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Adriano Olivetti, the story of the enlightened entrepreneur

Adriano Olivetti, a well-known figure in the national and international environment, was an entrepreneur, publisher, industrial, intellectual, political and innovator of the last century. Mainly known for the typewriter’s invention, behind Adriano Olivetti it hidden a complex and modern figure. Let’s discover together some curiosities about the life of the famous entrepreneur!

The myth 

Adriano Olivetti was born in Ivrea in 1901 by Camillo and Luisa Revel: his father was an electrical engineer with strong skills that seven years after the birth of his son founded the company Ing C. Olivetti & C, the “First national factory of typewriters”.

Adriano Olivetti immediately found himself in a context of reformist and liberal ideas: he graduated in industrial chemical engineering at the Politecnico of Turin in 1924 and immediately began working as a worker in the family business. The following year he made a trip to the United States that marked him deeply: in fact he visited several factories including Ford in Highland Park in Detroit.

The young Olivetti is particularly impressed by the organization of the company based on Taylorism, whose fundamental principles were the optimization of production timing, the management for functions, the improvement of assembly methods and the division of work n small repetitive and alienating operations, the so-called “assembly line” system.

Even in those days the entrepreneur understands that the Ford model is not entirely close to its values, in fact he has always considered the workers first of all human beings rather than factors of production. Adriano Olivetti later also carried out the project that led in 1932 to the creation of the first portable typewriter, the famous MP1: at the end of the same year, he was also appointed General Manager and in 1938 became President of the same company, taking over his father.

After that, the entrepreneur wins several awards and honours and his figure, along with his company, continues to grow: they placed on the market around the fifties of products considered nowadays as design objects, the Divisumma 24 calculator and the Lettera 22 portable typewriter, subsequently nominated by an expert jury as the first among one hundred best products of the last hundred years.

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During and ant the end of World War II, the activity of Adriano Olivetti does not stop: in fact he founded the NEI, a publishing house that publishes several important cultural works of sociology and philosophy, making known in Italy excellent avant-garde authors. Another prominent product of Olivetti produced later is the Programma 101, considered nowadays the first personal computer in the world.

A modern vision of work

Adriano Olivetti is known not only for having founded the famous company but also for its modernity on the organization of the company itself. In fact, he searches for alternative methods to the automation of work and assigns different tasks to each worker: work is based on the so-called UMI, or integrated assembly units.

According to this modern vision, small units of workers are created responsible for the production of entire machines or parts of them: each group independently controls the quality of its product before sending it to the next working group.

But that’s not all: Olivetti is in fact one of the first to reduce working hours from 48 hours to 45 weekly hours,  without reducing wages, effectively anticipating what would have been in the following years the demands of the unions.

In addition, he was particularly interested in the life of the workers and their families: he created a library open even during working hours accessible to the workers and also thought about the welfare of the workers, the wives of employees and children.

He extended the period of pregnancy to nine and a half months, higher than that laid down by law, with pay equal to 80% of salary: established a prenatal and paediatric counselling centre that helped mothers with both money and medicines and specialist medical visits.

He created spaces within the company specifically designed for children and then, in 1957, the children of employees were vaccinated against polio, long before the mandatory vaccine.

The culture behind Olivetti’s success

In addition to the very modern actions already mentioned by Adriano Olivetti, there was also the creation of a nursery and a kindergarden for the children of workers: He also financed the construction of public kindergartens and also paid part of the fees of the municipal after-school of Ivrea.

The well-known entrepreneur also took care of the technical training of his employees: in fact he created the Mechanical Training Centre, a kind of apprenticeship open to external staff, in which lessons of general culture were held, art, visits to factories and exhibitions and museums.

Subsequently, the center was supported by an Institute recognized by the State and graduates were frequently hired by Olivetti itself. Adriano Olivetti also elaborated the “Principle of the terns”: he argued that for each person hired to work in the technical field there was a need to also hire two other employees, one with a humanistic training and one with an economic-legal training.

Olivetti was one of the first who understood how to combine the economic aspect with the human and cultural, founding a company destined to be remembered for a long time.

Let’s wrap it up with a sentence by Olivetti himself: “The factory was conceived to the measure of man so that he would find in his orderly workplace an instrument of redemption and not a device of suffering.”

Cover Image: Fondazione Adriano Olivetti

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