The gig: Alessandro F. Uzielli is the head of Ford Motor Co.'s Global Brand and Entertainment division. At 47, this great-great-grandson of Henry Ford is responsible for ensuring Ford vehicles a high profile in Hollywood movies and TV shows. (That's why James Bond drove a Ford Mondeo in "Casino Royale" and a Ford Edge in "Quantum of Solace.") He's also, like his late father, a restaurateur — as owner of the classic Beverly Hills Italian eatery La Dolce Vita.
FOR THE RECORD:
Alessandro F. Uzielli: In the Business section elsewhere in this edition, an article about Alessandro F. Uzielli, Ford Motor Co. executive and restaurateur, identifies him as co-owner of the restaurant La Dolce Vita in Beverly Hills. He is the sole owner. The error was discovered after the section was printed. —
Growing up Ford: Uzielli grew up in Manhattan, surrounded by famous relatives and powerful neighbors. During his sophomore year at college, he interned at Ford's European headquarters in England. When his second cousin Bill Ford Jr. (later president and chief executive of the family firm) learned he was staying in a cheap hotel, he invited the young man to live in his guesthouse. On the weekends, the family would gather at Henry Ford II's country estate. "We'd have these intimate dinners, and after dinner he would walk me back to my room," Uzielli said. There, the two would have a last glass of wine and talk about the business world. "He had always been my grandfather, but now he became 'Henry Ford,'" Uzielli said. "One night he asked me if I might ever come to work for Ford." It was a pivotal moment. Uzielli had helped shoot industrial films for the family firm, and he wanted to make movies — and not for the family business. "He was great, and very supportive," Uzielli said. "That was to be his last summer, and the last time I saw him. I hope in some way he knows what I'm doing today."
Steve Ross, the New York entrepreneur who became chairman of Warner Communications, was a Manhattan neighbor and family friend. "He was incredibly generous and he really took me on," Uzielli said. When Uzielli was 15 and his family was away for the summer, Ross invited him to spend the weekend at his house. "'E.T.' had just come out, and Steven Spielberg was there," Uzielli said. "I sat there, the whole weekend, listening to them talk about filmmaking and storytelling."
Starting at the bottom: After graduating from Boston University, Uzielli headed west to pursue a film career via the American Film Institute. When a job with English filmmaker David Puttnam ("Chariots of Fire") fell through, Uzielli's Steve Ross connection got him a job on the Steven Seagal movie "Out for Justice" — as Seagal's personal assistant. "I had to wait outside his trailer and make sure he got into hair and makeup on time," Uzielli said. "It wasn't the job for me. I lasted about two weeks, and I quit."
The teachable moment: In 1997, after finishing at AFI, Uzielli was a producer on the comedy "Bongwater," which had an all-star cast of soon-to-be-famous Luke Wilson, Jack Black, Andy Dick, Alicia Witt, Brittany Murphy, Amy Locane, Jamie Kennedy and Scott Caan. Uzielli loved the process of making the movie — but not what came next. "I really enjoyed the production aspect of it, but when the task of selling the movie came around, I got a taste of what that end of the business is like." The movie did well, and Uzielli went on to work on "The Wedding Planner" and "Drowning Mona." But he eventually decided he wasn't cut out for the film business: "I wasn't aggressive enough. I wasn't thick-skinned enough. I met some great people, but I met some people I really didn't like, and I was screwed over a few times. That was really hard to take."
Doing favors for friends: While making "Bongwater," Uzielli met up-and-coming director Steven Soderbergh, who was working on the George Clooney-Jennifer Lopez action comedy "Out of Sight." Soderbergh wanted cars for the movie, and turned to Uzielli and his family connections for guidance. "I didn't know how the process worked, but I said I'd try and help him," Uzielli said. "What I saw was a dysfunctional process — which meant he didn't get the cars. But it made me dive deeper into how Ford operated in Hollywood." Five years later, Uzielli had a chat with then-Ford Chairman Bill Ford, and told him "how we were operating in Hollywood and losing business to the competition." The result: Uzielli's current job.
Party of two: A partnership with successful producer Ben Myron didn't result in any feature films for the pair, but one evening the two men walked into the faded Beverly Hills Italian restaurant La Dolce Vita. Uzielli fell in love with the joint. He has owned and operated the now-restored restaurant since 2003. That makes Uzielli a second-generation restaurant operator. His father, the stockbroker-turned-night-life impresario Giancarlo Uzielli, ran New York hot spots in the 1970s and 80s. Hanging out with his father left an impression: "My parents were split up, and I was out way too late, but I saw this incredibly charismatic extrovert, holding court, in places that were packed." In its prime, La Dolce Vita was a popular Rat Pack hangout, Uzielli said, and some nights it still evokes that old Hollywood commissary feeling. "Tina Sinatra and Frank Jr. still come in. Paul McCartney comes in a lot. And Steve Martin, and Martin Short and ["Saturday Night Live" creator] Lorne Michaels. It's a sort of clubhouse. People can come in and disappear."
The good life: Uzielli lives in Beverly Hills with his wife, Kimm, whom he met in 1988 at Beverly Hills' Church of the Good Shepherd. They were married there in 2000 and have two young daughters. He credits his family with teaching him most of what he knows about life. The rest he learned from his mother, who, when he was a young boy, gave birth to a daughter with severe learning disabilities. Uzielli watched her, distraught and without resources, meet the challenge. "She was at a loss as to what to do," Uzielli said. "Today, she has recently retired after 25 years as chairman of the National Center for Learning Disabilities and is about to publish her fourth book on the subject. How she overcame the challenges that life gave her taught me a lot about how to be a good father and how to always be ready for what the world throws at you."
Everyone needs a hobby: Uzielli, who holds degrees in communications and art history, collects fine art photography, particularly portraits, building a collection that started with works by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sally Mann. He also enjoys driving. Years ago he bought and restored a classic 1966 Mustang, from the year he was born. He later replaced that with a 2005 Ford GT. "It's a weekend car for me," Uzielli said. "I never drive it to go anywhere. I drive it to drive it, which is very therapeutic." His everyday car? Also a Ford: A Lincoln MKS.
Keeping an open mind: Uzielli appreciates the irony of having ended up in both his family businesses. "I never thought I'd be in either of them." The secret is remaining flexible. "That's why I don't really have a motto or a credo," he said. "Those things change for me all the time, because life changes for me all the time."