During his 26 years at Ducati, Claudio Domenicali—who received his mechanical-engineering degree from the University of Bologna— has risen from project leader on the Supermono in 1991 to lead the company today as CEO.
In 1994, he was made Ducati design department manager, and in 1997, deputy technical manager. By 1999, his ability to manage complex projects and the people involved in them was recognized by making him manager of Ducati Corse—the racing department, which has employed as much as 25 percent of total Ducati staff.
In 2005 he was made R&D director, and it was during development of the 1098R that he made his memorable declaration: “For every part, you must think about its weight and its performance— no compromises!”
In 2009, his abilities beyond engineering were recognized by making him general manager of operations and product development. Three years later, he joined the board of directors; in 2013, he became CEO.
That year he spoke during the Milan Show at the grand Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci. Cycle World colleague Matthew Miles and I schemed to get a moment’s conversation with him afterward, but all we could manage was a glimpse of him sliding into a big black Audi A8 to be spirited away with other management to his next venue. It was a very presidential departure.
Remember this: There is a big difference between knowing engineering and making it happen within a human organization—if possible, on time and on budget. Many engineers have ideas, but those ideas have value only if action is successfully organized behind them.
I first encountered Domenicali in the early 1990s at a Society of Automotive Engineers small-engine meeting in Michigan. When I visited him in his office in 2003, he pointed to a framed photo on the wall—of a Porsche 911.
“That is the affordable exotic, which is what our product must aim to be.”
Because Ducati has so deftly handled combustion problems as its Superbike twins have evolved, I asked him how the company has avoided the combustion problems suffered by other manufacturers as bores were made larger and strokes smaller.
“Obviously I cannot speak for the Japanese, but in our own case, we work with two basic variables to create the turbulence required for good combustion: intake-port diameter and downdraft angle.”
Visiting him again a few years later, his responsibilities had expanded from engineering to management, making him short of time and quite serious. When at my next visit I found him more relaxed and open, I complimented him on the change.
“I have now accepted the fact that not every problem can be solved today, and that some might not be solved at all. And I have learned the value of leaving those problems here”—he placed a hand on his desk—“when I go home at night to my family.”
When World Superbike mandated 1,000cc for both twins and fours, it was Domenicali who successfully lobbied for a 1,200cc limit for the lower-revving twins. He also determined that Ducati production bikes must equal or exceed the performance of the competition.
The fascinating conversations I’ve had with him over the years have focused on engineering matters, but his ability to successfully direct ever-larger projects—doing many things at once—is what has made him Ducati’s CEO. It is he who must make sure Ducati’s many customers look to the company as the definition of motorcycling’s leading edge.
Domenicali’s simple request when he rode the Panigale V-4 with us: Don’t pass him on the outside. “I am an engineer,” he said, “but I still have some pride.”