By  on February 22, 2002

If it works for the Italians, maybe it will work for us."

That seems to be a train of thought among international luxury goods groups, which are increasingly recruiting Italian managers to head their companies, from Pino Brusone at Donna Karan to Antonio Belloni at LVMH and Gianluca Brozzetti at Asprey & Garrard. "Managers the Italian way" seems to be the latest fashion trend.

"Italians combine management skills with flexibility and creativity," said Laura Vannucchi, director of the head-hunting division of Pambianco Strategie d'Imprese, a luxury goods consulting firm in Milan.

"When the Italian manager is well organized, he is one of the most complete. His assets are flexibility, intuition and a wide perspective," said Massimo Suppancig, who has held executive positions at Hugo Boss and Escada. "Because of the history of his country, with its bureaucracy and its complexities, Italians often need to improvise, and this becomes an added asset in management."

Concetta Lanciaux, adviser to the chairman, group executive vice president of synergies and group delegate for Italy at LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, agreed with Suppancig. "The private industry is not supported by the state, policies are intricate and Italian managers learn ways to get the job done."

Lanciaux said Italian managers had "a special ability to deal with fashion designers. They also know how to manage a great variety of people as individual talents, not in a uniform way," she said.

"Italian managers are extremely flexible, an essential quality when working for a fashion company," agreed Stefania Saviolo, co-director of the master on fashion management at Milan's Bocconi University. "They have further developed this in-born trait and a special sensitivity, which cannot be taught, by working in family-run companies close to the owners and the designers."

Saviolo said that, in addition to specific management capacities, Italian managers have an added plus: "They are inventive and creative, and find new ways to position products, often dealing directly with strategies and marketing," said Saviolo.

As Italian fashion companies garnered international success and recognition over the past few years, the model of Italian management has caught the industry's attention. "There is more trust in the Italian management talent because of the success of Italian companies," said Lanciaux. Armando Branchini, vice president of InterCorporate, a luxury goods analyst here, said the latest generation of Italian managers are also in demand because they've mastered the peculiarities of the high-end range of the market. "They've learned to manage all the different areas, ranging from supply chain to product positioning, from finance to marketing, with the added plus of knowing how to position these brands strategically in the luxury goods market," said Branchini.These managers are players in an increasingly global market. Vannucchi said the complex concentrations of companies and big groups, which need a substantial management, puts the spotlight on managers.

At LVMH, some of the top positions are: Antonio Belloni, general manager of LVMH; Marcello Bottoli, president of Louis Vuitton; Pino Brusone, chief executive at Donna Karan; Giancarlo Di Risio, chief executive at Fendi; Massimo Macchi, managing director at Boucheron; Renato Semerari, Guerlain's president and managing director, and Gabriella Scarpa, ceo of perfumes and cosmetics for Guerlain in Italy.

Although Lanciaux pointed out that LVMH counts around 50 chief executives and 450 senior executives in a group that has 55,000 people on its payroll, and that the number of Italians is "relative" within the size of the group, she said that, three years ago, the group started to pursue managers with culturally diverse backgrounds to invigorate their operations.

"Business schools' research stated that there were more innovative ideas when there were mixed backgrounds and languages," said Lanciaux. "We feel that innovation is the core and objective of our business."

Lanciaux confirmed that, in the past two years, LVMH has paid "special attention" to Italy. "It's the only country equal to France in the luxury-goods sector. Of course, we pursue capable and competent people not for their nationality, but at the same level, we encourage other cultures [than the French]," said Lanciaux.

In addition, Lanciaux said that managers today are aware they need to work for big multinational groups, where "they have more visibility, there is more challenge and they are exposed to larger realities. "They have to move on or they will be considered second category," said Lanciaux.

"Foreign companies have helped me reach high-management positions at an early age," said Suppancig. At 30, Suppancig was ceo of five GFT companies abroad, and at 33, a member of the board at Escada. "Through my experience at Benetton, I was one of the few Italians at the time [in the Nineties] that had worked abroad and had experience with foreign markets," he said.

Lanciaux, in fact, said the only drawback is that Italians have not had sufficient experience abroad. "They like Italy, and it's difficult to work outside, but things are changing," she said.

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