If there ever was a good day for the king of chocolate to die, that would be on Valentine’s Day.
And so it happened to Michele Ferrero, Italy’s richest man and the maker of Nutella, who died on Feb. 14 at the age of 89, after a long life of hazelnut chocolate-coated success that took him from a small town in Italy all the way to a fortune worth $23.4 billion.
Ferrero inherited the homonymous company in 1957 from his father, Pietro Ferrero, who owned a bakery in Alba in Piedmont, a region known for the production of hazelnuts. As the story goes, Pietro Ferrero had created in the 1940s a paste of hazelnuts and chocolate (in short supply during the war) which he then turned into a spreadable product called supercrema gianduja.
In 1964, Michele Ferrero rebranded the spread, giving it a more international-sounding name: Nutella. And that was about it.
Nutella’s success—soon followed by other international chocolate and candy hits such as Ferrero Rocher, Kinder Surprise Eggs, and Tic Tac—turned what was a small town business into the fourth-largest candy maker in the world. Ferrero now buys up 25% of the world’s production of hazelnuts.
In remembering Ferrero, Italian minister for education Stefania Giannini noted how he “has always put the individual at the center of his enterprise and her or his development,” while Italy’s president underlined his entrepreneurial abilities and thanked him for his role in promoting art and culture.
Indeed, it is a testament to the company culture Ferrero created that, as the president of social and cultural foundation Fondazione Ferrero told The Guardian: “In 70 years, we haven’t had a single day of industrial action.”