Big Heart Big Business
The Piccone Dynasty
Words by Danae Jones | Photos by Blueclick Photography
There are few families as well known, serving in business across multiple industries that are as generous and well-loved as the Piccone Family.
From humble beginnings, the Piccone family are now in their 4th generation. They continue to punch well above their weight in terms of their contribution to the local economy, from owning a number of IGA grocery stores, bakeries, butcheries, hotels, residential developments and some of the largest fruit farms in Australia, the family of six children are acutely aware of the importance of supporting local business to keep the regional circular economy flourishing.
We caught up with the oldest member of the family, 86 year old Lou Piccone at his Edmonton home, to find out his secret to family business success and why his mantra has always been one of giving to those around him. He reflects on a very fruitful career, having started work in his parents business at just six years of age.
“Well I always worked with Mum and Dad as a kid when we had the baker shop and the butcher shop, so I was used to working in a business because I worked hard with them as a child,” said Lou Piccone.
During the depression and WWII his family struggled and his mother Anna wanted desperately to return to Italy to see her family, but his father would only go if Lou returned home from his engineering job in Mackay to look after the business.
What was meant to be a three month holiday for his parents turned out to be almost two years, as Lou’s ability to grow the business shone through. He increased revenue by 1100 per cent in just 18 months. His career as an engineer brought abruptly to a close as he admits to having fallen head over heels in love with Cairns and the people who walked through the doors of his shop each day.
“Well find me a better place in the world for a start, it’s just so casual, you know it’s just such a wonderful place to live. I know we get humidity and all that sort of stuff, but nowadays it’s pretty easy, because we’ve got air conditioning and all those luxuries, but it’s just the people, we have such a mixture of wonderful people, I love people.”
The mantra ‘give and you shall receive’ could’ve been written for the Piccone family. Their net worth as a family enterprise although undisclosed, is significant. But for a wealthy Far Northern dynasty, they are also one of the biggest charitable contributors in the community, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars each and every year to local sporting groups, charities and many other worthy causes.
“I’ve always told my family we live in the community , they give us our support, and therefore we should support our community, and that’s what I’ve always been about.”
The size of Lou’s smile is a direct reflection of his big heart.
“It’s the joy of giving, you know we do get benefit, but for years we gave and didn’t get any benefit, it took a long time for the public to wake up, but my sons have done a very good job, and not only my sons, anyone in my family, they’ve all got big hearts, the whole lot, and they all give a lot of themselves to other people.”
“That’s what we’ve been taught and that’s the culture of the Piccone family is just we’re all here to help each other,” said Peter Piccone.
From a young adult son John has managed the finances of the family companies, his brother Peter made it very clear that he wasn’t interested in paperwork and was best placed on the shop floor. John jokes about how they both realised each others strengths from day one.
“Peter asked me to look after the bills, the invoices, so I turned up for work and he said okay you pay the bills and we had this old desk and it had two drawers in it. And in the top draw were all these invoices and they were nice and just flat, no organisation, no order or anything and then I pulled out the bottom drawer and they were all crumbled up, you know like papers crumbled up and I said what’s the story here Peter and he said well the ones in the top draw they need to be paid, the ones in the bottom draw that are crumbled up, they’ve been paid so the first thing I did was go out and buy a second hand filing cabinet and put files in and alphabetical and everything and it started from there,” said John Piccone.
It seems that knack for growing revenue runs in the blood, the boys have been at the forefront of major growth since taking over the reigns.
“Peter and I when we went back into business in the 1990s we had a little convenience store and it was turning over a small amount of money a week and now the supermarkets between the two of them are turning over a large sum of money per week, so we’ve come along way in 30 years, we’ve gone from a little turnover to a large turnover,” said John.
Their father attributes a lot of the success to focussing on the human element of business. He says despite the advances in technology and many other facets, the fundamentals remain unchanged.
“In our business, dealing with the public, first step is recognition, when you see someone who walks into your establishment you say g’day, regardless of whether you know them or not, you say g’day, and that breaks all the ice in the world in 99.999 per cent of the time,” said Lou.
When you broach the subject of buying local you can tell it’s a topic he feels very strongly about.
“A lot of people think the big guys are cheaper than we are, but no, if you go the whole hock shop, there’s not much difference.”
His sons echo his sentiments and are keen to remind people that in tough times locals support locals.
“We should just always say what can I do to do my part in the community and that also means trying to support the local community, local businesses, whether it’s local farmers, or local people, local charities, because it all makes a little bit of difference. You might think oh this isn’t going to make much difference what I’ve done. Yes it does, because in the end if you make a person feel better about themselves and make them feel valued, you’d be amazed at how they respond. You say g’day, I’ll try to do my best to give you a hand,” Peter said.
“They’re the people that support you and they’re the people that will be there for you in times of need you know and we’ve seen that recently with the bushfires and everything how the Australians have dug deep and given all that money to help. It’s just part of the Australian way and we like to look after each other, we’ve always liked to look after each other, so it’s human nature, so the more that we can become involved in the local community, the more success you’re going to have and the more that you give back and the more that you help other people, the better life is. I enjoy being there for other people whether it’s personally or whether it’s in business. I help people wherever I can and that’s like our whole family.
“Chrissy and Pauline they look after Dad, both of them, Chrissy was a social worker, Pauline was a nurse, so they’ve both been involved in helping other people, but now their main task is looking after Dad which we’re grateful for. Marie’s successful with her mangoes, Manbullo Mangoes and she’s just an amazing woman, I’m so proud of her and then of course we’ve got Lisa who’s a brilliant mother and trained in so many ways, but she’s got two beautiful daughters and so the six of us, we’re very lucky. Myself and my five siblings have all taken qualities from both Dad and Mum and utilised them to progress in life,” John said.
Lou says “there’s more modern techniques nowadays, but at the same token it’s different, but it’s still the same.
“Doesn’t matter who people are you’ve got to respect them when they come to your establishment, give them good service and recognition.”
One of Lou’s most cherished moments in business, not surprisingly, is a time that involves his staff, when shops weren’t open seven days a week, and people had more time to spend with their family and friends.
And despite being in his late 80s, fully retired and battling a few health issues, Lou still keeps his finger on the pulse. He maintains his home office with a direct phone line to his sons so he can call them each day to check on the company operations.
“At my age I’m still answering to my father, but that’s okay because I love him and it’s important to know that without him we wouldn’t be where we are. He gave us the opportunity, we grabbed it with both hands and we’ve just got on with it,” John said.
As a parting piece of advice to anyone in business or anyone in a job they’re not fond of, Lou Piccone has these words of wisdom – “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, then get out. I’ve come across so many businesses in my life where the people who are there keep on whinging about the business because they don’t really like it. It’s just like a job, if you came to work for me and you couldn’t smile and you didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t want you there, so you’re better off going and finding something else you like doing, it’s as simple as that.”