Fila is one of the most popular sports brands in the world and the brains behind the Australian-New Zealand operation, is a former banker, Silvano Merlatti, whose official title is Chairman of SM Brands.
Silvano was born in Savigliano (Cuneo) on July 28, 1964. He is married to Emanuela and they have two children ages 14 and 16, both of whom were born in Hong Kong. Silvano started his career as an employee at Banca Commerciale Italiana, the biggest Italian bank at the time. After completing a rigorous training comprising four years of studies and secondments, he was posted to the International Division of the Head Office which was responsible for the Russian and Chinese areas. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Silvano’s talents came to the fore when he had the possibility to interact with the CEO of the bank and the CFOs of all the major customers of the bank. His brilliant management skills were on show and he was rewarded with a transfer to the Hong Kong branch.
Although only 27 he was the youngest Credit Officer of the foreign service at Banca Commerciale.
In 1994 Fila was one of the most important clients of the bank in Hong Kong. Silvano’s professionalism and competence impressed Fila’s Managing Director and he was asked to work for this major international company. Silvano started working for Fila in Hong Kong in 1995. His immediate duties included taking care of the financial sector of all Fila branches in Asia. Silvano was then later appointed Director of Sourcing and also became responsible for sales in Asia.
Silvano Merlatti is one of those people who thrive on challenges. This has become even more apparent during his long and impressive career. His greatest asset and what adds so much strength to his character, is his ability to function at his maximum, even when under pressure. Hong Kong, certainly, in the Nineties, was a vibrant and fascinating city, and proved to be a perfect place for Silvano to demonstrate his professional qualities. Over time however, life in Hong Kong changed dramatically. It became a city suffocated by pollution and the frenetic pace of its lifestyle was not suitable for what Silvano considered, to be ideal to raise his family.
He had always been attracted to Australia and its possibility of market expansion. In June 2002, Silvano seized a profitable opportunity in the acquisition of Fila Australia. He successfully headed a management takeover of Fila’s Australian subsidiary and established a new company called SM Brands. This new company acted as a vehicle for holding the Fila license in Australia. Silvano and his family moved to Melbourne on January 1, 2003. It was an adventure full of satisfactions and responsibility, and importantly was more family oriented.
Q & A with Silvano Merlatti
Who owns Fila?
“Since 2001 the majority of Fila’s shares belong to a Korean private equity firm originated by Samsung Finance”.
How much of Italy is still present in Fila today?
“I can say without a shadow of doubt that the DNA of Fila is completely Italian. Fila is inspired by the Italian culture; we are very fortunate to have this heritage, which saves us from the risk of becoming impersonal. The Italian flair is clearly visible in any of Fila’s products”.
What are the origins of Fila?
“Fila was established in 1911 in Biella Italy, manufacturing textile and knitwear. A change in the direction of the multinational occurred in the Seventies when the Fila family started investing in the sports world. Tennis became the greatest showcase for Fila. In fact, most tennis fans would have heard or seen the great Swedish star Bjorn Borg, who wore proudly Fila on court. The Fila brand and Borg became a perfect fit. Everybody wanted to wear a champion’s attire and success was guaranteed. Thereafter the garments exclusively dedicated to tennis have become more and more a fashion trend and have not been abandoned since”.
What is the winning feature of Fila when compared to the sports brands such as Nike, Adidas and Asics?
“Our greatest heritage is derived from the game of tennis and Fila continue to maintain this brand at the highest level. From a management point of view, we in Fila Australia are able to make decisions very quickly, and this is a great advantage in terms of market strategy”.
What is the greatest contribution Silvano Merlatti has made to advance Fila Australia?
“I consider the best managerial decision we made was in 2003, when we decided to open our chain of stores. Today in Australia we can count up to 20 successful stores, including six in Melbourne”.
In 2007, on the eve of the world financial crisis, Silvano showed the strength of his mettle with brilliant managerial skills. He concentrated solely on sales and cleared the warehouse. When the crisis struck in 2008, Fila could count on a considerable capital and relatively empty warehouse. By November 2008, he averted the disaster that financially crippled so many other companies. How many people are employed by Fila in Australia? Fila employs 100 people all over Australia and the company has a turnover of more than $20 million.
How do you see the future of Fila in Australia?
“We at Fila believe in sustainable development and we are forward-looking in our choices. To achieve our goals a major part of the sponsorship campaign is conducted at the grass roots level. We start at the schools and fund sporting events, as well as giving our sponsored players a huge discount on Fila products. This allows children to become attached to and familiar with the brand at a young age, but most importantly, it also allows the family circle and friends of the player to locate the brand and the outlets more easily”.