- Published: Sunday, 01 December 2019 22:04
Well, I did select the title on purpose.
First, more a roadmap than a "service announce" (yes, I am old enough to be able to quote an old Eminem song): this section is about Europe, Italy, Turin- but while over the last couple of years tilted the balance first toward Italy, and then toward Turin, this is now the time to resume a more balanced distribution.
So, allow me a last Turin-centric post that covers three dimensions of politics: social, political, and business.
As I wrote more than once, I consider obsolete the dichotomy between business and politics- even more so in Italy.
This post is in English, but I will share also quotes from past articles and links to my "drafting" on my Facebook and Linkedin profiles.
Few sections in this article:
- The title and its meaning
- Services and costs
- Realpolitik at the top, common sense at the bottom
- Evolving business politics: Exor and Turin
There are two themes that derive from this article, but will actually be more appropriate for the "rethinking business" section: creating a future and going circular.
Tomorrow there will be an interesting event in Turin presenting data on the local business ecosystem: a nice complement to other recent conferences and articles.
And now, the article
The title and its meaning
I will first share some contextual information for non-Italian (but useful also for Italians living outside Turin).
If read my past articles or books online, you know that I am resolutely skeptical about our local and national obsession for "competent leaders".
As I said routinely since I first coached others in the late 1980s (actually, outside business, even before), I think that the mark of a good and operational "generalist" is to have at least one line (s)he is able to claim to have a deeper knowledge, as this will help in being able to consider the practical issues involved in end-to-end activities.
In my case, I had in business at least two: using technology to support management in decision making, and cultural/organizational change (and often mixing the two).
As for the tools, from methodologies to software to specific skills: you have to look at and invest into what is useful now and for a while, not stick to just one toolset forever.
Now, as I worked in few countries, languages, industries, business domains, technologies, I can say... cross-feeding knowledge between domains implies knowing when to involve others who have deeper expertise, and make them work together.
Few years ago I posted in Italian (Googletranslate it):
Il paese dei leader
Come chiunque viva in Italia si rende presto conto, qui non mancano le leggi- abbondano.
Il problema è discernere tra quelle applicate, quelle applicabili, e quelle "a corrente alternata", secondo il famoso detto "con gli amici la legge si interpreta, con gli altri si applica".
Come facciamo a discernere?
Semplice- altrove, si semplificano e riducono le leggi, da noi si creano centri di potere e si lascia che si bilancino tra di loro.
Che poi i risultati non siano brillanti, in fondo, è cosa che si vede sul lungo termine.
E, sul lungo termine (che in politica non è necessariamente così lungo), si finisce tutti nello stesso posto: "'a livella".
Spesso, poi, per i politici, almeno sinora, "nello stesso posto" non era quello indicato nella poesia- ma una comoda "sinecura" che al peggio garantiva ufficio e personale a spese pubbliche, oltre ad un rimborso spese- per continuare a restare in politica senza restarci formalmente.
Comunque, dato che siam testardi, non è da oggi (e nemmeno dal 1922) che ci incaponiamo e consideriamo che il mezzo migliore sia quello di dotarci di guide più o meno illuminate, più o meno "uomo universale".
- we have too many laws; their number and implementation become a way to exercise power; being Italy partitioned into multiple tribes, we distribute that power across tribes and let them balance
- the net result is visible long-term but, long-term, in Italy, is not necessarily a synomim of a resting place- for politicians and bureaucrats, it often means a sinecure that at worst delivers an office and personnel along with an expenses account- to keep "sticking around" in politics
- to top all that, we end up constantly looking for a "white knight", an all-knowing politician that could lead us (and the country) toward a brilliant future (I will spare you some jokes).
I do not know if it has been dubbed in other languages, but a 1991 Italian movie, Il portaborse, is quite useful to understand the second and third point, the first is self-explanatory.
Few months ago, decided to write an English version of that article, Il paese dei leader / The leaders' country takes a page from Vichy, and while it is sensibly different, it shared the same finale "lesson learned":
Probably, instead of white knights we need leaders able to generate and expand resilience: in Italian, often it is translated with just “being able to adapt to change”- but it is something more.
