China Daily (Hong Kong)
Italian financier crafts his own Chinese dream
BEIJING — Matteo Giovannini and his wife took a day off to relax in downtown Beijing on his birthday. The couple discussed where to go for the upcoming “golden week” holiday in October. They were having a tough time choosing between Guangzhou and Hangzhou.
“We both like Cantonese cuisine, but I’ve always wanted to go to Hangzhou,” says the Italian who has been living in China for eight years.
Giovannini is no stranger to the vastness and cultural diversity of China, but a recent tour of Hebei province as a participant in the Global Young Leaders Dialogue program impressed him a lot.
“The Hebei tour represented a bridge between the past, present and future,” he says.
Their first stop in Xibaipo took him through the revolutionary past of the Communist Party of China. In Xiong’an New Area, he saw a glimpse of a possible future, in terms of a smart city, where technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence are used.
When the trip ended, he and the other foreign participants of GYLD wrote a letter to President Xi Jinping. In the letter, they expressed their desire to be a bridge to promote exchanges and dialogues between China and the rest of the world.
Xi responded to them in a letter commending the efforts of the group to deepen its understanding of China by visiting various parts of the country. He encouraged them to promote exchanges and mutual learning further, and to contribute to building a community with a shared future for mankind.
“The participants are from different parts of the world and different cultures. So we share how we see China from our own perspective. We then merge these different perspectives and come to our own conclusions about the country,” Giovannini says.
He was first attracted to Chinese culture while working as a financial controller in the media industry in Milan, so he decided to apply for a Confucius Institute scholarship. In the summer of 2013, he enrolled in Liaoning Normal University and spent a year studying the Chinese language and culture in the coastal city of Dalian.
The year flew by, and his studies were coming to an end. But his China story was just getting started. Shortly after, he enrolled in the BiMBA Business School of National School of Development at Peking University. The program rekindled his desire to work in the financial services sector.
His undergraduate degree in economics enabled him to focus on finance and business administration courses that would later serve him well. An “amazing opportunity” presented itself when the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, one of China’s major banks, was recruiting foreign talent to promote its internationalization strategy.
Competition for the role was fierce, but he got the job. It was the second time that a door opened for him before he was about to leave China to head back to Italy.
Six years later and Giovannini still works for ICBC, but now as a senior finance manager. He says he has come to better understand the difference between Western and Chinese corporate cultures.
As one of the few foreign employees, he doesn’t feel uncomfortable and gets along with his Chinese colleagues very well “because most of them have overseas experience and the language used at work is mostly English”.
He even joined the ICBC tennis team as one of their best players and, as a group, they won second place in a tournament for financial institutions in Beijing.
On a personal level, he has also developed an understanding of Chinese culture from a family perspective. He met his wife, a Beijinger, when they bumped into each other in Wudaokou, the city’s university area, in 2016. Two years later, they were married.
Having been in China for so long, Giovannini plans to apply for a permanent residence permit.
In the future, the couple plan to have a baby and have even thought of their future child studying at a public school instead of an international one because he believes “local schools are better at teaching mathematics”.
Talking about his entire experience, Giovannini says, “Italians are travelers. They go around the world to make discoveries and understand different cultures. I’m just following in the footsteps of Marco Polo and Matteo Ricci.
“Sometimes, you have to step out of your comfort zone.”
So we share how we see China from our own perspective. We then merge these different perspectives and come to our own conclusions about the country.”
Matteo Giovannini, senior finance manager, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China