humble beginnings, fueled by a lifelong passion for cars and set into motion by a feud with Enzo Ferrari himself.
- By recognizing opportunity and utilizing resources, you can find success.
- Chase perfection and don't compromise, ever.
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After over 60 years in business, Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann says the supercar company is still going strong — selling more cars every month than it can produce, even after increasing production twice in 2022. Amidst inflation, rising interest rates, and increasing energy costs, it's a stunning success story — especially for a once-bankrupt company, liquidated and pulled up by the bootstraps of a farmer's son.
With annual revenue exceeding €2.8 billion ($US3.07 billion), Lamborghini may not seem like a case study for small and medium-sized businesses, but this mega company's long and tattered history can teach modern founders a thing or two about innovating from raw resources, leveraging publicity, and refusing to compromise on the quality of its products. Business owners may recognize themselves in the humbleness of Ferruccio Lamborghini's beginnings, but his whole story offers four key lessons for how to turn core values into an enduring brand.
1. Get savvy: Start with what you know
Ferruccio Lamborghini was born into an Italian family of farmers, but from a young age, his focus was less on the farm and more on the machines needed to operate it. He was gifted at fixing engines, a knack that steered him to attend technical school and later to serve as a mechanic in World War II for the Italian armed forces.
After the war ended, Ferruccio saw opportunity. He salvaged surplus parts the Allied Forces had left behind and returned to his hometown, where he began building tractors on his family's farm. The Lamborghini Trattori company was born with its notoriously affordable and robust builds.
In just a few short years, Ferruccio had not one but two flourishing companies (the other a heating and air-conditioning business), making him one of the wealthiest men in Italy by 1962. His early ventures may not have been as glamorous as the supercar company known the world over today, but they provide a strategic blueprint for business owners.
By recognizing opportunity and utilizing the period's abundant resources, Ferruccio was able to leverage his farming connections and existing skills to embrace tractor manufacturing. He then diversified into the heating/air conditioning sector to help mitigate risk as he observed changes in post-war living. These savvy decisions ultimately set Ferruccio on the path to pursuing his deepest passion.
2. Chase perfection and don't compromise, ever
By the time he was in his 40s, Ferruccio had ample time and money and so briefly considered building helicopters, but the government refused him a license. Instead, he turned to marvel at his growing collection of Jaguars, Mercedes, Ferraris and Maseratis. But Ferruccio's enthusiasm for perfection led to a nagging problem: No car ever completely satisfied him.
If it wasn't the weak ventilation, it was the noise of the power transmission or the inferior leather lining. When he purchased a brand-new Ferrari 250 GT, he experienced issues with its clutch. Frustrated, Ferruccio told his factory mechanics to take the assembly apart, revealing that his top-of-the-line Ferrari used the same clutch component as Lamborghini's own tractors.
Ferruccio was shocked. He paid 10 lire for his tractor clutches; Ferrari charged him 1,000 for the same part. He was even more upset to learn that Ferraris were not built with specialty components that were more durable and suitable for the use case. He took his complaint straight to Enzo Ferrari himself but was not met with open arms. Ferruccio went to his grave claiming that Ferrari, known for his bluntness, yelled at him: "The problem is not my car, it's the driver. Go back to your tractors and leave me alone!"
Whether fudged or fabricated, the two titans' decades-long feud provided fantastic publicity for both parties. Ferrari was already a household name, and by hiring some of Ferrari's ex-engineers and -mechanics, Lamborghini was able to debut its first model car only four months later.
3. Elevate customer service
Lamborghini presented its first prototype at the 1963 Turin Auto Show, dubbing it the Lamborghini 350 GTV. Ferruccio chose his zodiac sign, Taurus the Bull, as the company logo. The prototype morphed into Lamborghini's first production model and later the Miura, Espada, Islero and Jarama. The company boomed as Lamborghini's cars received wide acclaim for their refinement, power and comfort.
A lifelong passion for cars fueled Ferruccio, but his early business ventures proved priceless in setting the company apart. His heating and air-conditioning service company, Brucatori, had instilled in him the importance of never compromising on customer satisfaction. If a customer's car broke down, Lamborghini would pay to send a mechanic straight to them, by plane if needed, along with a personal letter of apology. This no-compromise mentality became indelibly associated with the luxury level of not just the car itself but the Lamborghini service.
4. Core values are meant to last
Unfortunately, the 1970s weren't as kind to the brand. Union strife and failed emissions tests stifled the company's entry into the lucrative U.S. market, leading to a temporary withdrawal. While facing challenges with conforming to U.S. regulations, Lamborghini only managed to continue selling the Countach in America after a seven-year absence.
Feeling the weight of financial troubles, Ferruccio sold his shares and retired, and Lamborghini eventually entered bankruptcy proceedings. The company changed hands multiple times throughout the '80s, and the product line stagnated. But we all know the story didn't end there. The Volkswagen Group acquired Lamborghini in 1998 and, under new owners, innovation returned.
Under the management of Volkswagen's Audi division, Lamborghini has regained its status as a supercar manufacturer known for its incredible performance, state-of-the-art power and unparalleled luxury. Ferruccio may have moved on long ago, but he created a legacy through his unwavering commitment to service, performance, and perfection. It's a lesson of perseverance and staying true to a brand's core values. And when it was time for Ferruccio to step down, brand evangelists kept the name and the tenacity behind Lamborghini alive for future generations.