An interview with new Whirlpool Oceania MD Silvia Del Vitto
They say “all good things come to those who wait”, but Silvia Del Vitto, Managing Director for Whirlpool Corporation and its integrated Oceania business, is proof that the opposite is true – you’ve got to go out and get it.
After 18 years working for the home appliance company, she landed the top job in February and has relocated from Singapore – where she was market director, Far East, – to Melbourne, with a sharp focus on growing Whirlpool and its cooking brands, Ariston and Indesit, across Asia-Pacific and Oceania.
“One thing great about Whirlpool,” she says, “is that if you’re ambitious and you want to grow, and you’re clear what your potential and your aspirations are – and, of course – you deliver results, they give you opportunities.
“When I left university with a degree in marketing I was looking for an experience in an international environment with a B2C consumer goods products, and Whirlpool was the number one global company in appliances. It’s worked out pretty well!”
She started as a marketing assistant for the microwave category in 1999 at Whirlpool HQ EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) in Italy, and has changed roles every couple of years.
With an illustrious career spanning three continents, Del Vitto has worked in all the company’s product categories, as well as various roles in commercial, marketing and development.
Most recently, she led the Asia Pacific operation with full P&L accountability for Ariston and Indesit, which Whirlpool purchased from the Italian Merloni family in 2014.
“At the time, I was based in Italy,” she says, “and there was the opportunity to go to Singapore and run that part of the world. They wanted to send somebody from Europe because all the product that Indesit and Ariston sold overseas was European-based.”
Italian Del Vitto, a long-term Whirlpool employee, was the perfect choice.
“I always wanted an international career,” she reveals. “But also, within the family we always said to each other, ‘if we move, it should be something big’, not to pack everything up and move 500 kilometres to Germany or elsewhere in Europe.
“We’ve always looked to combine professional and personal experience with something really interesting for all of us, so this was the perfect fit.”
For the next 18 months Whirlpool is focused on driving the brand locally around three key pillars: healthy cooking, simple to use and family. Affordability combined with innovation will determine the product range a new cooking product range set to launch early 2018.
“It’s reigniting the actual Whirlpool brand,” she adds, “and there’s a large investment from Whirlpool Corporation globally in this market, which makes it a hugely exciting time.”
One of very few senior female executives in this industry – and the only female head of business in the top 10 major appliances brands in Australia – Del Vitto will play an important thought leadership role in the industry. And she hopes to emulate the success of current Whirlpool president, the Italian-based Esther Berrozpe EMEA.
“Esther is a very strongly driven lady,” she says. “She also started off in Whirlpool in brand and product marketing and grew quite quickly to being president of the region. Esther was, for me, a very key reference person and an inspiration for my career itself.”
Del Vitto also reveals current Maserati CEO, Roberto Ronchi, played a significant part in her early career.
“When you start, the company assigns you a mentor,” she adds. “It’s part of the tools the company provides to people who can grow in the company; that you’re accompanied and supported in your steps by somebody more senior.
“In about 2001 when I was very much a junior, Roberto Ronchi was my MD and he made a huge impact. He was strategic, straightforward and gave me a lot of advice, and that was when I understood what I really wanted to do – to grow within the company.
“He was a reference for me in that sense, meaning I said, ‘okay one day I would like to do a job like this guy’.”
Room for manoeuvre
While Whirlpool’s annual turnover is $28.18 billion, Del Vitto says there is room to grow, especially in the cooking and healthy eating categories.
“For the last few years, Whirlpool as a brand has been really working hard in Kitchen and Cooking,” she explains, “and we’re making a concerted push with it, as well as expanding Refrigeration and Laundry, which are iconic areas in terms of Australians growing up with the Whirlpool brand.
“Over the last 12 months there's been a redefinition of the strategy in terms of distribution, which we relaunched with The Good Guys. It’s a great partnership and works very well. It gives us also the opportunity to be very present in terms of coverage in the market. We've got a great partner that’s very strong and recognised by consumers.
“Same for Ariston, which is a premium cooking brand with a strong Italian heritage. It stands for quality and cooking expertise. We’re very well established in Harvey Norman but there is space to grow further. We also want to work on expanding the range.
“Then if we look at potential future opportunities, we also have great brands like KitchenAid, which is huge in the US.
“It’s all about growth and continuing to offer compelling products and support the brand, support the distribution and we’re already working on the next wave of new cooking products to be available beginning of next year.”
She reveals induction technology is getting more and more important as perceived by the consumers, because it's about energy saving and, therefore, much better performance.
“We have already one of the best ranges in the market and will continue development on those trends,” Del Vitto adds. “Consumers want innovative products at affordable prices.”
And as a working mother herself – with a five-year-old son and a baby due in August – Del Vitto is exactly the demographic the company is targeting.
“We’re continually developing features that are about simplicity, time management and great results,” she continues. “And providing the right products and solutions that deliver you the best performance for your family in a simple way, so you can take care of your family, and also have time to enjoy quality time with them, instead of spending too much time on chores.”
Whirlpool is also extending in the healthy eating space and in March appointed its first ever brand ambassador, TV chef Scott Gooding. The former My Kitchen Rules chef educates Australians on the simplicity of cooking wholesome meals in the kitchen via his website, Scott Gooding Project.
“It’s a great thing between us and Scott,” Del Vitto explains, “because he's all about delivering healthy food and the right products that provide the best performance for your family in a simple way. These are really important pillars.
“The innovation and the products that we bring in, and the partners Whirlpool works with, are all going to be based on those pillars. It will really resonate with Australians. The last couple of years have been fantastic but it's time to take it to that next level.”