As part of Diabetes Awareness Month, CEO Alessia Ferronato shares her story of living with Type 1 Diabetes, and how she successfully manages her condition whilst also running a fast-growing company.
Alessia, you are the CEO of FERRONATO, a luxury brand with a unique proposition. We’ll hear more about that, but for now, let’s focus on your story. You’re managing a brand which is growing across several continents, in a very competitive industry.
That’s correct. Our operation is based in Lugano, Switzerland and our bags are made in Italy. We are currently building a presence in Europe, the Middle East and the USA, and are ultimately working to build a global brand.
And yet, at one stage during your childhood, all this seemed unlikely. Can you tell us more?
When I was eleven years old, I fell into a coma. Two days later, I woke up in the intensive care unit of my local hospital and received the diagnosis that was to change my life forever. I was a Type 1 Diabetic. As devastating as the news was, I quickly decided I would rather live with this disease than die from it. There was no way back. I told myself, “You might as well take it positively and move on!”. So, I did.
In Switzerland at the time, the grade I was in at school was a decisive one, where teachers would determine which level of school the pupils in their care should attend. Having spent months in the hospital, I had missed almost half the school year and when I returned, managing my condition made it exceptionally difficult to concentrate in class. At that time there was no technology for reading blood sugar and no insulin pumps, so I was pricking my finger 10-15 times a day to test my blood sugar, and injecting insulin into my stomach area about seven times a day.
My school-work inevitably suffered, and the teachers decided to assign me to the lowest level of the scholar system. This meant I would be unable to attend high school, and university was out of the question. I refused to accept this. I told the teachers I would fight to attain a higher level because I knew I could. Alongside everything that had accompanied the diabetes diagnosis, it was one more challenge I needed to overcome that year.
After months of hard work and lots of tutoring, I attained the middle level. This was still not good enough for me, so I decided, at 13 years old, to take the national exams by myself. I registered and prepared with a stack of books. I was determined to be accepted into the highest level and go on to university.
Several years later, I graduated cum laude from University.
Today, I am extremely fortunate to manage FERRONATO, a luxury accessories brand with in-built privacy technology. The FERRONATO group developed this technology many years ago, and we have become key suppliers to many industries globally. With the many intrusions we now experience as a result of our digital activity, and its infringement on our personal privacy, we took the decision to make this technology available direct to the consumer, in the form of our high-end bags.
How do you manage T1D with your daily work at FERRONATO?
Each day is a challenge. To counter this, I’ve become a very structured person. After all, I need to be, to survive. I schedule my medicines, my food intake, my pumps, etc. in the most efficient way I can. And I follow the same approach in the office. I have devised a highly organised strategy to grow my brand FERRONATO globally.
My management style is an extension of my approach to my disease. I’m open about how disabling T1D can be, how it affects my plans, my relationships, my lifestyle. As well as my family and close friends, I share my condition with my colleagues; how I manage my treatment and control my disease. Because of this, I also listen to them, and am conscious of the difficulties they may face. I value my health and that of my staff.
For me, following a healthy routine is an absolute necessity to maintain my blood sugar levels, and I also educate and support my colleagues in making healthier choices. Recently, I got an office bike where I sometimes take meetings and reply to my emails when my blood sugar level is high. It helps me feel better, lowers my sugar levels faster and increases my productivity. Now everyone wants one! And I promote the use of different devices that help everyone get moving.
I adhere to a healthy diet to avoid high sugar spikes and crashes. Of course, you cannot control it all the time but it’s the basis for good health. Our office subscribes to a fruit delivery programme, and I make sure our canteen always has nutritious snacks. As a manager, I understand that better nutrition leads to better performance and that benefits everyone, as well as the business.
And how do you deal with stressful situations?
Indeed, stress is a significant factor in managing my diabetes, and can easily affect all my hormones and sugar levels. Learning to relax and disconnect is key, and it’s taken me some time to find a balance. Finding a healthy work-life balance is fundamental to stress management. Being able to turn off my computer at nights and over weekends, and ensuring my employees do too, has helped me and my team maintain a happier and more productive working schedule.
Diabetes has taught me to be flexible, to adapt to every situation, to accept what I cannot change, and to face challenges with optimism. This is the approach I have adopted with FERRONATO.
It has long been a goal of mine to be a positive change in the world. I am fortunate – not only to have survived diabetes – but also to thrive in my current position. I’ve fought hard and conquered many challenges, but I also appreciated every battle won. I feel it is my duty to give back and this is part of the inspiration behind FERRONATO.
So, the FERRONATO brand is primarily about privacy protection technology. But there are also many health benefits associated with going off-grid. Can you tell us more?
We cannot tell for sure what causes diabetes, but we do know that electromagnetic interferences (EMI) emitted from our devices have an impact in our health – our mental health as well as our physical health. In fact, research show that the length of time we spend on our devices – and our resultant exposure to EMI – may pose a variety of health risks. Given our current addiction to technological devices, the way we use them in close proximity to our bodies, and the ‘always on’ nature that we’ve allowed our digital habits to become in recent years, we should be giving careful scrutiny to our exposure to electromagnetic radiation from our devices. If they are always within reach – next to our beds, on our desks, in our bags – these waves are affecting us physiologically and psychologically.
FERRONATO bags and accessories are a very effective means of blocking the EMI emitted from our devices. Once they are stored inside, the privacy technology within the bags acts as a powerful barrier, thus preventing exposure. As a person with T1D, I believe that every contribution we can make to improving our health is important, and I am very proud the FERRONATO can help make a positive change in the world in this regard.
Let’s take a moment to focus on diabetes specifically, and its different forms.
There are several types of Diabetes, the most well-known ones being type 1 and type 2 Diabetes. T1D – the one I have – is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that one’s own antibodies attack cells in the pancreas and kill them, leaving the pancreas unable to produce insulin. It cannot be prevented and has no scientifically recognised cause. There are many hypothetical explanations for the development of type 1 diabetes – genetics can play a part, as can certain types of viruses, and so too can emotional trauma. T1D cannot be prevented with a healthy lifestyle and as of today, has no cure. For a T1D sufferer, their only option is to manage symptoms and take insulin shots every day for the rest of their lives. Insulin is a crucial hormone; without it we would all simply die.
And how does this differ from Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 is a little bit different and is more of a lifestyle disease related to insulin resistance – where the pancreas still produces insulin, but the cells become resistant to it and cannot process food adequately, leading to high blood sugars.
What are the early warning signs of diabetes?
The early signs are increased thirst, constant urination, fatigue. Feeling very hungry but losing weight is a sign as well, blurred vision and mood changes too.
What would your advice be to anyone diagnosed with T1D?
If you suffer from T1D, my advice is to keep fighting. Life is precious, you can do it! Communicate with colleagues, take care of yourself, rest, manage your stress, accept that you can’t control every situation and that there will be tough times, but always keep going!
If you know someone with T1D, be supportive and know that that person is fighting a battle against a disease which is invisible to others. The simple things you might take for granted are major challenges which that person has had to overcome. Don’t hesitate to hire them, date them, befriend them. We are as capable and more, after all, we are fighters.
Thank you for your time!
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