Perfect Italian, interview with Riccardo Maria Monti
The president of ICE, the Italian Trade Promotion Agency, talks about the direction taken in the agency’s new era
If they had drawn up a blueprint for the ICE president, it would have resembled Riccardo Monti: fascinating, fluent in flour languages, the natural elegance of the Neapolitan man and a friendly American- style approach, but never OT T to the point of impolite familiarity. He uses not one English word during the entire conversation, not even a “smart ” or “friendly ”, terms that managers of his ilk usually bestow upon resigned journalists. We are surprised to discover that at the helm of the Italian Trade Promotion Agency we have the “perfect Italian”, not just a figurehead acting the part that foreigners expect from Italians. The right person to attract investments: cautious to the extent that as he talks not even an eyebrow moves in contrast with what he says. All those stories about hand- waving Italians are refuted, wrong- footing those who still believe we are a nation of noisy spaghetti- eaters. Although it does depend on the quality and type of spaghetti. This will be per fectly clear to those who have worked with Riccardo Maria Monti for four years around the world.
See Italy: You are one of those Italians envied by foreigners, what mark have you made on the direction taken by the new Italian Trade Promotion Agency?
“For a long time, promotion by the ICE focused on just some key sectors, such as manufacturing. We are trying to modernise how promotion is carried out, directing it through different, even immaterial, districts, such as digital, computing and aerospace. We have tried to simultaneously also promote investment attrac-
tion, in the same way as all the other big European countries. Putting new investments in place was the third step: over recent years we have opened ten new offices that represent a strategic move for the new direction taken by the ICE. In these offices, just like all the others, there has been a strong push towards interdisciplinarity. For example, if we promote footwear, we bring with us the entire production district and therefore food and wine, crafts, etc.”.
See Italy: A weak euro, the Jubilee, Expo just having finished: it all looks favourable. How have we changed in the non- Italian collective’s imagination?
“This contamination activity, this syncretic promotion has quadruplicated the economy that rotates around incoming: hotels, restaurants and bars, hospitality, tour operating. 2015 was a good year, in some cities tourism posted record figures, like Florence. In others, like Rome, the threat of terrorism made itself felt as in other international capitals. We all know that tourism is our country’s goldmine, however lately we have suffered from insufficient promotion. With the cultural heritage we have, we simply have to go with the flow: suffice to think of markets like China where the number of tourists is growing amazingly every year. The long- term is positive, but we need to know how to become part of this flow with promotion for the structured segments: from golf, to beaches and congress. Lots of segmentation work needs to be done”.
See Italy: How is the ICE changing in the era of the sharing economy? Are there projects that can be shared with the new businesses on these markets?
“I have seen some phenomena develop extremely rapidly in Silicon Valley. They mustn’t stop, they must, on the contrary, act as drivers. The sharing economy is an unstoppable phenomenon, just like low- cost airlines in the past. Today Ryanair is the leading Italian air company. Who would have imagined? The big waves need to be ridden. Think about what car sharing represents for urban mobility. There are new ways of visiting cities, of being tourists. We are organised into supply chains and this is why it is difficult for us to accept this change, we don’t like giving in but we will have to”.
See Italy: Films like “Eat, Pray, Love” or “The Gladiator” have made the difference to millions in the travel and purchase choices of many consumers. Is
there a relationship between the ICE and the various Film Commissions in Italy, are there any shared projects or investments?
“Lots of them, and I am particularly a backer of these: we have quintuplicated promotion of Italian cinema abroad, selling our films means, at the same time, using the film content to promote Italy as a destination and philosophy of life. At the same time the spreading of Italian cinema products can attract the production of films in Italy. So, in addition to with the various Italian Film Commissions, we are also working with the Ministr y for economic development and with ANICA ( Italy ’s national film association). These are all partnerships that work towards the common goal of promoting Italy and attracting investment".
See Italy: What is the ICE doing for internationalisation of the hotel chain? Can it use simplification to attract investment by international chains?
“The Italian government has in fact done much to make the context much more attractive to investments in general; from a new management model for some bankruptcy procedures, to composition with creditors and tax administration. Dedicated areas have also been set up in the civil courts for foreign investors and there has been great aperture to some issues such as permits. Proof of this is the fact that one of the investments giving the best results recently has been real estate in the hotel sector. As far as international chains are concerned, you must know that Hilton is working on Catania, in the same way that many other prestige chains are interested in other Italian destinations”.
See Italy: Are the new BRIC markets, with their huge size, stimulating behaviour that goes beyond the typical local mindset in Italy?
“There has been great change over recent years. It is true that in the past we promoted ourselves abroad with a flaky appearance. This no longer happens, there is strong institutional and corporate coordination. Moving towards exports se - parately no longer makes sense, in fact, it is a phenomenon that doesn’t exist any more”.
See Italy: What would you ask for on a legislative level if you could? What do we need to lend impetus to internationalisation?
“It would be enough to boost the process to eliminate the power of veto: too many organisations on a local level can slow down investment thanks to tiny minorities with big power. It happens that the results of a project change during service conferences when cer tain par ties, who almost never represent all the citizens, exercise their right to veto”.
See Italy: What is there of your Neapolitan soul and New York education in your daily business dealings, in how you work?
“Joking, I would say my passion for coffee. Then, like every self- respecting Neapolitan, I have a marked ability to adapt which is indispensable in our job – you go from a delegation of Russians, to a TV set, to a meeting with farmers. While in America I learnt their maniacal attention to prepping, getting detailed info ready before meetings”.
See Italy: So did you investigate me too, before I came to interview you?
“Not you, but the topics, yet ”.
See Italy: Your political future? Is this candidacy for Naples true?
( Smiling) “No, in lieu of a candidacy, a suggestion: some people thought I could be useful to the city and I confirmed my availability”.