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You are here: Home > Citizen Audit > The Phoenix town Turin PNRR NextGenerationEU transition

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Published on 2022-03-20 19:15:00 | words: 4582

Today I had planned to write about something else, but, as this week-end in Turin again the issue is the lack of an industrial policy, I decided to go back to the oldest article you can find on this blog (as those from 2007 until 2015 are offline, and my 2003-2005 online e-zine on change, revised in 2013, is available online as a mini-book).

Actually, the article was in Italian, Miopia culturale e politica industriale in #Italia, but starts with a link to a shorter article in English on the same subject: or, how we talk about "sistema Italia" generally around an election- and then we forget, as each tribe tries to go "solo".

I released that article in November 2015 (yes, almost seven years ago), but if you were to search for other articles where I shared some observations and ideas about industrial policy, you would find actually more than a few (until 2018, mainly in Italian, as I was based in Italy and, having been forced to return to Italy in 2012, was considering settling, but then, after setting up a small company in 2018 to test the waters, decided that a further relocation, sic stantibus rebus, would be wiser).

So, maybe you might not be interested in this article per se (the subject being a former company town that is still searching its soul).

But I think that the transformation that Turin will have to undergo, and not just on the business side, could help deliver some lessons to other location.

_the context
_a personal digression
_the economics of "interferences"
_agents of change
_phasing-in, phasing-out
_the Phoenix approach

The context

If you follow also my streams on Facebook and Linkedin, e.g. this morning, you know that since 2012 I shared some concerns about Turin and Italy, on the subject of the day, something that locally is never appreciated.

They still do not get the point: now as three decades ago, when I was scarcely in Turin or even living abroad, my observations and ideas based upon what I experienced and observed elsewhere plus looking at local strength and weaknesses, follow the old saying.

If you share concerns, it is because you care. If you would not care, you would keep digging after reaching the bottom.

Unfortunately this week-end, seeing that the new administration is still going on a kind of mixed bag of "so much of everything" (the new town motto), without a long-term plan other than something that is akin to a kind perception of "manifest destiny" (i.e. assuming that whatever is launched in Turin should attract everybody from everywhere- and the associated funding), also those leading first in the past the judiciary, then currently the industrialists' association, shared similar concerns.

My feeling is that "so much of everything", including within the symbol infinity (have a look at the link above), really seems now "too much of everything without a clear strategy".

I hope that, being those articles from leading local figures between those that usually are listened at, will get a better feed-back than the one I routinely get (insults and threats).

Or, at least, that to show that they are wrong, those who can (both politician and civil society) to deliver action, not just another round of studies, reports, analysis, and soul-searching self criticism, e.g. as I observed yearly over the last few year whenever the annual Rapporto Rota on Turin is released.

The routine usually is: assessment, public sharing of the results, moderate self-criticism, blaming mainly somebody else in previous administrations (or different tribes), and then... back to the usual.

Maybe after having just created another "cabina di regia", as are called here, that generates new seats at the table (usually anyway shared between the same people- the only real injection of new resources is usually done when the passing of time requires some to retire.

Within that framework, then there is another issue: about timing, roles, and belonging vs. appearing to belong.

But first, to avoid any misunderstanding and disclose where I stand...

A personal digression

As I wrote in the past and on Facebook in the link above, while being born in Turin, as my parents were born in the South (father from Calabria and mother from Lucania), when we returned to Turin in 1972 after a short attempt by my parents to return to Calabria and move there their small business (mainly producing advertisement products for insurances and the like), I was used to be called "napuli"- which is the local dialect word for those from Naples, but in this case being a racial slur.

In the late 1980s I worked for the Italian branch of an American consulting company (specifically, its local and Latin America software development bit), shifted then to another unit, and going around the country almost on a daily basis from mid-1988 until January 1990.

Aim: to design, develop, and review Decision Support System models, and work on pre-sales of projects using the same.

Most of the activities were as far south as Rome, except a few in Palermo for a major bank (now part of another bank).

Then, when, in preparation of my chosen return to Italy, from 2004 started having contacts within the start-up industry, first in Turin, then also in Milan, eventually visited also Naples (I had never been there before).

Well, when we left Calabria in 1972, I made a promise to myself that I never disclosed until recently: that I would have never returned unless the locals (in Calabria) were to get rid of the local organized crime built around family lines, the ndrangheta.

At the time, it was a minor, mainly local affair, except for some money laundering associated e.g. with kidnapping elsewhere, but then evolved into another application of those "logistics" skills: drugs and other activities.

The first time I was to remind myself my childhood promise? When I was working in Rome part-time on some Government projects, as PM/BA for an Italian consulting company.

To work in those projects I had accepted to cut my rate, and then even to work for free, but then there was an interesting additional opportunity to know better the part of the country that I had seen less, Southern Italy, as I was asked, as PM/BA, to go also around the Southern part of Italy to deliver training and change preparation to the Prefetture.

