On the outskirts of Alba, a cobblestoned Italian city that dates to Roman times, stands a stark modern fortress. Behind 10-foot concrete walls, steel gates and uniformed guards lies not a nuclear facility or an army base but a chocolate factory. This is the hometown plant of Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, Tic Tac, Mon Chéri and Kinder.
Inside, khaki-clad workers monitor hundreds of robotic arms that craft sweets with military precision. Overhead, thousands of cream-filled Kinder bars zip down conveyor belts. Underneath, high-speed cameras scan for imperfections: A tiny flaw in the coating is enough to trigger a puff of air that shoots the offending chocolate offthe line. “We do everything with seriousness and extreme competence,” says Giovanni Ferrero, the firm’s 53-year-old chairman, in his first- ever sit-down with the American press.
That discipline has built an empire. Ferrero sold $12.5 billion worth of sweets last year, and its namesake owners are worth an estimated $31 billion altogether, $21 billion of which belongs to Giovanni, who’s the 47th-richest person in the world. Their success took generations. Founded in 1946 in war-ravaged Italy by Giovanni’s grandfather Pietro, the business expanded through decades of careful growth, with little debt and no acquisitions.
But after a lifetime of working handin-glove with his brother and his father, Giovanni is suddenly alone at the helm. His brother, also named Pietr