Dean Peter Tufano interviews Intesa Sanpaolo’s Gian Maria Gros-Pietro
Gian Maria Gros-Pietro is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo. His career has included spells in academic research, business, and as a political advisor.
You’ve had roles in academia, government, and business. Do you think the same leadership style works in each sector or should leaders take a different approach according to their environment?
Some elements are common to leadership in every sector. One is courage. Another is empathy. Wherever you are you have to create coalitions: you have to build a system of goals which can attract the support of the majority of people who are working in that organisation, department, or even nation. As part of this you have to know what you are proposing, why you are proposing it, how you intend to reach it, what you need to reach it, and where you will find the means to reach it. That is planning, and that also is essential wherever you are working.
In a research centre or university knowledge is highly valued, and your own scientific reputation is paramount. Your reputation will attract the best collaborators, and your leadership will get the best effort from them.
In business, the equivalent of academic reputation is the ability to produce profits that can be reinvested in the company. If reinvested the profits will help the company to grow; and when the company grows all the people within it receive a premium.
The most difficult leadership environment is politics. This needs complete dedication, complete reliability, quickness of reaction at every hour of the day, every day of the week. Unfortunately, however, knowledge is not considered particularly important in this sphere.
As we know, there are tensions in Europe – not least the fact that the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. What is your assessment of the European experiment?
When I was three years old I remember hearing a sound that I liked very much. It was a powerful sound that filled the underground shelter where I was with my parents. It was the sound of hundreds of bombers bombing the city where I lived. And I liked that sound. But I was a child. And I did not realise that this beautiful sound was the origin of the fact that when we got out of the shelter, some of the buildings had been destroyed and many people had been killed.
When we argue that the EU is unsatisfactory, we should not forget that it has given Europe more than 70 years of peace, while outside Europe there have been continual wars – Kosovo, Ukraine, not to mention the Middle East, North Africa and so on.
Economists say that it takes us 13 years to forget the lessons of a financial crisis and get excited again. Maybe the same goes for war, but I hope not. We should complete the European construction. To do so we must tackle the most difficult problems that the EU has so far avoided: that is, political union, fiscal solidarity and so on. It would be challenging but it is better than war and better than the possibility of Europe becoming insignificant. The European Union has made Europe the richest market in the world. But the lack of political union has made it weak politically, and that will become a terrible problem in the coming decades.
As for Brexit, I can only say as a continental European that Brexit will be a tragedy for continental Europe because Britain has always contributed an important liberal attitude. Britain’s leaving will be a terrible loss for Europe.