The catch? I would have had to further reduce the rate- but that was not an issue, as I was already subsidizing those projects with my income from other activities (I always kept a low profile and low salary for myself, reallocating all the disposable income to both learning and experimental projects, except whenever I had personal reasons beyond myself- few times in few countries, since 1992).

The reason why I turned down the opportunity? Because I was to visit also Calabria- and, as my American friends know, if I give my word, it is my word- unless really there is no possibility due to conditions outside of my control.

So, I set aside my curiosity about learning about another part of Italy, and asked to send an employee of the company.

Hence, as I wrote this morning on Facebook, I feel Italian and European- but I will never cease to be considered locally a napuli from Calabria whenever convenient, and personally I have neither roots in the North nor in the South.

If you like an Italian and European, fine.

If you want to pigeonhole for your convenience, or to elicit free management consulting services (I have asked years ago to be a CFO for free- actually to procure resources to pay even my own salary, while having no shares, and in 2018 to do my old cultural and organizational change activities for free and "future consideration)...

...too late.

The economics of "interferences"

It is with great sadness that I have to say that, since my return to live and work in Turin full-time in 2012, I saw "behavioral patterns" that I had seen first as a kid in Calabria in the early 1970s.

Since the early 2000s I first heard rumors, then saw about investigations upon investigations about the "interferences" of ndrangheta within all the realms of society in Turin, even recently.

I quoted "interferences" because, as I wrote already while living in Brussels, and shared before while living in London with former banking contacts who previously had been working with police, the point is simple, from a business perspective.

If you have limited resources, money laundering can go through the usual intermediaries.

But if those resources are significant, and your continuous cashflow is even more significant (as befits when coming from drugs), then adopting the methods that non-Italian mafias used in the USA decades ago is just a natural evolution.

A kind of "gentrification" (or "normalization", as "robber barons" did in the USA in the XIX century- their methods in expanding their empires in our times would have been considered not too far from those of the various mafias), that I wrote about already while I was living in Brussels.

So, instead of what in an old USA series on FBI from decades ago was said to be the cosa nostra approach (whenever asked about the source of financial resources, there was a string of relatives passed away to justify those resources)...

...buy cash-based businesses (as my older German friends would remember, e.g. read in early 1990s some articles about cash-rich offers to Treuhandanstalt to take over cash-based activities formerly from DDR that nobody wanted; see examples here)
...or buy businesses where you can set prices and consumption of raw materials detached from real costs, so that you can inject resources, have tax receipts
and have then "clean" resources to invest both to buy assets and to influence or become part and partner of the "clean" economy.

There was a funny 2002 movie with Philippe Noiret about a tax inspector turning into criminal overlord after noticing how a restaurant had not customers, but plenty of income to pay taxes on, so he offers to help them improve operations: and, frankly, I have been thinking at that movie more than once, since the COVID19 crisis started, when reading about recent investigations.

So, it might have been starting as "interferences", but then, as shown by many recent and not-so-recent news reports, became structural.

Therefore, I was even more saddened when I heard the new Mayor of Turin, after all that string of inquiries, repeat the old, trite, saying that I heard first in the early 1970s in Turin, i.e. that organized crime (the denomination does not matter) finds no quarters here.

As the same speeches were also not too many years ago in Emilia Romagna (the region where Bologna is), but at least there was before news reports of a major investigation.

Here, brought back to mind when, in 1972, by sharing stories e.g. as being stopped by people with a gun while going to home, who "advised" my parents, and going to the Carabinieri, other kids (and adults) assumed that we were making up stories.

So, now that you understand my position and role, and why, despite my interest in the Italian Constitution and sharing my ideas on reforms and past political activities, I stopped voting recently after way too many local "interferences", personal and overall, and stopped also looking elsewhere in Italy (as, anyway, as seen in 2018 and 2019, eventually any opening is closed by a call back to Turin), focusing just on my third relocation (first was to London, then to Brussels but from London after the planned return to Italy was aborted).

I will keep reading, writing, sharing ideas and observations: who knows, as foreign interests were able to at least make the Gioia Tauro harbour complex in Calabria work by having all the local "tribes" converge, something similar will happen for Turin (and Italy), so we will need to ensure that the right information reaches the right target audience.

Hoping that will get less cases such as those of Ilva (in the South) and Embraco (in the North, just around the corner from Turin).

Now, as you understand, having been part of various cultures (e.g. my first formal training on pre-sales was in English, in London, at Comshare for Andersen, on pre-sales activities to sell to senior management, in the late 1980s), I like to blend, and I enjoy what others find nerve-cracking: surfing uncertainty toward a better plane of understanding.

Agents of change

I wrote above: it is a matter of timing, roles, and belonging vs. appearing to belong.

