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Beretta interview: reinvigorating Holland & Holland

The 15th generation of the Beretta family tells Patrick Galbraith about his plans to reinvigorate famous British gunmaker, Holland & Holland

Over the years, Shooting Times has been published by lots of different companies, large and small. In the 1990s, it was published by IPC, which was known colloquially as the Ministry of Magazines. Magazines, then, were big business, but in terms of heft, our current owner, Future PLC, is about as mighty as media companies come. 

There are downsides to working for such a big business, but there are lots of good things about it, too. One of them is being able to carry out reader research. The average number of dogs you lot have is 1.5, many of you prefer walked-up days to driven days and, when we carried out some polling to find out what sort of gun you’d most like to have in your cabinet, the response was a Holland & Holland.

Hollands was founded by Harris Holland in 1835. Curiously, it’s believed that he was an organ builder, but his family were wealthy tobacco wholesalers and he was a regular on the grouse moor as well as at London’s live pigeon shooting clubs. I suppose the step from organ builder to gunmaker isn’t all that far and H Holland guns, latterly Holland & Holland when he took on his nephew, Henry, thrived.

Holland & Holland is seeking perfection with the guns it currently has in production

Over the years, the company has been mightily successful. In 1883, Holland & Holland won all the rifle categories in a series of trials organised by The Field magazine, and in 1922 it created the assisted-opening mechanism now ubiquitous in gunmaking. Perhaps more than any other marque, H&H shouts quality (or rather, it says it quietly, in a mannerly way). They’ve been owned and loved by maharajas and Winston Churchill’s mum (I’ve handled that very gun myself). 

But nothing lasts forever and in recent years, despite some terrific staff, H&H has punched under its weight. Wags on the gun bus have said that its order book in the ‘twenty teens’ was pretty blank. And then, out of the blue, a deal was done. London’s finest gunmaker was snapped up by Europe’s high priest of shotguns, Franco Gussalli Beretta, the 15th generation of one of Europe’s oldest family-owned business. 

Founded in 1835, Holland & Holland is a marque synonymous with quality



I walk three flights of steps to the top floor of the soon-to-be Holland & Holland gunroom in St James’s and Franco is sitting in the middle of the room in a puddle of sunlight: thick grey hair, and a large Beretta emblem on his belt buckle. We eat croissants and drink black coffee — he has just flown in from Brescia. Franco tells me that one of the reasons he’s so excited about acquiring Holland & Holland “is because a lot of the gun manufacturers of the world, including Beretta, took inspiration from Holland & Holland”.

That’s good and well, I reply, but it always feels as though European gunmakers became inspired by what we were doing after a period of great innovation in the UK, but they then continued to innovate while some of our top gunmakers stood pretty still. Franco shrugs as though this is fair and says that gunmaking is all about innovation, rather than revolution. “The Beretta that my great-grandfather developed is not obsolete because we did not make a revolution, we made a lot of change.” I ask Franco if people are going to be shocked and wowed by what he’s got planned for Hollands and he laughs as though it’s a silly question. “Shocked and wowed, no, but pleased, yes.” 

Franco Gussalli Beretta is the 15th generation to head the famous family-owned gunmaker

As Franco sees it, his role is “about taking Holland & Holland’s reputation and customer experience back to the 1920s and 1930s”, but he says that, above all, it’s about the shooting experience. “That means better in handling, in reliability, in all of this, but it won’t be revolution, it will be drastic change.” In Franco’s mind, the success of Beretta has been not that it has done radical things but that in 500 years, it has never stood still. 

Franco explains that part of the reason shotguns haven’t changed much is that ammunition hasn’t changed. “It’s like the car, when the gasoline is always gasoline.” With the advent of steel, though, as with cars going electric, things are changing, which Franco believes will open the doors to people making it new. 

Franco seems to want to return to talking about handling and tells me again that “it is very important”. Nobody who shoots a fair bit would disagree, but you can buy a Perazzi for under £15,000 and nobody would sniff at its handling, so how are they going to produce guns that warrant the price tag, other than simply relying on a brand? “It has to be a parallel approach,” he replies. “There is an incredible tradition I am learning about through dealing with the team. It is more sophisticated than the Italian tradition, but it sort of stopped for too many decades.” 

Nigel Stuart, the chief operating officer of Holland & Holland, who is listening in, interjects to tell me that there are currently “six guns at pre-production, but until I know the model is perfect, they won’t go out. I want to mechanically test them in the field, with 2,000 rounds, so we know they are reliable guns — this hasn’t been done in London gun terms before, but they cannot be mediocre”.

The new owner of Holland & Holland plans to restore the firm to its 1920s and 1930s heyday



Five hundred years is an incredible length of time to be in business and Franco believes it is about not becoming greedy. “My uncle taught me and my brother that money generated by the business has to go back into the business rather than into the pockets of shareholders. You need to grow.” One of the challenges that faces family businesses is succession and clearly, in 500 years, Beretta has had a lot of it. Surely, I ask Franco, it’s a risk just sticking the eldest son of the eldest son into the job? In some ways, Franco tells me, it’s luck. “What we do is try to make the next generation interested. It’s about passion.” 

As I’m standing to go, Franco’s son, Carlo, walks in. The founder, Bartolomeo Beretta’s 16-times great-grandson. He tells me his life is going to be about technical innovation, but that the real struggle is going to be a political one. 

He wants to make the world understand that hunting can be part of conservation. 

The long history of the company is evident in the Holland & Holland gunroom in St James’s, London