“Il confronto”

This time a little exception. I wish to reblog a post, in Italian, I had the honour of writing for LeadingMyself, a blog on a number of topics very dear to me


Cosa ci piace della diversità di genere? Cosa porta beneficio a tutti e ci fa essere grati alle donne per il contributo che danno a una leadership migliore?

La mia risposta è semplice: dalla diversità di genere viene una spinta quasi inesorabile a uscire da quella che chiamiamo “zona di comfort” ovvero zona di comodità. Cos’è la zona di comfort? Cosa c’entra, poi, con le donne e la leadership?

Ho più volte avuto modo di dire che il cervello degli esseri umani, il nostro cervello, si è formato nel corso di molte migliaia di anni. È ancora lo stesso cervello che ci aiutava, quando vivevamo nelle savane e in piccoli gruppi familiari, a riconoscere il pericolo che ci veniva presentato negli incontri con altri esseri umani o con animali. In quelle circostanze, la nostra priorità era decidere, in una frazione di secondo, se accogliere l’essere vivente che avevamo di fronte…

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Italian reforms: The naysayers are at it again, but they are wrong.

This time, I will entirely borrow from a person I trust and consider highly. Erik F Nielsen is Unicredit’s Global Chief Economist, someone whose vision and insight has proven super valid in many different instances.


Here’s a short and punchy excerpt, from his most recent “Sunday Wrap”

 …the Italian growth story is different from – and considerably more complex than – the other big Eurozone countries. Italians who work (but too many don’t) put in plenty of hours, indeed broadly at par with the US and Japan, but they produce less per hour worked than the US, Germany and France – although considerably more than what’s produced per hour in the UK (and Japan), so its far from hopeless.

I am not going to write here the entire prescription for why that is so, but just note that to fix it and to transform Italy into a modern and globally competitive economy, a comprehensive reform agenda is needed – and that the Renzi government is on the case, rolling out an impressive set of reforms.

Part of the popular media and many of the commentariat continue to seem confused, or to demand unreasonably fast implementation. Let me just highlight two areas which receive a lot of attention right now, and where I think a lot of people don’t get it, namely labor market reforms and tax compliance:

First, on Thursday, the Italian government agreed to PD backbenchers’ demand that the change to the infamous Article 18 (that you cannot be fired for discriminatory or unjust disciplinary reason) will be formalized with an explicit amendment to the enabling laws for the incoming single Job Act. This “concession” led the usual gang of naysayers to suggest that Italian labor reforms have been watered down to a meaningless level. Never missing an interesting twist to the news, Euro-Intelligence claimed that “Renzi makes another important concession to the PD rebels in the debate on labor reforms”.

With all respect, I think this interpretation is nuts. If you disagree and see this change as a troublesome concession, I suggest that you remind yourself of the countries in the world that allow dismissal of workers based on discrimination or as an unjust disciplinary action – and maybe consider whether those are countries you’d like to live in – or invest in.

Second, with the Renzi government’s recent high-profile crackdown on tax cheaters, you hear a lot of nonsense about tax compliance and Italy’s supposed inability to collect revenues, which then – supposedly – is a cause of fiscal problems.

So, let’s set the record straight: On IMF data, the Italian (general) government collected 51.5% of GDP in revenues last year, which compares with, e.g. 44.7% in Germany, and 49.7% in Austria – and, not to put a too fine print on it, 33.7% in Ireland and 43.6% in Luxembourg, both presently under investigation for having agreed to competition-distorting tax cuts for companies, or 44.4% in the Netherlands, presently under investigation for allowing Starbucks strangely high write-offs for the risk associated with their coffee roasting operations (call me if you want to hear my view on the real issue with Starbucks roasting technique!)

My point is this: Italy has no problem collecting taxes; if anything, it collects too much, not too little, from the economy. The problem lies with the difference between what should be paid, according to the law (and by whom), and what actually is being paid – and by whom. In other words, it’s about fairness, and the possibility of lowering tax rates on the economy as a whole, if everyone pays what they are supposed to pay. Raising the tax compliance ratio without cutting other taxes would imply another fiscal tightening, which is hardly what Italy needs now.

Of course, making society comply with the law also requires a well functioning judiciary system, which is another Italian weakness – and another area where the Renzi government is making good progress.

Rome wasn’t built in one day – but once it was done, man, what a beautiful place it was…

Tommaso Arenare

A cover of The Economist, Freud, an ice cream, Matteo Renzi & what humour can tell about Europe

This week’s cover of the UK, continental Europe and Middle East edition of The Economist reads “That sinking feeling (again)” and features the German Chancellor, France’s President, Italy’s Prime Minister and the President of the European Central Bank (curious to see two Italians on board…) on a sinking boat made of a 20 Euro note.

The Economist's European cover of 30 August 2014

The Economist’s European cover of 30 August 2014

The Economist’s covers are worth a thousand words.

They are thorough, they are witty and, even when I might not like them, I love to read between the lines.