As I said in the late 1990s to a prospect of a partner in Turin, about SAP, any system that spans across the organizational divide "embeds" a culture.

Hence, also if your "system" is not a software, but e.g. a process, or new compliance requirements, you have to consider not just where you are, but also what is "embedded" in what you are trying to introduce.

Then, the "game" gets interesting, as you have also to conside if and how also future evolutions might be on divergent tracks.

In a merger it is a matter also to see which culture actually will result from those merged- as I wrote in previous articles, just because you buy a company, does not imply that your own culture will set the tune.

If you want to see an example of a fictional change related to compliance, have a look at QuPlan: A Quantum of Planning (yes, you can buy it on Amazon if you want to support, but you can read both the mini-book and the 200+ pages case study for free online).

Whenever working with multiple parties, also as a negotiator, I always considered that, beside the current need to integrate, sustainability implied also identifying potential evolution or interests in evolution.

The title of this section is actually from a book I had to read for one of my Summer School activities at LSE in London in mid-1990s.

Anyway, the short story in my experience in Italy is really simple.

Cultural stereotypes are a simplification framework, as a kind of shared perception of reality that enables a "tribal identity".

So, sometimes, despite the obvious shortcomings, cultural stereotypes sometimes are useful for "pattern matching"- and also dangerous when they turn from a starting point to a "reference framework" deciding what is relevant henceforth.

In Italy, we are used to first look to build relationships (as a tribe or as new bridge toward another tribe), then to deliver.

This sometimes creates issues when you want to deliver change, as any message is re-considered (again, if you prefer, "framed"), as it is common in many initiatives in Italy I witnessed since the late 1980s from the business side.

Hence, since when, in 1990, had my first initiatives explicitly focused on change or negotiations, I always seeked a clear mandate.


Well, any change, whatever minimal impact on culture or what is considered "ordinary", will meet some resistance.

If you are an employee of a larger company, you can afford to be e.g. the first project manager to explore uncharted waters, then hand over the "recovery" to a second one who will really define the boundaries, and finally the latter in turn will hand it over to a third one, the "hero" who, as if by magic, will know everything and sort it out, breaking the minimal amount of eggs to make an omelette.

So, as I said decades ago to a project manager who was in that unfortunate role of "recovery" (i.e. scapegoat of the scapegoat), he would have probably be called up as first or third in another project.

If you are, as I was, a one-man company, you have to thread carefully: with my customers usually first sold a feasibility study, then a fixed-price project (not necessarily involving software, also a process or organizational change requires understanding where you are) based upon that.

But sometimes I ended up being the first, and most often I have been called to be the second (and tried to compress so that also the third was part of the package).

Sometimes, a change initiative has the real purpose to highlight those "pockets of resistance" and deliver an assessment of reality, notably whenever you need an exploration, but instead you are required to execute.

So, you need to know what you are involved in.

Phasing-in, phasing-out

Let's now move directly to the subject, industrial policy.

In the article listed above, in November 2015 expected to stay in Italy for a further couple of years,

Well, I am still here- and probably a more appropriate past article to quote is Per una politica industriale che veda oltre le prossime elezioni #industry40 #GDPR #cybersecurity / For an industrial policy that survives election cycles #industry40 #GDPR #cybersecurity, that I published in March 2018, was after the end of the mission where I was in 2015.

In that article talked about the "silos" created when an organization grows, to increase efficiency- which, anyway, is unfortunately a not-so-common event in Italy, where our companies are still too small, and we lack local companies large enough to do something that way too many local incubators cannot deliver- coaching on activities, to grow capabilities.

Turin initiatives to build up a future currently reminded me the critical issue I saw back in 2018 about Industry 4.0 initiatives in Italy: Without a roadmap focused on convergence across all the organization, a series of pilot projects scattered across all the business functions doesn't deliver a firm foundation for a structural change..

There is an element that, since decades, I keep repeating in Italy: phasing out a process, technology, organization, even an industry implies a stretch on resources for any organization (and for society at large).

If your organization (or, in this case, your town) was focused on A, and have to rethink, reposition, and find new approaches, there will be a time where the same people and same resources will have to cope both continuity (what we call now "recovery") and transition toward a new model but accepting that will keep evolving, not bring about a new steady state ("resilience").

In Italy, you can routinely read articles about the lack of people with the skills needed for our transition, and this even before COVID19 and PNRR / NextGenerationEU.

In Turin, we are piling up those two transitions (digital and green) with some local issues:
_we used to be a company town, but it has been decades since that started fading away
_currently it seems that events and tourism are considered the "new future" for the town
_but our infrastructure can really be sustained by low-value added services?
_and what about our educational infrastructure, where banking foundations poured millions?

