On the couch Cor­rado Passera

In an in­ter­view (over an in­for­mal lunch) with Cor­rado Passera, among the top­ics on the ta­ble in­clude the hy­bridi­s­a­tion of knowl­edge and the econ­omy, hence of so­ci­ety

Domus - - CONTENTS - Pre­sented by Wal­ter Mar­i­otti

“I don’t know if it’s true to say that to­day hy­bridi­s­a­tion is tri­umph­ing, the bound­aries of dis­ci­plines are be­ing ef­faced, bar­ri­ers are be­com­ing di­aphanous and fad­ing. Or rather, it should be said that to man­age the in­creas­ing com­plex­ity — due to in­cre­men­tal and rapid con­nec­tions — it’s in­creas­ingly nec­es­sary to com­bine con­tri­bu­tions from dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines.” Among the un­com­mon de­tails of an in­for­mal lunch with Cor­rado Passera — the el­e­gance of his smile, per­fectly dove­tailed syn­tax, pin­striped shirt and the in­ten­sity with which he lis­tens — the most no­table is cer­tainly the way he con­stantly in­vokes civil val­ues. Sin­gu­lar for one of the (few) pro­tag­o­nists of Ital­ian so­ci­ety in the last thirty years, a man­ager and banker with a eu­phemisti­cally unique ca­reer — McKin­sey, CIR, Espresso, Mon­dadori, Om­ni­tel, Poste Ital­iane, In­tesa San­paolo — who im­me­di­ately ac­cepted the role of a civil ser­vant as Min­is­ter of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Min­is­ter for In­fra­struc­tures and Trans­port in the Monti gov­ern­ment. His pas­sion is still blaz­ing just a few hours af­ter the launch of Spaxs, the new bank he founded to bet­ter serve the sec­tor of small and medi­um­sized busi­nesses with po­ten­tial, in­clud­ing those with a low credit rat­ing or un­rated. Re­sist­ing the se­duc­tions of car­bo­hy­drates, Passera eth­i­cally chooses sea bass with a green salad. “In an in­creas­ingly glob­alised world, in­di­vid­ual coun­tries, as well as large for-profit or non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions have to suc­ceed in in­te­grat­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures. They need to an­tic­i­pate or re­spond to op­por­tu­ni­ties and risks that are geopo­lit­i­cal, so­cial, eco­nomic, tech­ni­cal, op­er­a­tional, and that no dis­ci­pline on its own is ca­pa­ble of en­com­pass­ing.” To­gether with the fish, the in­evitable ques­tion was then served up: in this sce­nario of hy­bridised knowl­edge, what fate will await that very spe­cialised branch of know-how that is fi­nance? “Or­gan­i­sa­tions that deal with sav­ings and credit are no ex­cep­tion. In ad­di­tion to the spe­cial­ists in the var­i­ous dis­ci­plines, they will in­creas­ingly have to call on spe­cial­ists in the man­age­ment of com­plex­ity. This means peo­ple ca­pa­ble of in­te­grat­ing — above all cul­tur­ally — dif­fer­ent kinds of knowl­edge. It’s a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge in the fields of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, but also a colos­sal op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate new pro­fes­sions. A pre­cise state­ment, which opens up per­plex­ing sce­nar­ios par­tic­u­larly for the metaphor­i­cal essence of fi­nance. To trans­late: in an in­creas­ingly dig­i­tal world dom­i­nated by al­go­rithms and ma­chines, what place re­mains for skills de­rived from open out­cry trad­ing and reg­u­lated by in­tu­ition, moods, the im­pos­si­ble as­sess­ment of the im­pon­der­able? Passera smiles, deftly re­mov­ing the last bone from the white flesh. “Clearly the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion, driven by dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies, is pro­foundly chang­ing the na­ture of the econ­omy and busi­ness, hence work, ed­u­ca­tion, wel­fare and ul­ti­mately so­ci­ety and cul­ture it­self. The world of sav­ings and credit — like all sec­tors, with­out ex­clu­sion — can ei­ther ride these changes or suc­cumb to them. Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence pro­vides us with de­ci­sion-mak­ing tools that were unimag­in­able just a few years ago. The di­rect chan­nels link­ing com­pa­nies to each other and com­pa­nies to con­sumers make whole lo­gis­tic and or­gan­i­sa­tional mech­a­nisms ob­so­lete — think of tra­di­tional bank branches. New ser­vices can be sup­plied to fam­i­lies and busi­nesses and this leads to com­pe­ti­tion from new op­er­a­tors com­ing from many other sec­tors. Ama­zon could well be­come one of the world’s lead­ing banks. In the world of sav­ings and credit, ev­ery­thing is chang­ing and the ce­ment that holds them to­gether is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly in­dis­pens­able: this is the fidu­ciary re­la­tion­ship that, through the bank­ing mech­a­nism, trans­forms sav­ings into credit and so into de­vel­op­ment and work.” Hur­ry­ing on to cof­fee, Passera is on the point of leav­ing for Rome, his other city. But the Mi­lanese tra­di­tion means this is the mo­ment for one last in­sight be­fore we part. It is noth­ing less than our age as the in­ver­sion of Ri­cardo’s the­ory of com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages: to­day dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy en­ables even small busi­nesses with few re­sources to com­pete on the global mar­ket. Passera drinks the last drop of cof­fee and places the cup per­pen­dic­u­lar to the spoon. “Even in the bank­ing sec­tor, the ad­van­tages of scale and scope are cards that the big global op­er­a­tors can play ef­fec­tively. At the same time, re­mem­ber that in the great