Because, in my experience, often the leaders who had had the greatest impact were those who left behind a structure that continued to operate in a coherent way after they left.
I would like to add: otherwise, the leader might enter within the pages of history books, but nobody would remember what they led- and, frankly, talking about countries as well as corporations, I would rather see the other way around.
Now, how does all that relate to the title?
Well, again if you read past articles you know that I consider quixotic our quest for a "competent leader": competent in what?
Most Italians frankly seem to live on another planet, when they comment on the "credentials" of leading politicians.
My take on that point? To quote a post shared on Facebook few days ago:
in Italy, I hear routinely people talking about entering politics as if they were going to save the world all by themselves
as if having an oversized ego were enough
then, once temporarily on loan to politics...
...it seems as if the country cannot live without them staying in politics- specifically, as an elected and paid politician: a man or woman for all the seasons...
...turning politics into a bureaucracy where "tenure" matters more than "content"
I think that it is true that politics is the art of balancing between unpalatable options, and still being able to avoid losing your own soul
but with so many volunteering to save the country, I think that there will never be a lack of candidates whose ego shadows their abilities and common sense, and would do anything to get elected
abilities, not competencies: please stop with this fetish of "competent politicians"- those who demand "competent politicians" have probably no idea of how many different disciplines this demi-god should be really competent in to be able to cover as an individual just a fraction of the range covered by any elected office which includes "delivery powers" (from legislative at the national level, to mayor)
(the whole post is here)
If you are acknowledged a leader just because you are an expert in something, then, within Italian politics, the risk is always looming that, whenever our quarrelsome tribes cannot achieve consensus... the leader will take refuge in what (s)he knows better.
And that, instead of solving issues, usually generates further problems down the road.
As it becomes a case of having as you tool only the humble hammer (however glorified), and turning each issue into a nail.
Hence, the title: in Italy, usually we say "tecnico" ("technical") with reference only to the technology, but I rather use "techné".
In my experience, in reality anybody with a "domain-specific" expertise, be (s)he a philosopher, priest, lawyer, auditor, whatever, as her/his only focus, will end up behaving as listed above, whenever in a crisis.
Trouble is: in Italy, more than in any other country I lived or worked in, being an "expert" in something, once elected in office, apparently entitles you to dispense with experts, and talk as if you were an expert in anything- then, let your PR panick into finding a way to justify what you said.
Or: relying on what (s)he knows as the unique lens through which understand reality (Weltanschauung).
In reality, this imply also restructuring reality so that conforms to what the interpretative framework is able to explain.
As an example, routinely in business this leads to "tunnel vision", as when a formerly innovative company assumes to be innovative "by destiny"- also when it turns into a bureaucratic behemoth.
Within Italian politics, in a crisis, this instead usually is the other way around, and often, when the explanation is inadequate, we have always our political universal tool: a conspiracy theory.
Our inability to cope with complexity does not limit our willingness to be "at the leading edge" on anything.
I routinely wrote about "frankenlaws", i.e. our habit to import "best practices" from abroad without considering the social, cultural, political (and even business) environment that produced them.
Being a Member State of the European Union implies also integrating with and adopting (unfortunately often without adapting) "best practices" that might work elsewhere, but assume as a precondition not just laws and rules, but also a shared "behavioral harmonization" that is informal).
Probably, in the next few rounds of European Union negotiations, Italy (and other countries too) should push for "harmonization", not "adoption".
Services and costs
At the national level, we should also work to develop a different approach to reality: in Italy, we have a constant disconnect between "diritti acquisiti" (what you are entitled to) and what is currently sustainable.
Often in Italy I find myself defusing some of the self-righteous outrage lashed at this or that by those who fail to apply common sense, and forget to consider "the whole picture".
Example: it might well be true that you would prefer to have mail (I mean paper-based mail) delivered daily or twice a day- but you have to consider what that would imply.
