- IMD Business School

In the Field with Beretta

10 min.
June 2020


  • Beretta¬†has¬†successfully transformed itself from a local Italian manufacturer of guns into¬†a¬†global company¬†offering¬†a full¬†range of¬†portable arms¬†and related equipment.¬†
  • Beretta‚Äôs¬†long history of almost 500 years has taught¬†it¬†how¬†to combine tradition and innovation and¬†turn it into its core competitive advantage.¬†¬†
  • At the heart of the company‚Äôs successful pivot¬†has been¬†its¬†ability to embrace¬†the paradox of seemingly conflicting qualities such as¬†robots vs. craftsmanship,¬†devotion to small town roots vs. global outlook, evolutionary vs. revolutionary growth.¬†


 - IMD Business School

How can a business build its competitive advantage on the seemingly conflicting qualities of tradition and innovation?  

Beretta (Fabbrica D’Armi Pietro Beretta SpA) traces its roots back to 1526 when its enterprising founder, Bartolomeo Beretta (1490-1568) delivered 185 gun barrels to the Republic of Venice. Almost 500 years later, Beretta is still thriving as one of the most well-known producers of armaments globally. Its product line ranges from hunting, through sports and practical shooting 

Beretta hunting gun with a gravurei 

to tactical military shooting guns and related equipment, with brands such as Beretta, Benelli, Franchi, Uberti, Stoeger, Sako, Steiner, Tikka, Burris, BDT and Chapuis Armes. 

During¬†its long history, Beretta¬†underwent a major transformation from a¬†sole local producer of guns to a¬†global¬†company¬†active in the market segments of¬†hunting, sports, clothing and accessories, electro-optics, as well as defense and law enforcement.¬†Driven by the founding¬†father‚Äôs¬†motto: ‚ÄúPrudence and Audacity,‚Ä̬†each¬†of the 15th¬†consecutive¬†generations¬†of the Beretta family¬†has¬†continuously experimented with innovation,¬†while¬†building on their legacy of tradition.¬†As the second-oldest member of the¬†Henokiens,¬†International Association of Bicentenary Family Companies, Beretta serves as an inspiration of the utmost resilience¬†and longevity, stemming from seamlessly¬†encompassing the apparent paradox of innovation and tradition.¬†¬†


The world is changing at a rapid pace; whole industries are emerging and others are disappearing. Yet long-lived family businesses have developed a strong resilience to the shocks by embracing paradoxes that are inherent to their nature.  

Family businesses have the unconscious ability to navigate the dichotomies, such as: 

  • Stability and agility¬†
  • Entrepreneurialism and legacy¬†
  • Innovation and tradition¬†
  • Financial goals vs. socio-emotional wealth¬†¬†
  • Heart and hands.¬†

It is because family businesses are engaged in a non-stop balancing act¬†of the goals of the owning family and the business. Some family businesses adopt the ‚Äúfamily first,‚Ä̬†paradigm, for others it is¬†‚Äúbusiness first,‚Ä̬†and¬†others¬†try to equally¬†harmonize¬†the two powers. The balancing¬†process¬†emerges naturally from family¬†shareholders¬†who, on a¬†daily¬†basis,¬†face the dichotomy of how one¬†simultaneously¬†functions in the family (with the main values of love,¬†inclusion,¬†dependence¬†and¬†emotions) and¬†in the¬†business (with¬†the main values of success,¬†competition, growth, returns¬†and¬†money).¬†¬†

What¬†may seem to be an oxymoron¬†‚Ästinnovation¬†via¬†tradition¬†‚Ästcould be a source of resilience, longevity and a¬†competitive advantage¬†for many family businesses.¬†


From the beginning, Beretta has developed an unusual profile, full of dichotomies.  

