The Vannucci family has been at the centre of some of the most important pages of Viareggio’s seafaring history. A 190-year-old dynasty that has grown through seven generations into what now proudly stands as an ancient family tradition.
1825: a sensitive, historically meaningful year for Italy, as well as for Viareggio’s business and even more for the maritime industry, as the famous Vannucci Shipping Agency founded by Carlo Vannucci, and since then always firmly held in the Vannucci family’s hands that still run the Group’s shipping businesses, was born precisely 190 years ago.
Too eventful is the life of the Group’s 190 years to be briefly told, as you could miss some of the milestones that made the history of an all-Italian Group, which excelled in a wide range of businesses: from shipping to supplies, from yacht and ship management to shipping agencies all over the Mediterranean, from yacht concierge services to forwarding, ship-owner’s agency, insurance, ship-chandler, real estate, logistics.
A lot of anecdotes could be told about the history and life of Gruppo Vannucci, a thoroughbred brand across the world. It’s a bit like finding again the dimension of a seafaring Viareggio, at the very core of the development of this city which became a popular seaside resort and whose flair strengthened the overall dimension of the entire city in a cultural, economic and industrial synergism, a historical and professional journey that led the Vannucci dynasty through difficult years, unfailingly inspired by strong values and uncommon efforts.
The Vannucci family
a fisherman’s village
We are not far from Maria Louise of Bourbon-Parma. Viareggio is a fisherman’s village that is turning into a fully-fledged town. In 1820, Maria Louise, who loves the sea and is fascinated by the local woods and greenery, decides to raise Viareggio to the rank of a city, and the first docks began to be built there just two years later: Darsena Lucca. Here’s then, five years later, Carlo Vannucci opens the doors of the very first Shipping Agency (1825). Those are pioneering years, but his professional style would soon be polished up, at a pace with the development of his business, especially shipping.
Carlo Vannucci was replaced by his sons, Benvenuto and Andrea (1840/1928).
Benvenuto worked in the port of Genoa with a staff of 10 people. Andrea stood out as the owner of two tartans from 1888 to 1890: “Fiducia” and “Assunta Madre”, as well as the schooner “Clemenza”, all sailing through the northern Tyrrhenian Sea.
Rome-based magazine “La Vita Commerciale” wrote, in 1923: “Run with scrupulous property and confident intuition by the owner, Messrs Andrea Vannucci has managed to earn excellent fame in Tuscany, so much that now its agents include the main shipping agents ever, and its customers include the most famous and busiest houses in Liguria and Tuscany”.
In 1920, Andrea Vannucci had also been appointed survey agent by Assicurazioni Generali, with the power to sign and issue receipts in the insurance company’s interests.
After the demise of Mario and Atto, the agency was taken over by Andrea (1914 -2008), a historical character often associated with the history of the port, the city and its businesses.
Andrea Vannucci was replaced by his sons, Mario (1881 – 1952), Atto and Benvenuto (1886 – 1918).
With Mario, the chartering and shipping businesses grow exponentially. Starting the chartering business with the motor vessel “Fiammetta”, a clipper built in 1922 and registered with the Harbour of Viareggio at no. 635, soon after Mario became manager and owner of many other large ships, such as the motor vessels “Felicina”, “Innocenza” (ex schooner Maria Solimano) and Maria. In Viareggio, Mario was named as ship-owner in lots of papers by ships’ shareholders.
Mario Vannucci held many positions, such as chairman of the Misericordia health centre, municipal councillor and agent for the Shipping Register.
One of his latest “dichiarazioni di armatore” (statement of ownership) is dated 1952, the year he died, for the m/s “I quattro fratelli”, of which Mario owned 20 shares.
Atto was a shrewd employee in the Viareggio-based agency, while Benvenuto moved to Marseille in 1911 to take care of the chartering business and sending Italian sailboats and steamboats to France.
After the demise of Mario and Atto, the agency was taken over by Andrea (1914 -2008), a historical character often associated with the history of the port, the city and its businesses. Andrea went through all the events of the post-war period, the reconstruction of the Merchant Navy, the rigging of several motor vessels, the building of iron ships, the conversion of the local shipyards.
Andrea Vannucci was also a municipal finance councillor and supported a number of initiatives to boost the local economy, including the opening of a gambling house in Viareggio and the birth of the Coppa Carnevale World Youth Football Cup.
