Skip to content

Growth is possible: doing business in Italy and abroad

    • Rome
    • 28 November 2012

          For its seventeenth iteration, the Friends of Aspen Annual Conference was held for the first time at the Palazzo Lancellotti in Rome. As well as offering the now customary opportunity to take stock of the group’s activities over the past year, the event also featured an exploration by the participants of the competitive conditions facing Italian businesses today, as well as the global trends unfolding, in both domestic and overseas markets. It was observed that the last fifteen years have marked a milestone in the multinational expansion of Italian industry. Indeed, prior to this, the extent of overseas stakes held by Italian industrial firms was on the whole modest, with Italy trailing considerably behind other industrialized countries in terms of internationalization.

          Yet, since then, Italy has embarked on a “multinational drive” that has enabled it to secure an international position more in keeping with its economic standing: the number of non-foreign-controlled Italian industrial multinationals has almost quadrupled, as has the number of foreign companies with an Italian-held stake, while the number of people they employ is now two and a half times greater, and the turnover of such companies having increased fivefold in nominal terms. Although it was acknowledged that the economic crisis of recent years has put a dent in this trend, the participants felt that awareness needs to be raised of the inroads made in order to imbue Italians with a sense of pride in this achievement, and thereby instill them with faith in the avenues and opportunities for growth that present themselves even at this very difficult juncture.

          The Conference participants identified internationalization, innovation and finance as daily challenges confronting all Italian firms. While several analyses and figures were cited during the discussion, equal regard was paid to the different business experiences recounted by those in attendance. Two such emblematic cases were the stories told by a pair of young and capable entrepreneurs, one representing a traditional manufacturing firm that has found new lifeblood and markets through e-commerce, and the other bearing witness to the success of a virtual business specializing in web content, which has undergone rapid growth and expansion beyond Italy, first in Europe and then South America, especially in Brazil.

          It was emphasized that human capital represents a cornerstone of the internationalization of Italian firms, and should therefore not be dissipated but rather attracted via, for instance, specially-designed legislation such as the so-called “Reverse Exodus” Law. The participants also pointed to the passing of the Development Decree as providing a major boost, especially those sections of the Decree dealing with the financing of start-ups. Various indicators were highlighted as demonstrating that a number of local areas in Italy are competing extremely well at an international level. It was seen as crucial to identify such Italian strengths, whilst at the same time bearing in mind the obstacles and difficulties faced. Lastly, beyond the realm of individual firms, the participants stressed the importance – both at an institutional level and on the European stage – of the coordination of measures and effective regulation.