Right now is Italy’s time to shine – and the time to invest in the country. In 2017, Italian exports beat forecasts and grew by nearly eight percent, with a value of about 450 billion euros. Italy is the second largest manufacturer in Europe, after Germany, and among the top five biggest manufacturers in the world. Economic growth in 2018 is expected to be even better, bolstered by government incentives for R&D investment. The Industry 4.0 plan, launched in 2016, generated around 80 billion euros of investment in technology research and innovation in 2017 alone.
“We are very much ready to take the flag of Italy and to go abroad, to dare to go away from Italy, and to say we are the best, we are Made in Italy,” says successful Italian entrepreneur and former European Parliament member, Luisa Todini.
Promoting and establishing Italian quality around the world is the main mission of the Comitato Leonardo, or Leonardo Committee, the non-profit that Todini has led since December 2008 – among her numerous other leadership roles, including Chairman of Todini Costruzioni Generali, one of Italy’s largest and most important construction companies.
“The success is in the name of Comitato Leonardo,” said Todini with a smile. “Leonardo [da Vinci] was a genius, was an Italian genius but also a worldwide genius.”
The Leonardo Committee was established in 1993 by two of Italy’s most famous entrepreneurs turned senators; Sergio Pininfarina, former automobile designer for Ferrari, and Gianni Agnelli, former head of Fiat. The committee began as a joint initiative with Confindustria and the Italian Trade Agency.
It now has 160 members – small, medium, and large companies – that represent both the traditional Made in Italy sectors, like automobiles and fashion, and the plethora of other high-quality Italian industries that are less well-known on the international stage. These include companies in “construction, energy, bio-medical, nano–technology, design,” explained Todini. “So all 360 degrees of Made in Italy.”
In the last year, these member companies – like Prada, Bulgari, Ferrero, Enel, UniCredit and Pirelli – generated total revenues of more than 350 billion euros, of which 54 percent derived from overseas sales. “From these figures you can really understand what we do represent in Italy and how important Comitato Leonardo is in the institutional figures and all the most important private figures,” Todini said.
Beyond the European and North American markets, Todini pointed out that “Italy is the physical hub in front of Africa and we should be much more aware of that. … We are a link, like a bridge to Africa. … For example, Morocco could be the gate to all of Africa, and we see there a lot of Italian companies doing great things together, from big construction to Eni.”
Eni is an Italian multinational oil and gas company with a heavy presence in Africa, including in Egypt, Angola, Congo, Gabon, Ghana and Mozambique.
But Eni is an exception to the rule in Italy, where 90 percent of companies are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The Leonardo Committee, and Todini, recognise this and, thus, the company is its focusing efforts on mentoring and funding SME entrepreneurs, which are the backbone of the country’s economy. The company oversees a mentorship programme with their members in which young entrepreneurs have the opportunity to learn from the best of the best in various fields. And ambitious entrepreneurs are rewarded in the annual Leonardo Awards ceremony, a high profile event attended by the president of the republic of Italy. Todini herself received the Leonardo Quality Italy award in 2008 on behalf of Todini Costruzioni Generali for maintaining and strengthening Made in Italy abroad.
In 2012, the Leonardo Committee established the Start–up Prize to recognise young Italian companies that have excelled in terms of growth, success and innovation. The winners have been called “ambassadors” of Italy’s image around the world.
A key to Italian companies’ success internationally, said Todini, is “the Italian capacity to be adaptable with all the different changes in politics.” This gives Italian firms the unique ability to efficiently face different countries and different markets. “This is really a peculiarity of Italian manufacturing,” Todini said. “This is the real power, the real force that we have.”
More than one month after the country’s general election, Italy is still lacking the formation of a government. The uncertainty surrounding which parties will eventually lead creates uncertainty for businesses and other economic players over which policies will be continued or discarded by the next ruling coalition. However, Todini said she expects a parliament that will move ahead with the “good tools” that have been deployed in the last year.
In any case, “Parliament can change but Italy will be there, and Italians will be there,” she said. “We will be there and ready to go outside to take the Italian flags outside as we do every year.”
With all the economic data pointing upward, Italy’s moment in the sun is now.