Inside the paper, the “Leader” piece focuses on what might threaten the survival of the Euro.

“If Germany, France and Italy cannot find a way to refloat Europe’s economy, the euro may yet be doomed”,

states The Economist, continuing:

…there is a shortage of political leaders with the courage and conviction to push through structural reforms to improve competitiveness and, eventually, reignite growth

…the country that most dramatically epitomises all three is France

Not much about Italy, nor about its Prime Minister, with the exception of a few lines such as those:

Mr Hollande is not just deeply unpopular; unlike Italy’s Matteo Renzi, who has bravely made the case for (as yet undelivered) tough reforms [the underlining is mine]

What has drawn some local controversy is the image of Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, holding an ice cream in his hand (see for example this tweet of Ferruccio De Bortoli, one of the Country’s leading journalists, editor of Il Corriere della Sera, who blames the Economist’s “bad taste”).

But what can we really read in the Economist’s putting an ice cream in the right hand of Matteo Renzi?

In the 1905 book The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious (German: Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten), as well as in the 1928 journal article Humour, Sigmund Freud noticed that humor, like dreams, can be related to unconscious content. In other words, with humour (here: with the ice cream in the hands of Matteo Renzi), the Economist lets out forbidden thoughts and feelings that the conscious mind usually suppressed in deference to society (see here for further thoughts on Freud’s view of humour).

Humour expresses unconscious desires that have been kept hidden for too long.

How about, for example, that feeling of forbiddenness that an ice cream can evoque?

How about the “hidden pleasure” and enjoyment of an ice cream? Ice creams are for kids? So be it. Kids are self-aware, a lot more so that many of us can acknowledge. How about that sense of desire for enjoying life in full as a kid does? Ice creams are for kids, as pleasure is for kids. Not for grown-ups. Or is it?

Also, the very wish that the Euro area might collapse can be at the top of the unconscious (or even very conscious) wish list of not so few of the readers (and editors) of the Economist.

Yes, Matteo Renzi’s ice cream might remind the Economist of this and much more.

Fair enough.

Yet let me repeat one thing very dear to me: the European Union (and the Euro) is here to stay.

President Draghi’s now famous “Whatever it takes” statement deserves to be re-read in its full clarity (as Open Thinking did at that time):

When people talk about the fragility of the euro and the increasing fragility of the euro, and perhaps the crisis of the euro, very often non-euro area member states or leaders, underestimate the amount of political capital that is being invested in the euro.

We think the euro is irreversible…But there is another message I want to tell you.

Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough”.

Let me now remind what Benjamin Franklin replied, when someone stated to him, in 1776, “We need to hang out together”.

“Yes, was his reply, we need to hang out together, otherwise we will hang out separately”.

And together we will make it.

Tommaso Arenare

How a few weeks of vacation can turn into greater long-term happiness & focus

For many of us, August is a time for some rest, time to cast off.

How about making good use of those few weeks? How can we use our break in order to benefit the most and return to our daily work re-energised, happier and able to connect better and more wisely?

IMG_1728 Here, I want to focus on a few things that can stimulate our thinking and increase our focus (and happiness) once we’re back to our daily work after the break:

  • Think “people”, not “activities” or “things”: as we spend time to re-assess what we do and how we do it, the summer break gives us a wonderful opportunity to re-think our lives in terms of “people“, not “things”. It’s not what we do that matters the most. Rather, it’s whose needs we address, who we do what we do with. “It’s Not the How or the What but the Who“, as Claudio Fernández-Aráoz’s most recent book summarises so well.
  • Re-think our connections and make a list of people that inspire us the most: I often enjoy discussing with my guests about this and ask them: “How many people have you known, in your life?”. Answers to that vary from “A few dozen” to the bravest, who dare say “Maybe a thousand?” Reality, though, is a lot more. Most of us highly underestimate the value of relationship and connection. Someone living their life in professional services, since their mid thirties, is more likely to have known, in the broadest sense of the meaning, between four and in some cases as many as ten thousand people (think about all the people we’ve known during our school life, then the university, then our colleagues at work…). CEOs of large companies have known several tens of thousands of people. We live a life of overexposure to connecting, not the opposite. Hence, we need to sharpen the focus:“How many, of those thousand people, are those I like, those who can inspire me, those I find satisfaction in connecting with?” Let’s write those few names (10 to 20) down, on a piece of paper, in a moment of rest.
  • Act on this list and those people, connect with them, let them know they inspire us (and we care): that much smaller and more precious list is a starting point for greater focus (and happiness) in our daily life.  I want these people to know they are on my list. These are people I want to connect with regularly, people whose advice and inspiration I want and need to seek regularly, as soon as the break ends if not now. The few weeks of our summer break can thus open up an entirely new element, which we’ve kept unconscious for so long.

People, not what we do, will make us happy. If these few weeks of vacation help us realise this, they can highly increase our long-term happiness and improve self-awareness for many years to come.