You just need common sense, not to be a process analyst or budget development expert or financial controller, e.g. as when years ago people in a small village in Tuscany complained that nobody removed snow fast enough from their roads, and the mayor had to reply: yes, we have 400km of roads, but if those moving here from major towns expect to get the same services that they would get in densely inhabited towns, and instead enjoy living kilometers away from the village, how do they expect us to be able to cover the cost, with few hundred inhabitants to cover the costs?
Other example: most of the villages on the hills outside Turin have a fraction of the residents of a single block in Turin, for a territory of various square kilometers; can you imagine the cost in delivering the same services, if compared with a single block in Turin that has the same number of residents?
The perception of reality from Italian digital natives is even worse than with previous generations: yes, digital services reduced their costs dramatically, if I compare with when I first subscribed to GSM in the early 1990s, but there is a "technical" reason- and that technical reason cannot be extended to food.
I never used the various food-delivery services that are so common in my birthplace, Turin, also when I was home alone, living in Turin, and had no time to cook: I would rather go and pick up the food myself.
Why? Because unfortunately since my time in the Army I am used to consider how much time and resources are needed to deliver a service on a continuous basis, and since my first business project in 1986 I was asked to prepare budgets for small-to-large activities (later also to negotiate or audit), and then deliver number-crunching on that.
Therefore, I am used to consider long-term sustainable services- and, frankly, looking at the numbers, I can see how those food delivery businesses are sustainable business-wise, but even in the Army I would never have "squeezed" people that way, as the people available were there to stay for a while (I served in a compulsory service army- so, each month a new batch of up to around 20 people arrived, and up to around 20 left, but stayed for up to 11 months, as there was a month of training).
Sustainability should involve all the stakeholders- and having e.g. mail delivery services whose costs are supported by the State (i.e. taxpayers) to deliver a level of services that is unsustainable is not improved when you turn to three- or four-layers of "outsourcing" to cut the costs, while closing your eyes to the consequences.
Companies such as Amazon can be "reformed" if their business model goes out of sync with reality, as it was done long ago e.g. by introducing the OECD Guidelines for Multinational enterprises, or more recently with the UN SDGs.
But if your model is based on unsustainability (as I consider all our compliance framework, e.g. GDPR, business and workers right, welfare, as part of long-term sustainability), there is little to reform...
... it is a matter of consumer choices: and that is my choice.
Maybe robots and self-driving drones will change the picture, but, for the time being, I find ludicrous when my fellow Italians are shocked to discover companies within the clothing industry with workers in a kind of indentured servitude (paid less than 1EUR/hour) in the middle of "rich" regions, and then never question themselves about prices that they pay for services and products.
Realpolitik at the top, common sense at the bottom
Over the last couple of years, gradually I saw that I wasn't the only voice in the desert stating publicly that it would have been a waste to keep allocating resources (public, from banking foundations, from private citizens- doesn't matter) just to convert itself into an open-air shopping centre and foodhall hosted within Baroc buildings.
Stating publicly, because a local distorted concept of "understatement" usually replaces with gossip what should be public debate: whenever something doesn't work, everybody knows this or that, but while everybody talks about it in dinners, cocktails, etc- nobody dares to write it in newspapers, or uttering in public statements during countless conferences and workshop.
It is as if it were "uncivilized" to apply what everybody does from decades elsewhere in Europe.
I call instead "delusional": issues do not fade away simply because a whole social and business ecosystems ignores them until it is too late, and then erupt.
It did not work with the various mafias, with corruption, and with distortions of the market.
It does not and will not with industrial policy and social-economic issues.
Just a bit of recap on some specific Italian issues.
The Italian Constitution created after WWII gradually expanded the distribution of power, starting with a central state with limited local powers (e.g. the secretary of local mayors was appointed), and evolving toward more "devolution", i.e. implementing within Italy the "subsidiarity" principle (sort of).
Gradually, from locally elected mayors and associated changes this expanded slightly more than a decade ago with changes within the role of Regions (in part to defuse secessionists' requests), a change in the role of Provinces (akin to counties in other countries), and finally the activation of Metropolitan Areas for major urban centres (Turin included).
Well, in Italy you can create an organizational level (e.g. provinces), but removing... it is a different game.
So, we just pile up.
And more representative levels imply more political fiefdoms, and associated "clientes".