Yesterday articles on La Stampa reminded that we "lost" the battery gigafactory for Stellantis (where the "company" in "company town" ended up- now based de-facto in Paris) that went to Termoli, and that for Tesla that went to Berlin, and we "lost" the main investment by Intel, and that now there is another potential gigafactory for Audi.

Actually, for the latter it has been considered Italy, from recent interviews- but the group in Italy has activities in Emilia Romagna, where also the integration model between educational infrastructure and manufacturing companies is different.

Also, it was reminded that a previous initiative to bring yet another authority in Turin worked, but then...

...did not have impacts where it was expected (i.e. creating new jobs).

So, we are back at the starting point: it is true that we need a coherent strategy, but that strategy has to start from what we really have within the territory, and from the acceptance that, unless there are reasons to attract and retain companies, investment, and, yes, talent, any half-baked strategy, maybe even supported by few millions from the various local actors, will result in yet another development of subsidised occupation for what, in the end, would be yet another bureaucracy.

I do not know how many more "cabine di regia" can the territory sustain: would end up that most of the talents needed to design and deliver projects are actually spending their time jumping from workshop to workshop.

Phasing-out our past to phase-in our future would first require a clear undestanding what is "past", what is "future", and which capabilities are available, not spreading sprinkler money around.

Instead, in many local articles, I see the same "original sin" that I found also in the Italian PNRR: too much "recovery" (i.e. trying to retain the past), and too little "resilience" (i.e. building the future): yes, financial resources available now are staggering, if compared with our past.

But people cannot be replicated as fast as financial resources.

So, it is also a matter of prioritization without ignoring the local constraints, including the current socio-economic needs.

Having new infrastructure (i.e. the second metro line) is fine- but to what end? To support which social model?

And, not a small item in Italy, where we routinely build and forget instead of building and maintaining, how will it be supported?

The Phoenix approach

It was supposed to be a short commentary- and, as usual, evolved in and by itself.

The title of this closing section?

Decades ago, I had an interview in Brussels while I was living in London, for a project that eventually did not start.

During the interview, I was asked to name the project (I do not know why, but this happened more often than you could consider normal).

I did a two-minutes interview, starting with what in a more recent book was in the title "start with 'why'".

Probably derived from my early 1990s, after I left my first employer and before I moved onto a French company in July 1990, where I was first Senior Project Manager, and, to support my short-term customers on cultural and organizational change, did what I routinely did also as an employee (and keep doing now): went for books, and read about Deming, quality, Japanese culture and Japanese organizational methods, etc.

As an example, I have on my desk now a book that I purchased in Spring 1990, on Taguchi and QFD, and I have others that I would like to read again, few decades later, as I keep seeing daily that here and there some references pop-up.

I think that, in the case of Turin, the point is to consider that the town for the last couple of decades has made plans- but in and by itself.

Aiming for the Moon, but looking at the finger that was pointing in that direction.

And then not seing that the finger, the focus of our collective attention, has moved elsewhere, and we still think that the tip of the finger is the Moon.

This town, before doing plans, should probably open up its mind to attract talents in looking at the town and its capabilities for what they are, not for what they were or we assume to be- notably in terms of competitiveness.

All the local research centers, quangos-equivalent, etc are too proud to see reality for what it is, as shown repeatedly over the last few years.

Otherwise, we will end up as a book that I read recently: a valiant attempt to think about the future of Turin in 2030.

With a catch: blending aspirations with reality, presented some desiderata expressed by the local élites, turned then into requests to the Italian Government, into reality, a fait accompli.

It will not be easy, it will not be pretty, probably there will be a lot of recriminations about who did what and what should have been done.

But we do not have time: if we waste again this opportunity, as wrote yesterday a journalist, we will keep seeing a steady decline.

As I keep repeating: Turin and its territory are rich enough to afford a century of decline.

But it would take just few years to see an increase in social disruptions, and Turin has already some areas where the socio-economic structure has been revealed for what it is really, beside all the self-praise of "excellence", courtesy of COVID19 that showed the frailty of the territory and its socio-economic model.

So, as the Phoenix, my hope is that Turin will re-invent itself- therefore, the title is about re-inventing itself (see here what I mean).

Luckily, we do not need to go down to ashes- as an actor said in the movie "ricomincio da tre":
"Nossignore, ricomincio da... cioè, tre cose me so' riuscite dint' 'a vita, pecché aggia perdere pure chelle? Che aggia ricomincia' da zero?! Da tre!... Me ne vaco, nun 'nce 'a faccio cchiù..."
(source https://frasix.it/frasi/13641)

Otherwise, unfortunately, as I wrote above, somebody else will extract value from all the past and present investments in infrastructure (including educational infrastructure): acquired, as it was with many privatizations, at a bargain price and, as shown in other "investment attraction" activities, disregarding the social cost on those same taxpayers who actually funded that infrastructure.

Obviously: I will let you choose/assess which are the three elements that have to be retained...

Stay tuned!