Love of Craftsmanship and Cutting-edge Technology 

Its core value ‚Äúquality without compromise‚ÄĚ can be traced¬†back¬†to the¬†company‚Äôs beginnings.¬†Beretta‚Äôs¬†source of quality has always been the craftsmanship skills¬†that have been¬†passed¬†on through the¬†centuries from father ‚Äď a gun master ‚Äď to son, as well as the commitment to relay the¬†latest¬†technology. There¬†is¬†concrete evidence from¬†the 18th¬†and 19th¬†centuries¬†when the 10th and 11th generation of Beretta family leaders (Pietro Antonio Beretta and Giuseppe Antonio Beretta) put¬†strong¬†emphasis on the latest technology, expanding the range of production skills and inaugurating¬†a new sales approach¬†first¬†in Italy¬†and then internationally.¬†¬†

Currently, Beretta employs 3,000 people, operates in 17 countries and has a manufacturing capability of 700,000 firearms per year. And it still cultivates a love of craftsmanship. Great care is taken in selecting and treating the wood and metal that forms the core of each gun. Then, long-apprenticed craftsmen shape these elements and add the intricate carvings and engravings that make them unique. These craftsmen work side by side with robots in cutting-edge technology production facilities to produce the highest quality firearms. 

Legacy of Gardone Val Trompia and Global Expansion 

The Beretta family has always been devoted to the small town of Gardone Val Trompia, where the company has its origins. Surrounded by hilly forests, far away from the distractions of city life, they grew to love the outdoors, wildlife and hunting. The family house, Casa Natale Beretta, and the Beretta Museum are eternal symbols of the family dynasty and the company. The small size of the company and close contact with the local population of the town, which speaks a distinctive local dialect, has always contributed to the intimate, family-like corporate culture.  

At the same time, Beretta‚Äôs love for gun making and¬†its¬†devotion to continuous innovation, made¬†Gardone¬†Val¬†Trompia¬†‚Äúthe original Silicon Valley of arms technology.‚ÄĚii¬†The family¬†always¬†successfully embraced the latest¬†expertise, driven by¬†its¬†philosophy of investing in new technology every year¬†as well as¬†continuing¬†the tradition¬†of¬†craftsmanship by educating new gun masters in the Beretta School of Arms Engraving.¬†

Having strong roots in¬†Gardone¬†Val¬†Trompia,¬†the¬†Berettas also ‚Äúgrew‚ÄĚ the wings of explorers. Building on the¬†forefathers‚Äô¬†legacy of geographical expansion, the 14th generation family leader ‚Äď Ugo¬†Gussalli¬†Beretta ‚Äď took¬†the¬†company¬†into¬†international waters, establishing¬†a¬†presence in the US in 1980s. Since then Beretta¬†has¬†equipped millions of members of the US armed services with the M-9 semiautomatic¬†pistol.¬†It has¬†established itself as a leader in¬†the¬†hunting and firearms segments, leading¬†to¬†the¬†American market constituting 50% of Beretta‚Äôs overall sales.¬†¬†

Evolutionary Growth and Acquisition-based Diversification  

Investing in innovation is, according to the family, the best way to ensure the survival of the company. Over the generations, its growth strategy has evolved from progressive, incremental changes to an ambitious acquisition strategy of innovative companies up and across the value chain.  

Under the helm of Ugo¬†Gussalli¬†Beretta and the current 15th¬†generation leaders ‚Äď Pietro¬†Gussalli¬†Beretta and Franco¬†Gussalli¬†Beretta ‚Äď the firm¬†has¬†acquired over 30 companies, significantly broadening its portfolio.¬†¬†

‚ÄúThrough its prestigious brands, Beretta, Benelli, Franchi,¬†Sako, Tikka,¬†Stoeger,¬†Chapuis, Steiner and Burris, the group has become a reference point for hunting enthusiasts the world over, who are constantly looking for high quality and reliable products, characterized by strong tradition and continuous innovation to fulfill their passion.‚ÄĚiii¬†

Entering the sporting weapons segment, Beretta stretched its brands toward a complete range of weapons with various characteristics and prices varying from $300 to over $100,000. Currently, sporting firearms constitute 75% of sales, 90% of which are generated in foreign markets.  