Tommaso Arenare


Why the week before a new job starts is crucial for its long-term success

I have a week left to prepare before I start in my new CEO job, what’s the best way for me to prepare?

Many times have I faced extremely bright people, with a new appointment already in their hands, and such a question in their mind.


“I have been chosen, the Annual General Meeting will appoint me to the Board a week from now, I will be appointed Chief Executive, what’s the best way for me to use this week in order to hit the ground running?”.

Integrating in a new role happens as much before we start in the new position as it happens after we’ve started.

The answer to that question is then “Use that week you have in order to accelerate your integration as much as you can”.

These are the things I would do the week before my new job starts:

  • Prepare your analysis of the situation: think of how you see your new job. Prepare a thirty seconds description of your plan, what an investor would call your “equity story”. Clearly define the pillars of your strategy in simple and effective terms. “When I start as CEO, we will focus on … Our strategy will be based on… Make sure your message is viable, clear, simple and effective. Communicate it thoroughly, repeatedly, simply. Do this alone, in a time of relax and with your mind empty and free, but then discuss it with a couple of people you trust the most, who will act as your mirror;
  • Map your key stakeholders: ask yourself this question:

    Who are the people that have a clear say in determining whether I am successful in the new role?

    Part of them will be shareholders, part of them will be team members, part of them will be peers in and outside the company. List them, up to around twenty of them. Map them carefully, thoroughly and prioritise them. I often recommend a very simple spreadsheet, listing all of them by name, role, with one line of comments and “next actions” just next to their name. Most importantly, I recommend one column with a priority number next to each of them. This is a very simple tool which will help you keep your list fresh, change it, re-prioritise it, always making sure that you can add new stakeholders, remove some old ones and manage their expectations effectively and timely. You will dialogue with key stakeholders a lot more effectively if you do so. As you dialogue with them, you will realise that you strongly contribute to influencing and defining the very same criteria they will use to define your own success. This will lay a much more solid foundation for your long term future in the role.

It is difficult to overemphasise how many great people have failed as Chief Executives (and even more so in different roles) for lack of thorough identification and understanding of key stakeholders at the onset of their adventure in the role.

In doing the above, get some help from advisors you trust. You need a mirror that helps you focus on both. As you do the above, you will realise that a number of simple actions and decisions come to the surface of your thinking. This is what we call “Day One Decisions“. The few key decisions that will help you “hit the ground running”, and do so effectively, rapidly and securely.

These few days before we start, if we spend them well, will be a key foundation for long term success in the role. Be it a Chief Executive role, as well as any executive role, or, even, a Non Executive Director position. Working on accelerating integration in the role is key to succeed in the end.

As someone said, we only have one occasion to make a good first impression.




Tommaso Arenare



This post was also published on LinkedIn.

Egon Zehnder turns 50

This time is more personal. This time is about us.

This time is about a man, an entrepreneur and a professional who, on the 4th of July 1964, 50 years ago, at the age of 34, decided to set up his own business and established a Firm which bears his name.



My selfie with Egon, June 2014

50 years on, the story continues.

Many things make me proud to be part of our Firm. I won’t discuss them here. Those who know me would know.

I want to spend a word of thanks to the remarkable dedication, spirit and vision of Egon and all the Partners who have come before us.

Our Firm would be different without them, I would be different without them and without Egon’s decision, over 50 years ago.


Tommaso Arenare




The “Who” element, the “Female Opportunity” and a matter of pride

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz published “Great People Decisions” in 2007. The book has achieved global fame with fifteen international editions, emphasizing how important people decisions are for the success of one’s personal life as well as for the broader impact of leadership in the world we live in.

Claudio Fernandez-Araoz

I have been a proud Egon Zehnder colleague of Claudio since 2004. I am now ever more proud as I hold in my hands “It’s Not the How or the What but the Who“, Claudio’s most recent book that was released at the beginning of June 2014 during the celebrations for Egon Zehnder’s 50th anniversary.

It's not the How or the What but the Who

More will follow on the extraordinary leadership insights that Claudio’s forty-four short essays can provide the reader. If only for a short minute, in this post I want to focus on Essay 34, where Claudio describes what he calls “the Female Opportunity”:

Over the past few years, as I’ve traveled the world to speak with senior private and public leaders about talent issues,… I am often asked where I see the most opportunity. My answer is never a country, it’s a gender: women.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, “It’s not the How or the What but the Who”, Harvard Business Review Press, p. 160


A couple of pages later, Claudio, whom we at Egon Zehnder had the privilege of seeing in action speaking at our Milan office to an audience of 80 women leaders in 2012, ends this chapter on the Female Opportunity quoting one best practice: Italy.

Italy as best practice for the "Female Opportunity"

Italy as best practice for the “Female Opportunity”

And he does so with specific mention to the recent history of Italy’s most effective legislation in favor of diverse boards, arguing in the very same direction (indeed quoting this very Open Thinking) as we have for a long time.

Women mean talent, positive change, better corporate governance and endless possibilities.


Tommaso Arenare