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Foreign press – commentaries

Foreign press – commentaries

08/06/2018

Bolstering Italian industry through innovation and young talent

Interview with Silvio Angori

Italy’s successful industry players do not fear foreign investment. Indeed, one such company, Pininfarina, has – in the Indian conglomerate Mahindra – found an investor that leaves it great autonomy and supports it in pursuing new objectives, as with the “2.5 million dollar supercar” that the Italian history-making car brand plans to build (see The Wall Street Journal of April 13, 2018 - Storied Ferrari Designer Wants to Build a $2.5 Million Electric Car*). In the following interview with Pininfarina’s Chief Executive Officer, Silvio Angori, he explained further to Aspen Italia’s website team.

What added value do you think foreign companies bring to the Italian market?
In today’s world, a company’s capital is no longer tied to a particular country, and this isn’t just case for Italian firms. You need only look at Kuka, the German leader in robotics, which is now Chinese-owned. Of course, many companies in Italy are in a vulnerable state, so firms need to be put in position of being able to choose between virtuous investments and those aimed solely at acquiring a brand and moving production offshore. Our experience with Mahindra has been absolutely positive and geared towards the development of our company. We are free to act through our board of directors, the majority of whose members are independent. This is because we have unique globally-recognized expertise.

Is Italy a competitive country when it comes to producing and conducting research in high-innovation sectors?
What makes Italy competitive is its pool of young talent trained in complementary disciplines. Having such resources to draw on makes it possible to gamble on projects succeeding. However, Italy does not always succeed in holding on to its talented nationals, who instead quickly secure positions of responsibility abroad. This is because it is easier for many firms to attract Italian talent abroad than to offer them work in Italy. In short, Italy is a country that offers great excellence in this area, but which often fails to encourage foreign companies to base their R&D in Italy.

What are the obstacles?
To put it very simply, you could say that Italian red tape stifles private initiative. Breaking it down in more detail, I believe that there are four factors that if addressed are capable of ensuring the country’s attractiveness. The first is the talent on hand and the standard of education, in which respect Italy is well-placed. The second, which is much more crucial, is that of unproductive costs: namely, bureaucracy and all the other compliance obligations that must be met to set up shop. Another point which Italy needs to work on is legal certainty, as is the fourth and final aspect, that of infrastructure. I mean digital infrastructure in particular, since we live in a world where borders are no longer geographical but tied to the ability to access information. Yet even physical borders are no secondary consideration: our company generates 90% of its turnover abroad, but to get to China from Turin, for instance, we have to make two stopovers, losing time and money.

What opportunities do you think Industry 4.0 offers for Italian manufacturing?
Fortunately Italy – albeit somewhat belatedly – has embraced this game plan. Indeed, the revolution started about ten years ago in the United States and then in Germany. But perhaps our advantage has been that of being able to learn from others' mistakes. We are the second-largest manufacturing country in Europe and are well-positioned. As we have just said, however, we must be able to offer companies – both Italian and international – a stable environment for investment and proper infrastructure.

Can manufacturing help resolve youth employment, which is a major problem for Italy?
I think industry will go back to hiring again. However, companies will need to fill job profiles that are new or do not exist yet. The key for young people is learning to learn: over their working lives, they will be required to change their way of thinking and operating at work every two to three years. Flexibility in the initial phase of training is essential. I also believe that those aspects of education that might seem outmoded – like Greek or Latin – could over time augment the basic educational grounding of young people. Specialization can come later: the important thing is to be flexible and adaptable.