Beretta has further diversified its portfolio by adding complementary products such as a collection of sports clothing and accessories tailored to the world of hunting, shooting and outdoor activities. These premium products enjoy a fitting showcase in a chain of Beretta Gallery boutiques in Milan, London, Paris, New York, Dallas, Buenos Aires, Memphis, Moscow and Abu Dhabi.iv  

With a series of acquisitions in the new millennium, including Burris and Steiner,v Beretta entered the field of optics, scopes, binoculars, laser aiming devices and tactical flashlights, as well as the highend night vision and beacons market. 


Beretta successfully transformed itself from a local Italian manufacturer of guns into¬†a¬†global company offering¬†a full¬†range of armaments and related equipment (from hunting, through sports and practical shooting to tactical military shooting), with 50%¬†of¬†its¬†revenues from the US market. The¬†transformation¬†has been¬†possible because the¬†company‚Äôs almost 500-year-¬†long history has taught¬†it¬†how to combine tradition and innovation ‚Äď an apparent oxymoron ‚Äď and turn it into its core competitive advantage. At the heart of the company‚Äôs successful pivot¬†has been¬†its¬†ability to embrace the paradox of seemingly conflicting qualities reflecting tradition and innovation, such as¬†its¬†love for craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology,¬†the¬†legacy of¬†Gardone¬†Val¬†Trompia¬†and global expansion, evolutionary growth and acquisition-based diversification.¬†¬†

In fact, Beretta‚Äôs tradition is innovation.¬†By simultaneously looking into the past and into the future,¬†the¬†leaders of every consecutive generation have gracefully embraced the apparent paradox. Their entrepreneurial acting and thinking have been guided by the legacy core value of ‚Äúquality without compromise,‚ÄĚ which¬†has¬†translated into cutting-edge technology and turning¬†Gardone¬†Val¬†Trompia¬†into ‚Äúthe original Silicon Valley of arms technology.‚ÄĚ At the same time,¬†the family has long adopted¬†an¬†innovation-based survival strategy, which led¬†first¬†to evolutionary growth and¬†then¬†revolutionary growth in the era of globalization. Beretta seems¬†to be continuously on¬†the outlook for new ideas, new geographies, new market segments, leveraging their current position in their core products.¬†

By embracing tradition and innovation,¬†the company has¬†emerged as a vital, adaptive organization¬†that¬†stays true to its geographical roots and products¬†‚Ästa¬†quality that has taken this ancient firm to the zenith of modern gun production. Beretta‚Äôs forefathers‚Äô motto ‚ÄúPrudence and Audacity‚ÄĚ will serve it well in the future.¬†¬†



Insights from Beretta‚Äôs tactics of embracing an apparent ‚Äútradition-innovation‚ÄĚ dichotomy¬†include:¬†

  • The balancing act of apparent dichotomies could be a source of resilience and competitive advantage.¬†In its almost 500-year history, Beretta has learned¬†how to navigate the dichotomies of seemingly conflicting qualities.¬†It has¬†proved that what may seem to be an oxymoron ‚Äď innovation via tradition ‚Äď could be a source of resilience and longevity (Beretta is the second-oldest member of the¬†Henokiens, International Association of Bicentenary Family Companies).¬†¬†
  • For many family¬†businesses,¬† a¬†long history of¬†dexterity¬†‚Ästthe¬†ability to¬†simultaneously¬†handle internal integration and external adaptation¬†‚Ästtranslates into a cutting-edge¬†competitive advantage.¬†Beretta has successfully transformed itself from a local Italian¬†gun¬†manufacturer into¬†a¬†global company offering¬†a¬†full¬†range of armaments and related equipment.¬†By simultaneously¬†cultivating traditional values (love¬†of¬†craftsmanship,¬†roots¬†in¬†Gardone¬†Val¬†Trompia¬†and¬†devotion to quality) and¬†embracing¬†innovation (cutting-edge manufacturing technology, global expansion, acquisition-based diversification),¬†Beretta¬†has¬†emerged¬†as¬†a¬†long-standing,¬†vital¬†and¬†adaptive organization.¬†

This article is based on IMD Case: IMD-31495, available from the Case Centre at www.thecasecentre.org, an additional research, as well as input collected from the Beretta family by the Henokiens (www.henokiens.com), International Association of Bicentenary Family Companies. 


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