If the same political side stays long enough in the same role in the same area, turns into something closer to a "satrapy", a personal or group "power centre" that is often transmitted by coopting or even as inheritance (yes, in Italy, North and South, we had packets of votes transitioning from elected father or uncle to son, daughter, or nephew).
Another element of the Italian version of democracy is that we do not really have a "civil service"- within our spoils system, "the winner takes it all" (yes, Abba).
Meaning: after an election, notably until when many companies belonged directly or indirectly either to the Central Government or Local Authorities, appointments were ordinary also for levels that in other countries would be covered either by business people or by professional, career civil servants, up to Mandarins.
It is changing- but not fast enough: it will take decades to phase out (basically: until all those who were coopted decades ago will retire), if ever will happen (as it is part and parcel of our "tribal" relationship economy).
This is not a moralistic tirade: it is just a factual description from an Italian who lived abroad in few countries, but anyway worked and exchanged political and administrative approaches observations with foreigners since the early 1980s.
Once you know the background, its assets, degrees of freedom, and weakest links, you can identify how to proceed.
Wrong- this is Italy.
Few decades ago, former President (a.k.a. Prime Minister) Berlusconi introduced structurally campaigning the American way.
I have few books from the early 1990s studying his approach to "sell" Forza Italia as if it were a product: it is marketing on steroids, if you consider the number of communication channels he controlled, his presence on the territory through many industries, and the like.
If you want: he actually had the means and assets that President Trump claimed to have, but with a scale exceeding (if compared by economy side) what Walmart could command in the USA, if it went directly also into media.
So, since then, we had now and then a disconnect between our "modern" face, including importing political marketeer from the USA, and our political reality.
I was astonished at the level of naiveté, Italian-wise, of the political campaign of the top bureaucrat and university professor turned politician President Mario Monti, who was looking for a political legitimation (the polls), after having been Prime Minister by appointment to one of our routine "technical government".
It is yet another Italian routine: whenever there are issues that demand politically unpalatable choices within a relationship-based economy, all (or almost all) the political parties step back, and the dirty work is turned into the hands of a "technical" Prime Minister.
Frankly, "technical government" is, in my view, an oxymoron: if I look at the decrees, laws, and budgets of any such government, they all had a political value and derived from political choices.
To his merit (and also thanks to prodding from others who aspired to the same destination, and therefore used flattery as a method to derail a competitor), instead of moving from Prime Minister to President of the Italian Republic (as many expected), he created a political party, and many in his party assumed that he would win in a landslide.
Just to stay in Piedmont, I talked with some, and my forecast on how many seats he would win was correct- while his supporters lived a pipedream: out of touch with reality.
Since 2012, I routinely went into contact with the startup ecosystem in Turin, to see if it had evolved if compared with what I had seen almost a decade before.
I found it fractioned by tribes, and each tribe had a different set of sponsors, albeit some of the largest one once in a while had a minor interest in others where the leader was another one.
Turin is a town with less than 900k residents, down from its past, so I considered a lunacy such a fracturing and multiplication of accelerators, incubators, etc- all competing for talent, funding, visibility.
Again, as for other issues, I wasn't the only one saying so, but I rather write and share my ideas about that in public, than go the usual cocktail way.
Because within the cocktail approach you can be self-assured of your shared wisdom, while ruffling no feathers publicly, but you can just collect "discussion points" to claim, maybe a decade later, that you were already saying that.
If you dare to be "uncivilized" as I wrote above, as any analyst and facilitator or change catalyst you might end up being wrong
And, anyway, right or wrong, meanwhile you collect the animosity of those who were content of cocooning into old habits that were maybe positive and even innovative long ago, and right now are just ballast.
At last, over the last couple of years, saw some changes.
It wasn't just because in 2016 a new political party took over the office of Mayor of Turin, albeit the resulting rethinking of the role of those who had been there for a couple of decades meant a shuffling of seats, careers, and allegiances, and of course the newcomers did introduce some changes.
At the same time, the purse and social power holders did not really trust that much the newcomers, also if they were instrumental in putting them in power, to force a change and adaptation to the times.