Andrea Vannucci had married Vittoria Martinelli, the daughter of Napoleone Martinelli (1887/1961), a ship-owner known as “Polone”, a member of the great house of the Martinelli and a shareholder of several vessels.
Polone had been sunk by a submarine in August 1916, while at the helm of the schooner-brig Henriette B, formerly headed by his father Antonio, a shareholder of the boat. On that ship, Napoleone was a boatswain and a second mate, then captain in 1913.
The first time he had signed on had been on the schooner-brig Luisa. He was captain of: Marcel B, Fortuna Italia, Carlo L and Idria.
In the insurance business, after WWII Vannucci was appointed subagent of the Corporation of Lloyd’s, a British institution of unparalleled value. A bona fide appointment that is still there, along with positions such as claim agent for foreign insurance companies and ship-owners’ associations, general agencies and yacht-owners, all over the world.
Andrea Vannucci could rely on the valuable help of his sons, Benvenuto and Carlo Andrea, to continue the family saga and bring the Group to its highest levels in its 100-year-long history.
Benvenuto Vannucci joined the company at a very young age. After university and after serving as an officer in the Air Force, he went back to his company and since 1968 he has been supporting his father in the management of the agency: the shipping and clearance agencies grow exponentially. In just twenty years, Benvenuto finalises thousands of brokering, agency, ship loading/unloading and customs/clearance agreements. He attracts and opens up new trade routes to and from Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Spain, Portugal, Greece and the UK, assisting over 3,000 ships in the port of Viareggio alone, trading cereals, vegetal oils, timber, marble, metal carpentry, wine, heavy lift cargoes.
With Benvenuto, the agency becomes the ‘go-to’ place for the biggest shipyards (Benetti and Sec, Italy’s largest private shipbuilder of merchant ships) and the greatest paper mills and import/export companies from the inland of Liguria and Tuscany.
The growth of the Group’s businesses went at a pace with the growth of the allied industries and direct and indirect units, such as forwarders, port services, the Dockers Association, and the suppliers who worked in the port of Viareggio, with as many as about 1,000 people working in ancillary industries.
Then, he buys the m/s “Frandi” to add chartering to his traditional shipping business.
The desks of those offices have handled the papers of a multitude of shipments that, in 190 years of work, have reached truly impressive figures. Still lingering about the offices, a timeless atmosphere seems to carry us back in time, amidst ancient furniture, yellowed photographs and 50-cent stamped papers, standing on the Agency’s shelves. We can read charter and share agreements, sailboat and motorboat ownership and co-ownership agreements.
Benvenuto, Paolo and Andrea take the credit for converting the company from shipping to yachting.
While in the Nineties the freight port of Viareggio slipped into an inexorable decline, the Vannucci family successfully diversified and renewed their family businesses.
Now, the name Vannucci is on speed-dial for the most prestigious super-yachts that plough through the Mediterranean coasts. They only have to dial their number, and anything the ship-owner or his crew may want will be fulfilled at any time of day or night. The voice that answers the phone is unfailingly polite, cool and confident, used as it is to setting in motion the impressive organisational machinery that for two centuries has been serving the powerful of the earth, cruising our seas.
Nowadays, Gruppo Vannucci, currently headed by Benvenuto, Paolo and Andrea, controls and runs some major companies and shareholdings that, from different premises and offices, keep successfully moving ship-owners, tourists, businessmen, goods and suppliers about.
Over the years, yacht management, ship-owner’s agencies, a professional customs law and technique firm, VAT and currency consultancy, concierge services based all over Italy, France and Spain, ship-chandlers, marine supplies, insurance companies, ship-owners’ associations and real estate have been added up to the traditional shipping business.
The strength of Gruppo Vannucci – as confirmed by its long history – lies in the ability and skill to have vision, to expand into new businesses, entering into important partnerships and joint-ventures with several international players as and when needed, while always staying sound, ready and sensitive to any new challenges, in an increasingly competitive market.
190 years of business take a long time to cover, and the boundaries of each line of business of Gruppo Vannucci branch off into Italy, France, Spain, Egypt, always in keeping with the Vannucci family’s entrepreneurial leadership: few words, but certainly lots of facts, lots of horizons touched upon, lots of challenges and synergisms turned into alliances, imbued with that quintessentially Tuscan spirit, poised between tradition and continuity, entrepreneurship and innovation.