Carlo Bonomi is a natural optimist, he loves doing and swimming. Entrepreneur, born in Cremona, leader of the industrialists in an Italy that he describes as “transformative”. We are in the library of Borgo Egnazia, the light is very white (they say the light in Puglia is the most beautiful light in the world). Bonomi arrives with a broad smile, no wariness. He doesn’t ask to see the list of questions; he just takes a seat in the armchair: “Here we are.” Dark suit, white shirt, blue tie, black leather shoes.
Are your clothes Italian? He laughs, opens his jacket, lifts up his shoes, turns over his tie, almost stands up, “I only wear Italian!” I talk to Bonomi about Mag.1861 and then I ask the question: what is beauty?
He laughs, opens his jacket, lifts up his shoes, turns over his tie, almost stands up, “I only wear Italian!” I talk to Bonomi about Mag.1861 and then I ask the question: what is beauty?
He catches the ball on the fly and replies in perfect captain of industry style: “Beauty is condensed in Italian production. That is, knowing how to do things well and beautifully. I mean industrial beauty, obviously.” Two years of pandemic, war, yet the ship is still sailing. “We are experiencing a magical moment.” But it could be better. “The whole world wants Italian products. It is a moment that we are failing to exploit.” It is his philosophy of beauty, doing and knowing how to do together. “For me, beauty is what happens inside Italian businesses. When it comes to social life, relationships, I would invite the people who talk about it, and have never spent a working day inside a company, to go and see them.”
My thoughts immediately go to Adriano Olivetti, I followed Confindustria [TN: the Italian employers’ federation] for many years before moving to America and then returning. Is the Ivrea adventure coming back too?
“We have a relationship with our employees that no one talks about. We know everything about them, we know them all, their families and their problems. We have employees who come to us to ask for an advance on their wages, their severance pay, real human situations where the wife comes to tell you not to give her husband an advance because he’ll just play it all on the slot machines. We truly live as a community within companies and as a community of the local area, because unfortunately the state does not have infinite resources; in fact, it’s going backwards. We businesses are covering that part of local management. Who today looks after the churches, museums, the poor in the local area, the schools? There are schools that don’t have toilet paper.”
Bonomi is a river in full flow. This is also about his own life and the story of his company.
“My company is in the Mirandola district, the most important in the biomedical sector in Europe and third in the world, after Minneapolis and Los Angeles.” How many people know that? Very few. Running, walking, doing business, with the road leveled or uphill. “Also because we don't have high speed, we don't have motorways. During grape harvesting, if you meet a large tractor on a provincial road, you’re stuck. Yet we go all over the world.” We go. Plural: not I, We. Bonomi is young (born in 1966) but the last three years for any entrepreneur have been a profound, accelerated, shared time. “Never before have the interests of entrepreneurs and those who work within the companies been identical. This is something we rediscovered with the pandemic.”
“Beauty is condensed in Italian production. That is, knowing how to do things well and beautifully. I mean industrial beauty, obviously.”
Today everything is about storytelling; even the term is overused. Bonomi recounts the case closest to his experience as an entrepreneur to demonstrate how much businesses need storytelling. “The pandemic breaks out: lockdown. Obviously, we were one of the companies that supplied medical devices. Even to intensive care units. In our sector, the majority of the staff are women. So, with husbands and children at home. I went in to the company and told everyone: this is the situation. We make products that can save lives, so we can stay open. But I don't want to force you. It is a personal choice. You could see people were afraid, as I was; there were no vaccines. They all came to work; with fear in their eyes, but they all came. The sense of duty prevailed, to continue the production necessary for the country. This is the company community.” Community. Olivetti's model is a story that needs to be told rather than rediscovered, because it has never faded. There is a story that returns and one that no longer exists: “There was a period, certainly in the 1970s and 1980s, when there were more conflicts but business today has changed completely.”
The world has changed, globalization is going backwards, there is a ‘gold rush’ for raw materials. “Today, the world is telling us that we need to revise the added value chains. There are some strategic productions that need to stay in the country. Industry is an issue of national security.” The lesson seemed clear, but politics seems to have a short memory. “Industry was asked to make a conversion; it was done in a very short time. While today, if you take a look at the public procurement tenders, they are again crowding out the market. We made the conversion in the interest of the country and the public sector is the first to crowd us out again. We need to create the conditions to have certain types of production here in Italy today.”
Why do foreign companies buy Italian businesses? Because they give them something they can't have. The capacity for beauty that is ours alone.”
Was relocation a strategic error? “We must first look at what we mean by relocation. Because there are some industries in which production must necessarily be contiguous to the most important plants. Like the automotive industry. Many relocations are based on necessity. Those who produce goods for which the cost of transport has a very high impact, must have their factories close to the market. Those who have instead chosen to exploit the lower cost of labor in another country and then bring the product back to Italy… they have made a legitimate industrial choice, but one which I have never understood.”
Italy has a particular relationship with beauty, we find it in every design thought, even as a powerful vehicle for innovation. It is our trademark. “We have the ability to develop products, services, technologies and to associate them with Italian taste. It’s a win-win. Why do foreign companies buy Italian businesses? Because they give them something they can't have. The capacity for beauty that is ours alone.”
Our historical, artistic, cultural heritage, our human capital “are our oil”, an immense deposit that we fail to exploit. “When I was president of Assolombarda, I often asked foreigners why they decided to invest in Italy and stay in Italy. It is because we have human capital that is second to none. We need to value it.”
We have the ability to develop products, services, technologies and to associate them with Italian taste.
The most beautiful light in the world. Air, water, earth and fire: all the elements balanced together to create la dolce vita Made in Puglia, the challenge of global luxury that in the case of Borgo Egnazia originates from regionalization.
“The administrative structure of Italy unfortunately forces us into regionalization. The national-scale attempts with Italian-made products have not always gone well: take tourism, for example. Borgo Egnazia is an establishment that shows us what can be done. There was nothing here 13 years ago. They built something amazing that is famous all over the world; Madonna comes here. It can be done: you need to have vision, courage; you need to have those characteristics that Italian entrepreneurs have, but we need to put them in a position to use them. This is perhaps what we lack. We are unable to build a playing field. But then, when we are on the field, we are unbeatable. You need the stadium to play the match.”
What others know how to build better than us, even in Europe. “We are European citizens of Italian nationality. On the one hand, we have to understand the added value that Europe brings; on the other hand, however, we have to understand how other countries play their national games. In the dossiers in Brussels, we always get there when they have already been closed. I believe that other countries, despite their differences in political representation, see party identity as secondary to playing the national game.” To win, we have to change our game. “Taking advantage of Europe's added value and understanding what our national interests are: strategic national interest are not bad words.”
The industrialists are trying. “They’re always trying. They are optimistic by nature, otherwise they would not do this job.” They are trying. And they are succeeding. Beautiful Italy, the Bel Paese.
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