Last week, Giovanni Feroce—the former CEO of Alex and Ani and the Benrus watch brand—lost his race to be the Republican nominee for governor of Rhode Island.
Feroce (pictured) had a compelling biography for a political candidate. He was a former state senator, a successful CEO, and a military veteran who has seen combat in Iraq. And yet, his largely self-funded campaign was, by his own admission, “unconventional.” Trying to reflect the “positive energy” brand he once headed, he stayed away from political attacks—though he believes rivals planted negative stories about his business record. He ran as a Republican but called himself an environmentalist who supports marijuana legalization. He told the press he was happy to be polling in third place (even though that’s where he finished). And his signature issue—blockchain—didn’t really lend itself to sound bites.
“I believe I could deliver a brand-new economy to Rhode Island,” he says now. “Everything is moving onto the blockchain. I wanted to make sure that Rhode Island is the hub for blockchain.”
Yet he felt that too many voters failed to see the big picture he was painting and were focused on more immediate concerns like “baseball stadiums, potholes, and tolls.”
The press, on the other hand, was more interested in Feroce’s failed attempt to revive the Benrus watch brand. The new company, which Feroce hoped would rival Shinola, got bogged down in a legal dispute between its partners. Its assets have since been liquidated. In particularly bad timing for his campaign, the legal proceeding played out just as he was launching his gubernatorial run.
“Creditors swarm over Feroce’s financials,” one headline said. “Buffalo Bills sue Rhode Island candidate for governor,” said another. Others suggested Feroce risked civil arrest for failing to show up for a court date.
Feroce felt these issues were overhyped.
“With the entrepreneurial process, there will always be hiccups,” he says. “Entrepreneurs understand that if I’m involved in 40 businesses, I may have two successes. To duplicate Alex and Ani, it’s like people are asking me to land on the moon twice. I already landed on the moon once.”
But that was not his only difficulty. He felt voters continually prejudged him.
“You get lumped in as a rich white Republican businessman. I hate to say it, but that is the reality. People don’t understand that I’m an Italian immigrant who served his country for 24 years and grew up in a blue-collar town and built a small business and then advanced to become CEO of Alex and Ani, which created thousands of jobs,” Feroce says.
He also feels that our current polarized climate makes it difficult to have meaningful engagement. He says that when he was in the state Senate, it was common for representatives from different parties to work together.
“There is just so much passion now,” he says. “We need to have more dialogue among groups, even if that makes people uncomfortable. Because that allows you to grow as an individual and participate in the general growth of the world.”
Campaigning was hard work, he admits, but the most enjoyable part of the process was spending time with his five children on the trail.
“I was able to have one or two of them with me the whole time,” he says. “That was really exciting for them, to be inquisitive and learn about the process. If it wasn’t for my son trying to get signatures, I don’t think I would have ever gotten on the ballot.”
And he hopes he brought something a little different to the process. “Someone in fashion once said, ‘If we use the same model, and the same photographer, we are all going to get the same picture.’ That’s what made me build Alex and Ani. Right now, everyone is having the same dialogue, the same campaigns.”
Now that his run is over, Feroce is consulting for different brands and has a new jewelry project in the works that he is not yet ready to talk about. But he clearly hasn’t gotten the political bug out of his system.
“People respected the fact that I kept things positive. I’m okay with not winning this time. I didn’t want to lose. But I believe I eventually will be the governor of Rhode Island. I’m confident of that. What year is to be determined. When you are a disruptor, it can take a while for people to accept.”
One final note: Feroce is not the only industry member to run for political office this cycle. Earlier this year, jeweler David Nygaard ran for the Democratic nomination for his local congressional seat. In April, Nygaard dropped out of the congressional race and is now running for Virginia Beach City Council.
(JCK file photo)