Grasso: going far requires preparation, ethics and instinct

The CEO of Maserati at an MBA Leadership Series’ meeting


“An unlikely journey.” When it is a manager at the helm of a historic company and one of the most famous Italian brands in the world talking, he is to be believed. Davide Grasso, CEO of Maserati since 2019, openly retraces the journey that led him to where he is now: “I don’t come from a wealthy family, I didn’t have the ‘right connections.’ But I was given opportunities, and I have delivered results.” The secret? “Creating value. To know where you can do that, you have to know yourself and be yourself. And do what you enjoy doing. The rest will follow.” An awareness that comes from deep inside: “To be successful, conserve your inner voice. It’s your differences that make you unique and precious. Add value by what you are.”

It has to be said, Maserati’s CEO made a blazing start to addressing the audience of SDA Bocconi’s Full-Time MBA Leadership Series meeting. The students themselves were the focus of the meeting, he emphasized. A perfect audience, “triple-L” people (Life-Long Learners) who have bet on themselves at a risky time. Grasso knows this from personal experience: “I’ve been in your shoes too (and the times weren’t easy); now I’m just someone who’s a bit ahead. After finishing my MBA, I joined Nike in Amsterdam as a product line manager. What I didn’t tell my family and friends before I left was that it was a one-year contract for a position that didn’t even require a degree, let alone an MBA. And that I had turned down offers from one of the three major strategic firms and a large merchant bank.” It’s like in sport, he argued: following your passion and taking risks are the requirements for success. “I felt it wasn’t my place. If we learn to listen to it, instinct can tell us interesting things.”

Indeed the gamble proved a win: “I took up responsibilities, I was successful, I was rewarded.” This is how a career as a “fixer” in difficult situations began, leading him to deal with markets in five continents at the highest levels of Nike and Converse, before landing in Modena.

Every road to success has its “signposts.” First, there is no no-go for those who are not sharks, Grasso said, quoting Richard Branson, Virgin’s founder: values, a shared work ethic, point the way. Of course, there will be dangerous turns and falling rocks, but “never give up and never give in.” Good managers are called upon when a turnaround is needed, and “if you are convinced it can be done, it will happen. Think of it as a marathon, not a 100-meter sprint.”

This is also because leaders lead by example: you respect and follow them because you want to, not because you have to (those are bosses). A leader does everything to enable people to perform at their best, “even triggering some competition on preparation the greatest basketball talent ever, Michael Jordan, believed that preparation was the cornerstone of his success. And don’t be afraid to hire people who are better than you: the strength of your team is your strength.”

Not simply thinking leaders. Great ideas are certainly necessary, but it is execution that makes the difference. “Get things done,” Grasso stressed. “Simplify and get on with it. Don’t get caught up in mental patterns. Goals, priorities can be one or two, three at the most.” The rest is knowing how to stay on course: “It is you who hold the tiller of the rudder. You cannot control the wind but you can steer the boat. Resilience and focus are the keys to dealing with reality.”

And people are always the horizon of the journey, whether customers, employees or stakeholders. The perspective must be reversed: for example, it is not about customer loyalty, it is the brand that must be loyal to customers, to their needs, if it wants to create long-term value. Also leaders should never forget whom they work for: “I work first and foremost for the families whose livelihoods depend on Maserati.” This is the most responsible way to be a leader: build the future for the next generations.

SDA Bocconi School of Management


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