So, more and more local initiatives started being cross-tribe.
The risk is always to do as it was done a decade or more ago.
Back then, to rethink a company town used since a century to think and live around a company (search FCA and FIAT on my blog, to find other articles on that transition), there were more than one "refocusing roadmaps"- ending up in dividing scarce resources on multiple objectives.
Right now we have at least:
- an tourist future, with associated hotels shops restaurants and hopefully cultural events and business events
- manufacturing in at least three varieties (automotive, aerospace, others, plus food)
- educational, with two universities and a third one, along with training centres for e.g. ILO and EU
- potentially, once in a while I hear of requests to attract in Turin more international institutions.
I know- "centre of the universe" is a typical insular attitude, and Turin still has a bit of that: it is most western large town, squeezed between France and Switzerland, continuously complaining about the competition with Milan (that, at last, now many started calling stupid- see my blog for past articles where I compared Turin+Milan+Genoa with other areas in Europe: we are tiny).
Now, if you re-read the previous paragraphs within this section, it will not solve the headache that unfortunately I probably transmitted to you, so I will summarize here the ingredients:
- we have multiple level of political decision-making, all centered on Turin (Region, Metropolitan Area, Turin town), and all communicating with the Central Government and with local stakeholders
- the political majority within the Regional Government (centre-right) is aiming to take the town of Turin in 2021
- the political majority within the Turin town (M5S) was until recently Central Government partner of the main centre-right party (Lega), and now it is in Rome partner with centre-left PD, the party that had ruled Turin for a couple of decades, until M5S took over in 2016
- it is yet to be seen if in 2021 M5S and PD will join forces or will compete
- the stakeholders behind many of the new initiatives for the development of Turin (with funding from local authorities, private and public companies, Central Government, and banking foundations) sometimes sound more than a little bit skeptical of our local political leadership
- last but not least, unless there is cooperation at least between the Regional and Metropolitan Area plus Turin town level, many initiatives will have a tough time, and foreign potential partners (as Foreign Direct Investment is a main objective, along with the internationalization of Turin and Piedmont as a renewed industrial engine of Italy) will be quite confused
This morning I read on local newspapers something that I have been waiting for a while: a political intervention from the centre-right stating explicitly that the campaign for Turin 2021 is now open.
Because the above mentioned initiatives for development have all the Turin town involved, so I added a "follow" on Linkedin to the Mayor of Turin.
Over the last few weeks, I saw a gradually increasing continuous presentation of daily interventions of the Mayor as in a typical American campaign, eventually stamped at the bottom with the name of the Mayor and her title: again, typical campaign.
Until when, on November 28th, I saw on my Linkedin stream a photo that, as I wrote to some friends on Whatsapp, considered way too early, and reminding me of "Bartlet for American" within "West Wing" (yes, the TV series): a campaign logo.
Having also what looked as a logo for a re-election campaign is now a habit in Italy (e.g. also the former Home Secretary / Ministro dell'Interno Matteo Salvini went to press releases with a bracelet stating "Salvini Premier" or something like that!)
Anyway, the issue is the last point within the list above.
Until interventions from the Mayor were on the borderline of campaigning but still "institutional" (i.e. representing the town), they did not elicit response from "competitors".
But if, as it happened recently, each event seems to be politicized, an element of a campaign up to the elections, the competitors will obviously do anything to avoid supporting a re-election.
The collateral damage? Try, within the Italian legal system, to be in the middle of two quarreling political decision level...
Well, let's hope for more Real-Politik from all sides: also if I will not be still in Italy when they will start delivering results, it would be a pity to miss those opportunities only because we enter two years of trench-warfare toward the elections.
At the local (town, Metropolitan Area, Region levels) is difficult to split between the "political" and "administrative" side, but not impossible...
Evolving business politics: Exor and Turin
NB: disclosure- in automotive and related, I worked almost exclusively for companies within the FIAT group, now part of FCA, and whose main shareholder is Exor; I never worked for Exor (you can see specifics on my CV here).
As I wrote in previous posts since 2018, "extracting value for the shareholders", replacing the old "generating valua" seems to be the way to move forward into the future for the Agnelli dynasty.
