Family Businesses in Italy Trek

2024 Italy Trek students visit a Gorgonzola cheese manufacturer, Eredi Baruffaldi, in Castellazzo Novarese near Turin, Italy.

Each year during spring break, in a course intended to promote the understanding of family businesses, the Smith Family Business Initiative leads a weeklong student trek (NBA 5920) to Italy to explore the country’s many significant family businesses, Italian history, and culture.

For those interested in learning about family businesses, Italy is an important destination. There are estimated to be around 784,000 family businesses in the country, comprising over 85% of the total business landscape and providing around 70% of employment. What distinguishes Italian family businesses is their remarkable longevity: among the world’s 100 oldest businesses, 15 are Italian. Notably, five of these – including Fonderie Pontificie Marinelli (founded in 1000), Barone Ricasoli (1141), Barovier & Toso (1295), Torrini (1369), and Marchesi Antinori (1385) – rank among the top ten oldest family businesses still in operation today.

Through our visits, we seek to peek behind the scenes at business operations and speak with family members to understand the values and beliefs underpinning the foundation of these companies.

This program is open to graduate students across Cornell. It is a 1.5 credit course. Application information to be distributed in the fall.

2024 Companies Visited

The companies that are visited vary year by year to diversify the experience for students. In 2024, trek stops included Turin, Milan, and Bologna, and the following companies were visited:

  • Eredi Baruffaldi (cheese manufacturer)
  • SP S.p.A. (rice mill)
  • Lavazza Coffee
  • Domori Chocolate
  • Ermenegildo Zegna
  • Branca Distillery
  • Davines (haircare/skincare brand)
  • Zanetti (gear manufacturer)
  • Fattoria Moretto (vineyard)

Juin-Unger Fellowship for Experiential Learning

Established in 2023, the Kevin Juin and Matthew Unger Fellowship for Experiential Learning provides financial support of up to $5,000 for a select number of students each year to participate in the Family Businesses of Italy Trek. Generously established by two of our recent alumni Kevin Juin, ‘MBA 23, and Matthew Unger, ‘MBA ’23, this fellowship is open to all graduate students at Cornell University, and its objective is to eliminate potential participation barriers for persons of color and other underrepresented groups, ensuring equal access among all students to this transformative experiential learning opportunity. This fellowship is designed to advance the SC Johnson College of Business’ commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and especially, access. It is intended for those who may not otherwise have an opportunity to participate in the Family Businesses of Italy Trek due to financial constraints. Applications will be available in the fall. Contact Susan Hu at to learn more.

Student Feedback

“Immersing myself in the family business Italy trek provided me with unique insights and experiences. An inside perspective into the balance of tradition, innovation, and the essence of upholding generational values for continued business success.” – Joseph Ortiz, MBA Class of 2025

“The Italy Trek is amazing. I loved the experience of understanding family business and how it relates to Italian culture as well as getting to know new friends and their businesses.” – Shiang Chin, Ph.D., Cornell Engineering

“Being a Juin-Unger Fellowship recipient and attending the Smith Family Business Initiative trek to Italy has been profoundly impactful. Attending the trek provided me with a unique opportunity to deepen my understanding of family business practices globally while fostering meaningful connections within the Cornell community. This experience not only enriched my academic journey but also equipped me with invaluable insights and networks that will shape my future endeavors.” – Jayonia Griffin, EMBA Class of 2025