Melanie Dulbecco Profile Picture

Melanie Dulbecco

CEO, Torani (R. Torre & Company)

What’s the background to the business?
I think of us as a 90-year-old start-up. We were founded in 1925 by Rinaldo and Ezilda Torre, with original recipes brought from Lucca, Italy to San Francisco. Over the course of our 90 years, we have reimagined and innovated the business several times.

When I graduated from business school, I wanted to work for a company that created strong social benefit. I tried the tech world with a company that developed educational software, but it wasn’t my passion. A friend from business school knew the Lucheta family, who are part of the Torre family, and introduced us. I knew the product and liked that it was a manufacturing company located in the Hunters Point neighborhood, as it meant there was an opportunity to hire people from the neighborhood and make a difference. I met the family and loved them; still do. We aspire to have a meaningful impact. Bringing people together and inspiring community is vitally important to us, which begins internally with the way we work.

BUSINESS BRIEFING

What’s the background to the business? I think of us as a 90-year-old start-up. We were founded in 1925 by Rinaldo and Ezilda Torre, with original recipes brought from Lucca, Italy to San Francisco. Over the course of our 90 years, we have reimagined and innovated the business several times.

When I graduated from business school, I wanted to work for a company that created strong social benefit. I tried the tech world with a company that developed educational software, but it wasn’t my passion. A friend from business school knew the Lucheta family, who are part of the Torre family, and introduced us. I knew the product and liked that it was a manufacturing company located in the Hunters Point neighborhood, as it meant there was an opportunity to hire people from the neighborhood and make a difference. I met the family and loved them; still do. We aspire to have a meaningful impact. Bringing people together and inspiring community is vitally important to us, which begins internally with the way we work.

Business goal for the next 12 month: To continue our strong double-digit growth on a path towards doubling in size again. One of our core values is ‘Grow, Baby, Grow!’ We have a series of goals and strategies with a revenue and profit target; everyone gets a bonus based on our achievement. This growth is ambitious but achievable, built on having grown 23%/year on average over the past 23 years.

Obviously it gets harder to maintain as we get bigger so we are focused on innovation strategies. Product innovation is a part of that, as are growth strategies across all aspects of our business.

At Torani, we think of history in terms of eras – we helped create the café era when we created the first flavored latte –― and now we’re setting our sights around the consumer to bring us home. Every fun and inviting kitchen should have a bottle of Torani flavor on the counter.

Advice you wish you had known: We continually need help to grow. We’ve always valued the perspective that our team members bring, plus all we can learn from outside advisors and friends. And, personally, I’m part of Vistage, which is a peer learning group. Learning from people who have ‘been there and done that’ is key.

We proactively look to people who have crossed the thresholds that we’re approaching. We go on field trips to meet companies and people we admire, read books, and have guest speakers. These ‘learning journeys’ are a way to keep a fresh perspective and to learn as a team. We believe in ‘going slow to go fast’; that if we get alignment of people from the start then implementation can be fast.

Best business decision: Well, the ‘first’ best decision (!) was to focus the company on café and to wind down our liqueur and cordial business. This was a tough decision because it meant a departure from what had been successful in the past. The Lucheta family members were brave and bold to agree to this new direction.

Our next best decision was to focus on innovation. We have to make good decisions every year and the best come from long-term strategies.

Toughest business decision:There are so many. We have intense competition and sometimes it’s hard to know how to navigate the different opportunities. Looking back we should have made more investment in pursuing restaurants sooner.

The toughest decisions always involve people; that’s really the heartbreak for me. The hardest time in the business was about 10 years ago, when we were trying to grow to the next level. We realized it was going to take tremendous change from all of us, especially our leadership. Unfortunately it meant parting ways with some, including people we cared about deeply. Even when it’s a mutual decision, it can still be heart-wrenching.

It’s also very difficult to figure out how to stay in the Bay Area. It’s a constant struggle to be a manufacturer in a high cost market, but we’re determined!

Person most admired: The art dealer Leo Castelli, who ran a gallery in New York from the 1960s through the 1990s, exerted a huge influence on me. I met him only 2 or 3 times, but learned a great deal from many visits to his gallery. He exhibited only what he deeply believed in, and the respect with which the art was treated (even if it wasn’t especially commercial at the time) was palpable. I learned the value of staking a claim for what one believes in and not insisting on instant returns.

Like most about job: There are so many things I like about what I do! The people top the list, of course. I love coming into work and feel tremendous love for the team. I also get to play with flavor every day!

I love that we are a manufacturer. Working with ingredients and making flavor means that we have an incredible mix of people from every educational, cultural, generational and socio-economic background. In spite of our differences, we all share the same goals and values.

Like least about job: It’s not about liking something the least, it’s about what’s the hardest, and that’s always people struggles. If there’s a struggle with an individual, sometimes exploring what their passion is can help overcome it. Diving into those conversations is hard though, especially when it becomes clear that their best ‘Grow Baby Grow’ may not be with the company.

Dream job: I’m in it. And the next dream job is to lead the next stage organization that we become, and to realize positive impact in the world around us by bringing people together and inspiring community.

BEHIND THE SUIT

Birthplace: I was born in San Francisco. I’ve lived in Washington DC, New York and also spent a year of college in Bordeaux (the wine had nothing to do with it … ).

Education: I did my undergrad in Economics at UC Berkeley and my MBA at Stanford.

I’ve always loved learning and promote it a lot in what we do at Torani. I believe strongly that we need to push the boundaries of learning ― to keep growing and changing as an organization. We always support people in their learning endeavors and are currently in the process of interviewing for a VP of People & Culture to help us pursue this. When we double in size, it’s important that we continue to challenge all of us who are here, stretching our learning.

When I was at Cal I became interested in Barbara Boxer, who at the time was a progressive female candidate. I worked on her first campaign for Congress and when she won office, I moved East to continue to work with her as an aide. When I returned to finish college after that experience, I had a much greater appreciation for my education and what a gift it is to learn.

Favorite book: I belong to a book group so I’m always reading and finding new favorites. Two of my all-time favorites are ‘Rain of Gold’ by Victor Villaseñor, which is the story of his grandparents’ journey from Mexico to California, and the classic American novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Favorite movie: No, I don’t have a favorite one! Although I enjoy watching movies with friends on Friday nights, usually after a great dinner and with a glass of wine.

Outside of work: I have the most fantastic friends who I enjoy seeing every week. We love trying new food, going out to music, theater and events, and traveling together. I’m also grateful to live in the Lower Haight near Duboce Park. There’s a stoop party or gathering of neighbors nearly every week. How great is that? The nearby dog park and playground also add a lot to the liveliness.

Community: I’m on the Board of the Mid-Peninsula Boys & Girls Club (North San Mateo County). We have a lot to do to support the kids in South San Francisco, especially those who need us most.

Family: I have an almost 21-year old daughter in college who’s studying to be a teacher. (I’m just a little crazy about her.) We both love our long-haired dachshund. My Mom is a competitive cyclist so I cheer her on as she competes all over the world, and I adore my brother and his family. I’m very close to family and through my friends have a large extended family.