As the economic development community is stuck at home, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI-frontline who are facing the biggest global challenge in recent memory, if not of our lifetimes.
Italy has been in the eye of the storm for weeks, with the number of casualties now exceeding those registered in China. Giovanni Da Pozzo, chairman of Promos, Italy’s agency for exports promotion and investment attraction, shares his thoughts and experience with Jacopo Dettoni.
Q: Chairman Da Pozzo, what has it been like in the past few weeks for you and Promos?
A: Well, we are trying to stay afloat, we are all trying to discern what lies ahead, but it’s still impossible in this phase.
Q: Italy has been in lockdown for a few weeks now. What has been the impact on the ground, so far?
A: Activity in some of the most productive sectors of the economy has been all but zeroed. Large parts of the manufacturing sector are being affected, trade is down 90%, tourism is down 100%, and also transnational logistics are experiencing incredible challenges. Even the supply chain in key industries like food and pharma is affected, which creates problems that trickle down to the whole economy.
Q: How has this affected Promos?
A: We have 80 employees across Italy, they are all working from home right now and adjusting to this new form of work. Our strategy is a natural corollary of this. We are focusing on innovative projects to encourage companies to develop innovation and digital platforms that will put them in a position to do business in a world where physical contact is more complicated. This adjustment has to happen very quickly though. However, the challenge for us is that our typical institutional counterparts, like the Lombardy Region, are completely devoted to the health emergency at the moment. Eventually, our efforts to promote digitalisation will be pegged to the evolution of the health emergency.
Q: What is your message for domestic and foreign businesses active in northern Italy?
A: The first thing is to keep alive and nurture all the business connections they have around the globe, so that they can be reactivated once we are out of this. At the same time, they have to develop a digitalisation roadmap for their operations and processes.
Q: How has this crisis impacted you on a professional and personal level?
A: It’s a difficult challenge to deal with. The most complicated aspect is to come up with a strategy able to look at the next six months. At the moment, the first necessity, particularly for our fabric of SMEs, is having access to credit and safeguarding jobs.
Q: As chairman of Promos, what are the leadership skills you believe will make a difference in dealing with this emergency?
A: It’s about having vision and relations. Vision because in the middle of the current uncertainties, it’s important to be able to anticipate changes, not be passive observers. Relations because the success of any endeavour remains pegged to the underlying human relations that made it happen in the first place.
Q: What do you see happening in the mid- to long-term?
A: When the health emergency is over, the biggest change will concern the way we relate to each other as the perception of personal interaction will change. This element has been traditionally important for Italian SMEs, which means they will have to reset and change mentality. We have to adjust to the new shut-in economy where that way of doing business based on personal relations will not be there any more.
Giovanni Da Pozzo is the chairman of Promos.
If you work in economic development or site selection and you want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.