cri­sis of 2009, the world’s largest fi­nan­cial groups also proved very frag­ile and vul­ner­a­ble. To­day, as per­haps never be­fore, new op­er­a­tors can emerge, ca­pa­ble of trans­form­ing the rules of the game with com­pletely new en­trepreneurial sys­tems. There will be new win­ners among the spe­cial­ist banks that prove ca­pa­ble of in­ter­pret­ing the new or­gan­i­sa­tional and tech­no­log­i­cal par­a­digms and there will be many losers among gen­er­al­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions that fail to adapt rapidly.” We rise from ta­ble to the temp­ta­tions of na­tional sovereignty, one of Passera’s fears that formed the back­drop to our lunch. How can we pre­vent the hy­bridi­s­a­tion of the econ­omy and con­se­quently so­ci­ety be­ing ex­ploited by na­tion­alisms? “The world will be in­creas­ingly glob­alised and in­ter­con­nected, whether we like it or not. The risks are ev­i­dent, but so are the op­por­tu­ni­ties. Italy is one of the coun­tries that could ben­e­fit most from glob­al­i­sa­tion, pro­vided it is ca­pa­ble of de­fend­ing its unique­ness and play­ing the game of in­no­va­tion to the end. The game­plan for the var­i­ous types of sovereignty — we have al­ready seen it so many times in the past — for a coun­try to cut it­self off, think­ing it can be self­suf­fi­cient, and re­turn to an ideal world that never ex­isted. It’s al­ways ended badly. The other il­lu­sion of the sovereignists is to pan­der to pop­u­lar dis­con­tent by iden­ti­fy­ing ex­ter­nal en­e­mies — for ex­am­ple the EU — and pre­tend there are easy so­lu­tions. That the Euro­pean project needs a strong pos­i­tive shock is cer­tain, but it is equally cer­tain that no Euro­pean coun­try can make it alone among the great world pow­ers.” As we take our leave, Passera hopes for a new meet­ing. Af­ter all, the fu­ture has al­ways been the true in­ter­est of this strange banker. “The ques­tion is too dif­fi­cult. In a con­stantly chang­ing and in­creas­ingly in­ter­con­nected world, ed­u­ca­tion will have to de­vote more time to de­vel­op­ing cu­rios­ity and forms of con­tin­u­ous learn­ing rather than trans­mit­ting a pre­de­fined body of knowl­edge. So­ci­ety will in­evitably be mul­tira­cial and the strength of its val­ues will have to be com­bined with tol­er­ance and a love of di­ver­sity. The cul­ture of risk, en­ter­prise and in­no­va­tion will be the en­gines that cre­ate jobs. Europe can be an ex­am­ple of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween free­dom and equal­ity, be­tween the mar­ket and sol­i­dar­ity. Tech­nol­ogy will play a big part, but the chal­lenge is above all cul­tural.”

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