Photos by Ramon Ruiz
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and it looks like this was the case with Mario Moretti Polegato, founder of leading footwear brand Geox. We had an opportunity to sit down with the gentleman from Crocetta del Montello in Italy (during the 15th Forbes Global CEO Conference at the Marriot Hotel that gathered over 400 of the world’s tycoons, multinational CEOs and successful entrepreneurs), who shared the interesting story on how he started out in the business of shoes.
“Geox is an Italian brand,” he begins, “and we are based near Venice, in Northeast Italy.” The Moretti Polegato family is well known all throughout Italy for its wineries, having been focused on agriculture and wine production for generations, producing about 30 million bottled wines a year, specifically the Prosecco. Trained as a oenologist, Mario Polegato then joined the family business and was sent to a wine convention in the US.
“I was originally educated as a winemaker, but in the early ‘90s, my father asked me to participate in a wine convention in Reno, Nevada,” he avers. This is where the Geox story started, he says, recalling that he decided to “spend a little vacation.” It was while walking through the Nevada desert wearing sneakers with rubber soles that he felt his feet “suffer” due to the heat. Showing early on his savvy for innovation, Signor Polegato took out a Swiss army knife from his pocket and started to cut out holes in both soles for ventilation – a eureka! moment as it gave him the idea to create “breathable shoes” that would help keep the feet dry and prevent the unpleasant odor due to wetness.
Upon his return to Italy, he began studying the technology that would bring his idea into fruition, then made a pitch to several sportswear companies who, unfortunately, did not have the foresight and the vision and even considered the idea as preposterous. Undaunted, Signor Polegato decided to produce the shoes himself, believing he had hit on an idea that would revolutionize the footwear industry, and took out a loan from a local bank to get himself started.
“In our own village in Italy where I live, I found five people and I convinced them about my idea. They shared my enthusiasm and each one in the team was given a different responsibility. One handled the production, the other the marketing, another one took care of sales, and we started working together. From five people in the organization, we now have about 30,000 working directly and indirectly for us,” he smiles, proud that Geox has become the number one shoe company in Italy and the leading brand in the lifestyle category.
Today, Geox – which is a combination of “geo” which means earth in Greek while the “x” stands for technology – operates in 120 countries with over 1,200 stores all over the world. Mario Polegato, who in 2014 was ranked the 13th richest man in Italy with a fortune estimated at $2.3 billion, continues to be as enthusiastic about Geox and the technology that goes behind the “shoes that breathe.” In fact, a significant percentage of the company’s budget goes into research and development.
Retrieving something from a big black bag, the Italian business tycoon then showed us a sample of a perforated sole with a protective layer and a full-size membrane that protects the foot and allows air ventilation. A bestseller is the Nebula, an all-season footwear that is water repellent and utilizes “3D breathing engineering” that allows for exceptional breathability for the entire foot.
“Geox produces fashion shoes for women, children and men and not just sportswear or shoes for athletes,” the Geox founder also discloses, adding that they are now into apparel with the same kind of technology applied for men and women’s leather jackets.
According to Signor Polegato, the Filipinos working and living in Italy were the ones who urged him to introduce Geox here, and so in 2004, Officine – a multi-brand footwear specialty concept store that features a variety of styles under one roof – brought the brand to the Philippines. Aside from shoes, Officine also carries Geox apparel and accessories (bags for men and women, wallets and belts for men) in its 17 stores mostly in Manila with some also located in Davao, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro. By the end of the year, there are plans to open three more stores in SM Iloilo, SM Seaside and one in KCC Mall in Zamboanga.
“A lot of people ask us about the secret to our success,” the oenologist-turned-shoemaker shares. “Technology first, and second is because we are Italian and we applied the technology with Italian design and style. Italian shoes are really appreciated in the world because they are the best in terms of the quality and the leather used,” he adds.
Mario Polegato, who has received numerous accolades and awards including knighthoods from the presidents of Romania and Italy as well as entrepreneur of the year awards from Ernst & Young and a European Business leader Award for the Innovator of the Year category, devotes part of his time teaching students and young entrepreneurs about intellectual property at some of the most prestigious universities in Italy and around the world.
“I share my experience to students and always close the lecture by telling them my motto: ‘One idea is worth more than a factory’,” he ends. We couldn’t agree more.
For more information on Geox, visit OfficinePh on Facebook and log on to www.geox.com