Claudio Ghiringhelli drives his Nissan minivan over the Monte Ceneri pass, about 40 kilometers from his home in Ticino, Switzerland. He passes buildings and restaurants until a valley opens up below—a mixture of agriculture and industrial land.
Some twists and turns later, he arrives at Marco Francini’s farm, greeted by a pair of dogs that growl until their owner welcomes Claudio onto the property.
It’s their first meeting, and Marco only knows that Claudio wants to help local farmers. As they sit under the shadow of a grape plant, Claudio listens to the reality that Marco faces.
“Until around 2008, we were able to invest in our farms. But since then, we’ve become slaves. As a farmer, I am ruled by distribution, by prices, and by quantities. I have no freedom—I am told what I have to produce and how I can price. There’s no margin—we make just enough to survive.”
Stories like Marco’s are exactly why Claudio created his business, Loonity. It’s more of a cooperative than a business, with the built-in belief that in order to rebuild trust we need to remove the barriers that keep farmers from connecting with local food buyers.
Farmer’s markets are a step in the right direction. But with Loonity, Claudio is enabling a community of connections by developing local distribution networks. His beta network in Ticino is underway, with 43 farmers, 47 distribution points, and 400 families (as of April 2016). After some initial experimenting, he’ll open the system to others in Switzerland, Germany, and Brazil who want to create local networks of their own.
Leveraging his past profession as a delivery systems planner, he’s got the technical expertise to map out networks that cut out the middle man. However, at an earlier stage, before Loonity was underway, his industry jargon was keeping him from the very thing he tried to create in conversations: true connection. Instead, Claudio remembers causing confusion and losing credibility.
He enlisted the support of Soulful Brand, a brand strategy and leadership development firm, that worked with him from California via Skype. Through a series of interview-like calls, co-founders Ryan Rigoli and Matthew Sloane helped him uncover the deeper meaning behind Loonity as well as the concrete pieces of communication that made sense when Claudio presented his work.
His vision went from a very high-level feeling to something more grounded and inspiring, both for himself and others. In his team meetings he became more focused and his answers were more direct and to the point. It wasn’t just about new words, Claudio himself was changing. Through his newfound clarity and confidence, he could more easily access the Loonity vision while keeping things simple.
In sharing his vision with the people in Ticino, overcoming the barriers to trust is a daily job for Claudio, given how deep-seeded mistrust has become. Although it was easier for him to, at first, feel like a champion for the farmers, his network also needed people who would buy food.
Knowing Who & Where Your Food Comes From
Claudio arrives at the Axion Swiss Bank, in Lugano. There are crowds of cars, buses, and people on the roads. He walks past the reserved parking spots into the stone building with automatic doors. Riding the elevator a few floors up, Claudio can’t help but notice the difference in atmosphere between this very formal world and Marco’s farm.
It’s an active office with people moving about and walls ordained with a mixture of paintings and operational charts. Claudio meets with Veronique and Lorenza, the secretaries to the director that welcomed the Loonity idea. He is there to share Loonity with them—to give them a chance to play a part in the food network as a distribution point.
“You and your colleagues can buy from local producers and we can deliver once a week,” Claudio explains. But it’s more than the words that leads to the secretaries’ interest. Claudio himself is warm and believes strongly in Loonity without pressuring anyone. He admits that in the past, “I was never a pushy salesman, but I was moving in that direction.”
Veronique and Lorenza are happy to hear about transparent prices, the convenience of getting food delivered to their workplace, knowing more about where and who they are buying from, as well as being able to support local farmers.
These days, Claudio practices less jargon and more presence, letting the bank secretaries enjoy the vision for themselves. Weeks later, he is part of the delivery process to their office, handing them baskets of food out of his own mini-van.
He enjoys being able to openly express his fondness for how human beings can touch one another. The bank secretaries, Veronique and Lorenza, became more than just another set of people from a business meeting—they are so touched by this new connection with Claudio, that they now exchange Christmas cards with his family.
The Mindset for a Visionary Leader
After gaining clarity on his message, Claudio further enrolled Soulful Brand with a focus on leadership development. Like many entrepreneurs and business leaders, he was more interested in collaborating than controlling with respect to his team and anytime he presented the Loonity concept.
“How do you build an organization that honors yourself, your vision, and also the unique contribution of others?” he wondered. Especially as he, like many people, had more experience with and habits around command and control styles of leading than any other.
Over a few months, some handful of Skype calls later, Claudio describes the work with Soulful Brand as “eliminating a lot of my own concepts around leadership communication that were interfering with the Loonity vision.” When his tax inspector wanted to know how to categorize the consulting expense, Claudio told him, “it was a marketing study with a psychological and energetic approach.”
As a result, Claudio has shifted his mindset from “bringing an empire to the world” towards staying curious and taking things one step at a time.
“When I am trying to force something,” Claudio describes, “I’m in a rush and end up wasting time. The quality of my life is something to be experienced—by taking my time. I’ve been able to stay with Loonity patiently, with challenging feelings sometimes, but never hating this project. I’m so thankful for this.”
When asked about advice for other entrepreneurs, Claudio takes a long pause before saying, “The world is changing so fast. Stay tuned to your intuition more than spending too much time listening to your mind. Our culture has very bad habits, like abusing the trust of people. Recognize that the only instrument we have is to deeply trust ourselves. Intuition is the small voice within yourself that at the beginning you don’t want to hear. At the beginning, my excuse not to hear it was to label it as wild and crazy. Now, I can’t ignore that voice and it’s the one that helps me along every day.”