You can search on my blog for few keywords (e.g. Marchionne, FIAT, FCA, Exor, Magneti Marelli, spezzatino).
Over the week-end, there have been announces on the publishing side, GEDI, as not too long ago there was a merger between the publisher of Repubblica/L'Espresso (and owner of other online and offline media interests, radio included), and the one of La Stampa and other local newspapers.
The idea is that Exor will buy the control of GEDI, removing other shareholders and potentially delisting.
To summarize the main points within the articles I read:
- there is no interest in a "spezzatino", i.e. selling bits (e.g. the radios) or selectively newspapers
- the concept is to execute a challenging business plan
- this is not the time for nostalgia: digital is the way
- it is the time for decisions, or opportunity will be lost
- there are opportunities for high-quality media
A while ago, when the previous merger was announced, my take was that the idea was to create a group with a critical mass large enough to either develop something, or to sell it abroad.
Frankly, looking at how Exor de facto looked for industrial partners whenever it sold a company, and purchased instead what is probably a business where there will be activity in Italy with less competitive pressure than, say, in automotive (real estate), my assumption was that either the CIR/DeBenedetti side took the helm at development of GEDI, or, once settled, somebody else will come from abroad, e.g. a foreign media group (Exor has already an interest within The Economist), and purchase GEDI.
As recently De Benedetti complained that his sons did not produce the expected results, the new proposal from Exor is to take over CIR and other shareholders.
Options? It could be interesting to see if Exor will do, alone or with a media partner, what I expected GEDI to do with a foreign media partner, i.e. develop an offer that could be attractive to a different model of publishing and advertisement, considering the mix of channels that GEDI under sole control of Exor could bring to the table.
There is another element, minor but not so small.
Beside the real estate activities, Exor through various channels is actually supporting the startup scene, not just in Turin (e.g. in 2018 was announced Exor Seeds), while its philanthropic activities included annoncing recently supporting in Italy a STEM initiative already delivered elsewhere.
This year will end with Exor with plenty of initiatives where the presence of an industrial partner (e.g. Magneti Marelli was sold, but a share was retained) will be critical, and at FCA (with the announced merges with PSA) as well as in other companies whose sale has been announced or discussed (e.g. Iveco and COMAU) the future seems to be, again, retaining a presence where potential is available, but transferring the operations to an industrial partner.
It is a form of "extracting value" plus "generating value"- an immediate release of resources, plus an investment on the future.
Now, it would be interesting to see how this will impact on Turin, but to my local readers I would say: think bigger, and drop some control-freak habits.
While referring to GDPR and Industry 4.0, a while ago shared some considerations:
no company and no business unit can afford to operate as an island, if they want to build up a level of resilience needed to be as fast as needed in adapting, adapting so that product/service cycles will be attuned to what the new approaches will demand.
Sometimes, internal resources will be able to cope with "day-by-day" needs.
But while readying up or updating, it might make sense to cooperate also with competitors or unusual suppliers, to define basic "interoperability" rules that enable the whole market to have a higher level of flexibility.
The differentiation will then be on services, product mix, or other characteristics, not on pointless barriers.
Because the maintenance cost of such "obstacles" would exceed the temporary benefit that they will deliver.
Think: if every product will be interconnected, what is easier, to share cybersecurity rules, supported by all the market players, or "flying solo" (and then having to restrict what can be connected to what else, if your counterparts decline to support your rules)?
(you can read the whole article at Rethinking Business Per una politica industriale che veda oltre le prossime elezioni #industry40 #GDPR #cybersecurity / For an industrial policy that survives election cycles #industry40 #GDPR #cybersecurity).
The same applies to any business: if you "go digital", then you enter within a different dimension, and industries cease to have a meaning.
As I wrote in previous posts, this implies reconsidering not just companies and industries, but also rules, regulations, oversight, compliance.
Last but not least, also what is means being a "large company": who knows, Exor might evolve into a XXI century version of a Keiretsu.
So, again, there might be a way to avoid that techné turns into a Weltanschauung within a complex world, without missing opportunities.