Relationships in capitalism. An interview with Professor Giovanni Bazoli

EMF - Executive Master in Finance

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Relationships are critical to any business activity. Without good relationships and individual expertise, it is difficult to understand both the problems and the people involved, and ultimately becomes harder to find practical solutions. You need to understand not only people’s motives but also their psychology. These are some of the messages Professor Giovanni Bazoli, Chairman Emeritus of Intesa Sanpaolo, gave the participants in the EMF - Executive Master in Finance during the Opening Ceremony for the EMF Class 6, who had the privilege of attending the interview at an exclusive location in Intesa Sanpaolo’s Gallerie d’Italia in Milano. Andrea Beltratti, EMF Academic Director, and Alessia Bezzecchi, EMF Program Director, also attended the meeting.

 

How did you become a banker? “Banking was not in my life plans. Due to my family’s forensic tradition I was drawn to studying law and pursuing an academic career. I was also acutely aware of the political and social situation in our country, probably influenced by two important figures - my grandfather, one of the founders of the Popular Party, and my father. After the war, he had participated in the work of the Constituent Assembly, the elective legislative body in charge of drafting a Constitution for the newborn Italian Republic. Guided by Professor Feliciano Benvenuti, I became a Professor of Administrative Law at Milan’s Catholic University, which at the time was a hothouse of ideas and talents later to play a leading role in national life. Here I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know some great figures: among them Romano Prodi and Nino Andreatta (‘leader of ideas’, as he was defined by President Ciampi after his death). In 1982, Andreatta, as Minister of the Treasury, and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, as Governor of the Bank of Italy, decreed the failure of Banco Ambrosiano. The Italian banking system at that time was very different from today, mainly in terms of ownership. Most of the Italian banks were state-owned, while Governor Ciampi advocated a more private banking system, more efficient and free from political interference. In the effort to find a solution to save the business operations of former Banco Ambrosiano, it was difficult to find private banks which were willing to intervene along with public ones. Banca San Paolo di Brescia, of which I was a director , also joined the group of banks that was formed. When I was proposed for the role of Chairman of Nuovo Banco Ambrosiano, I thought for a long time before accepting. In the end, it was Andreatta and Ciampi who convinced me that, in the interests of the country, I could not shirk the responsibility of taking on a task that appeared very risky.”

 

The global financial crisis, the Berlin Wall and the West. “In the past, you have argued about the political and economic system by connecting elements of today’s situation with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the difficulties of the Soviet Union. Could you summarize and go deeper into these topics?”

“The West won the competition with the Soviet Union not as a result of military intervention, but thanks to a better economic and political structure. The centralized system proved inefficient compared to a decentralized market-economy model, and this is what caused the Soviet Union to collapse. It was lucky that Gorbachev was leading Russia at that time and he intervened to prevent resorting to arms, something which East Germany was ready to do, and could have triggered a catastrophic war. Gorbachev has never been acknowledged for that in Russia, while he has in the West. But it is sometimes harder to know how to win than how to lose, and the West, the United States in particular, did not understand that that was the time to launch a major global development and aid plan, similar to what was done for Europe after WW2. In my opinion, this was the moment when the decline of the West began, accelerated at the beginning of the Nineties by the decision to open up international trade to totalitarian countries with strong economic growth, without putting a limit as to the principles of economic democracy and the market. This created the conditions for a process of international delocalization of productive activities that no one has ever managed.”

 

Banks, investors and managers. “The U.S. system has followed a path that lacks strategic vision, even in terms of the overall governance of companies and financial institutions. I’m thinking of investors and managers who operate on a very limited time scale, thinking in terms of quarters instead of years. Managing major companies merely with a view to maximizing short-term profit is short-sighted by definition, and brings about serious consequences at a social level as well. I have always defined banks as social enterprises that are responsible for people and communities. I received accusations of various kind because of my putting the human factor at the center of the corporate vision, but I strongly defend this approach.”

“This is a vision,” echoed the EMF Academic Director, “that has been gaining ground, both in the academic and managerial perspectives, in recent years, when the responsibility of companies for all their stakeholders has been emphasized.” President Bazoli resumed his speech: “The opportunity we have to meet in this beautiful venue today bears witness to the fact that people with a long-term vision can use the wealth created by banks for the common good. This place houses great works of art, which will remain available for the community to see, hopefully for centuries. It is impossible to conceive of these projects unless you have a long-term vision.”

 

The people. “You have met all the relevant people in the economic life of our country, even in an international context. Would you like to recall any particular person or episode?”

“I have already mentioned Beniamino Andreatta and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, two people of great foresight and determination who were at the basis of my decision to become a banker. But I have had the good fortune to meet and admire many people of high standing in the civil, political, social and religious spheres. I remember Enrico Cuccia with great respect, for example. I initially had to deal with him from different perspectives, partly because we served institutions with potentially conflicting goals. However, over time, our confrontation turned into dialogue and mutual esteem, not to mention the recent trust and closeness due to painful personal events that had coincidentally struck us at the same time. I also vividly remember my relationship with Gianni Agnelli, with whom I managed to save the Rizzoli Group from bankruptcy.”

 

Advice for the Executive Master in Finance participants. “What advice would you like to give our participants?”

“Read great literature, it will help you understand the nature and psychological profile of people, an essential element to enrich your personal networks and be effective in life and work. And be very serious and dedicated to studying while you are young, because it is from what you have learned and cultivated at a young age that the best and most creative ideas will germinate during your professional life. And finally, do not give up your personal interests. Carve out time for yourself and cultivate the things that are the closest to your heart.”

 

 

SDA Bocconi School of Management

 

 

EMF Opening Ceremony e Leader Series con Giovanni Bazoli | SDA Bocconi

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