Why you should care

Because he’s the man behind the scenes of global luxury.

Paolo Scudieri loves riding his sleek Ferraris — yes, plural — around Mount Vesuvius and taking part in amateur car races across the world. It’s the speed that thrills, sure, but it’s also that every time he steps into a luxury car, he’s on his turf. This Italian automotive chap is the man behind the glamorous interiors of the world’s most high-end carmakers — Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, BMW, Bentley, Audi and Volkswagen. To name just a few.

Dubbed “the King of Comfort” by his Italian entrepreneur colleagues, Scudieri, 56, is an attractive, elegant Neapolitan engineer who in the last two years has globally expanded his Adler Group all the way to China with innovative, high-quality design and fibers. His company makes the leather-and-cotton seats, carbon fiber armrest covers, air ventilation, even the coverings for electronic sound systems that define the luxe experience of riding in a superpowered speed machine down the autobahn. The firm’s logo is, appositely, a baby eagle grabbing the Earth in its claws — symbolic of Scudieri’s aggressive approach in penetrating foreign markets. “So far, we’ve been farsighted in looking beyond our backyard,” Scudieri brags — the company has a presence on every continent except Africa and Australia … and he says he’s coming for both of those soon.

Adler’s numbers are mouthwatering: 62 plants in 22 countries, more than 11,000 employees, a dozen research centers, 35 international patents filed and rising profits of over 1.2 billion euros this year (up from 1 billion the year prior). “Paolo Scudieri is the main guy in this market,” says Matteo Caroli, international-firms professor at Rome-based LUISS University. “His company dominates and beats the other minor competitors as far as innovation and foreign-market penetration go.” The latest: Scudieri recently struck a deal with Chrysler and Bell Agusta to manufacture materials for the insides of helicopters. He’s also working on a comfort-design project to be launched by December — but for now, he teases, his lips are sealed.

Scudieri’s lifestyle and business success stand out against his geographical surroundings. Adler’s headquarters are located in his birthplace of Ottaviano, a few miles from Naples, which still faces major crime problems (and remains Mafia territory). South Italy, dubbed Mezzogiorno, faces a 60 percent youth joblessness rate and bleak opportunities for revival. He calls his work a “social mission” — noting that more than 60 percent of his staff are young people. Indeed, Mezzogiorno badly needs a makeover, says Paolo Boccardelli, director of the LUISS Business School. Boccardelli hopes a network of businesspeople in the region will do the same as Scudieri and make a regional renaissance their top priority.

He made his reality-television debut on the international show Undercover Boss, disguising himself as an employee.

 

“He’s a national champion who has led an aggressive battle against bureaucracy,” says fellow southern Italian entrepreneur Alessandro Laterza, owner of a major publishing firm and former deputy head of Confindustria, Italy’s largest industrial lobby. If Scudieri has an enemy, well, that’s excessive red tape, which he calls Italy’s worst cancer, a lethal “anesthetic” that puts entrepreneurship to sleep.

But don’t mistake Scudieri for a bleeding heart. He speaks with a sexy, elite southern accent and enjoys working his fashion appeal … with some quirks. This year, he made his reality-television debut on the international show Undercover Boss, disguising himself as an employee, complete with wig, beard and two-hour makeup sessions that he says drove him nuts, to mingle and get to know his staff. “On the second day, I got busted,” he laughs — a worker recognized him. But he says he enjoyed it and doesn’t lose the opportunity to sell me on a populist interpretation of what he was up to. “It’s the people behind a plush Ferrari seat that make a big brand.” He didn’t make money off the show. (Ferrari didn’t want to comment beyond confirming the company’s relationship with Scudieri. We reached out to the other carmakers Scudieri supplies; Bentley and Porsche confirmed that they work with Adler Group but the rest did not reply to our requests for comment.)

Scudieri hails from one of Italy’s oldest wealthy families; his ancestral fortunes date back to the 1500s, centuries before cars had even been dreamed of. His great-great-great-great-great-grandpa’s business: worms. The 16th-century Scudieris were enlightened humanists who fled Florence when the pope began to wage a cultural war against anticlerical dissidents. They made their way southward, a common path to tread for people in their situation at the time, and bought cheap land near a river in Ottaviano. They began breeding silkworms to make textiles and shirts for the Bourbon Kings, who ruled the kingdom of Naples in the 16th century. In that way, they created Naples’ first royal clothing industry, says Scudieri.

The business continued apace between the 16th and 20th centuries. Fast-forward to the Second World War, when his grandfather made garments with cloth torn from abandoned parachutes of American soldiers; after WWII, in 1956, Scudieri’s father founded Adler, which began servicing cars in the 1960s. Young Scudieri grew up playing with long rectangular tubes of expanded polyurethanes that serve as the backbone of automotive comfort. The factory “was my daily playground,” he recalls.

Though cars may seem worlds away from silkworms, this Scudieri generation is just advancing the 16th-century work of fibers that his ancestors began. In addition to creating cars’ insides, a branch of Adler specializes in making ultralight, high-performance sportswear, including swimsuits for Olympic stars. This year they won the Hightex award at Munich’s Fabric Start fair for a special fluorescent membrane called Noxflow that absorbs light during the day and releases it at night, ideal for runners at dusk. In a twist, Scudieri’s stepping into the food business next — his own venture. He has opened a “foodie mall” in Naples with gourmet products native to Campania, such as buffalo mozzarella.

One of Scudieri’s best selling points is himself. He’s always stylish. Italians have a saying: “Class is not water; it’s innate.” Seems to be in the guy’s blood.

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