“Come to the office. I’ll make you a fantastic latte.” With these words Melanie Dulbecco , Torani’s energetic and articulate CEO, entices me to visit the Torani bottling plant and headquarters on a stormy December day. When I arrive at the company headquarters, located in an industrial area of South San Francisco, she leads me to the airy company kitchen, and standing on black and white art deco style tiles, expertly pours vanilla flavoring into the foamy milk. “Every team member is personally made a latte by me on Monday morning,” Melanie says, adding that “It’s the little things that count.”
The story of how Torani evolved from a small local employer to model independent company with innovative products and a global reach began in 1991 when the first CEO from outside the Torre family, Melanie Dulbecco took the helm. At the time Torani was at a crucial transition point. By the late 1980s liquors represented 90 percent of the company’s business, but the category was declining rapidly, and Torani leadership needed to make strategic decisions to move forward.
With an MBA from Stanford and a background in non-profit management and organizational development, Melanie was committed from the start to a collaborative visioning process. Early in her tenure Melanie called an off-site meeting where she and two of the Torani family members still active in the business (Lisa and Paul Lucheti) created a vision for the next five years of the company’s growth..
This process was so successful that it was followed by a follow up session in 1994 involving the entire company with all 100 team members meeting in tents in the company parking lot. These sessions resulted in a renewed direction, with coffee at the core and a focus on specialty restaurant and distributors, as well as a new state of the art building, a team-based company culture and a vibrant community volunteer program, focused on the local Boys and Girls club.
In 2010 the company is enjoying the results of these processes while creating a renewed collaborative vision for the next stage of evolution.
We’ve grown and changed, yet remain who we are at the core. We retain our value of caring deeply for people, which means that there’s going to be a family feeling around here, with meaningful connections between us.” Melanie Dulbecco, Torani CEO states.
What began as a family run operation in an Italian neighborhood 85 years ago is now a brand known around the world for flavor and creativity, as well as a model provider of manufacturing employment in a region where such jobs have all but disappeared. But how has a mid-sized family business managed to evolve, grow and thrive through changing times? The answer lies in a collaborative visioning process, a willingness to experiment, and the ability to tell stories that transmit enduring values of community service and innovation.
As a purveyor of flavor, Torani has evolved over the years from providing syrups for Italian sodas in neighborhood cafes, to a provider of liqueurs after prohibition was repealed, to playing a key role in the invention of the flavored latte in the 1980s. Today Torani employs over 100 people (mainly in its South San Francisco bottling plant) and is connected through a community of cafes, specialty retailers, and beverage-forward restaurants. The boldly colored Torani labels emblazoned on the front of the large syrup bottles are easy to spot behind the bars of independent cafes.
According to CEO Melanie Dulbecco these bold colors are no accident, but speak to the story behind the brand. “We are about inspiring creativity in the world,” she says “which has, so far, mostly focused on food and beverage.” In the same sentence she alludes to Torani’s ability to project forward by remaining true to its origins story. “Beverage and food has been our path, and now there are pathways into other areas as well. ‘Inspiring creativity’ can go lots of places.”