Lalalli Senna describes how she keeps alive the philanthropic legacy of her racing legend uncle
Lalalli Senna is the niece of Brazilian racing legend and three-time F1 champion Ayrton Senna. Before his death in an accident during the 1994 Grand Prix, Senna donated millions of his winnings to children’s charities. He was passionate about improving education and asked his sister, Viviane, to carry on his legacy through the family business and foundation. Next year is the 30th anniversary of Senna’s death and the establishment of the Ayrton Senna Institute. Lalalli is an entrepreneur, artist and philanthropist.
What’s your background, and how are you involved in the business?
I’m an anthropologist, artist and musician. I am founder and CEO of Lalalli Studios, a creative collective working in traditional, visual and graphic art and animation. I am also creative director of Senna Brands, our family business.
I became creative director of the family business after I established my own business. I have been very involved in the recent repositioning of the brand to correlate our values and that of my uncle. I’ve been working on big projects to commemorate Ayrton’s legacy for next year’s 30th anniversary. I’ve also worked with the producers of a Netflix documentary coming out next year.
My family moved to Europe and Miami, so I am responsible for the Senna brands in Brazil. We have a family business where we license products under Ayrton’s name. We have collaborated with McLaren, Ducati, Hublot, and we have done licensing deals in the gaming industry. Part of the brand’s earnings fund the institute. We also have properties, investments and other projects, including five farms in Brazil.
What is the institute’s focus, and how is it managed?
Ayrton asked my mother to set it up before he died because she’s a psychologist. He was focused on improving education for children in Brazil because it’s a big problem. He saw this as a way to maximize children’s potential. We work with public schools providing training to tens of thousands of teachers and have influenced government policies.
It’s financed by donations, licensing deals and private sector partnerships. My mother manages it. As a child, I went all over Brazil with her meeting partners and learning about the initiatives.
Has philanthropy always been a part of the Senna family ethos, even before Ayrton achieved success?
My grandfather built a manufacturing company. He was self-made and humble. The family values were to care about other people. Ayrton as a child would give his things to anyone. He didn't care that much about fame or the image he had. He gave away a lot of money in secret. I meet people all over the world who tell me my uncle helped them.
How do you all handle decision-making and conflicts?
It's not always easy, but we have been learning how to do that. I'm the third generation of the family, because it really started with my grandfather and then Ayrton, with his contribution to the family business. We started restructuring how everybody's going to interact with the family's legacy. Being a small family helps a lot. We have weekly board meetings to discuss everything. The opinions of me and my brothers are taken very well because we proved ourselves in ways that were relevant but outside the family business.
Have you experienced any challenges as the next generation in the family? Advice for others?
It helps when you don't rely completely on your family to have your own career and instead have your own identity. I pursued first my own interests and became highly skilled in those areas. It’s very easy to simply turn up at the family business every day, but to maintain your own professional interests independently requires determination and gives you autonomy. No family business is perfect. There’s a lot to change and improve, but if you depend completely on your family for a living, it’s hard to be a change-maker. Independence allows you to actively challenge things.