Alessandro Benetton, the recently appointed heir of the Italian clothing and accessories major, the Benetton Group, aims to act like the 'conductor of an orchestra' for the organisation, which is trying to make a seamless transition to the second generation.
Amid a deepening European crisis, the new chairman is considered tough enough to introduce bold changes in product and strategy to revive the sinking business.
The son of Luciano Benetton, founder of the group, Alessandro set up his own private equity firm - active in the private equity field in Italy and France, with assets of over €1.3 billion - before joining the family group.
A Harvard alumnus, Alessandro started his career with Goldman Sachs International, as a mergers and acquisitions analyst.
What is leadership for you?
I believe the role of leadership today should be one of guidance. A leader must not only take responsibility for decision-making, but also create organisations in which knowledge is widespread, so people can work together to build value and develop the business.
Who inspires you?
First Luciano, for his driving innovation and far-sightedness. And also the American management guru, Michael Porter, my mentor at Harvard, where I received my MBA education. Good role models are very important, though you have to be able to find your own way in life and have the courage to be yourself.
The euro zone is under pressure, the economy is sinking. How do you handle the bad economic scenario, especially when your performance is constantly being watched?
It's important, in my opinion, to view this period of crisis not least as an opportunity to rethink and improve our system so that we'll be ready and prepared when economic conditions improve. It's at times of discontinuity such as these that companies like ours can reflect on their position and launch a new business direction. It's also true, unfortunately, that society today is used to expecting results in the very short term, whereas generating solutions to more complex organisational issues requires planning and a greater amount of time.
Is there a difference in the style of a leadership for those who manage a family business and for those who lead an organisation on a salaried basis?
There may be a difference in the passion for your work, which, in the case of a family business, is felt as a manifestation of a business culture that you have always been part of. Having roots and traditions is important to help you look to the future and create new chapters in your story.
What is the best leadership decision that you have taken so far?
Only time will tell if a decision was a good one or not. In this regard, I think delisting was a major step for the future of Benetton Group. We decided to delist from the Milan stock exchange to avoid a routine mind-set and realign this aspect, too, to fit the long-term perspective in which we operate.
..And your worst decision?
I wouldn't be a very shrewd leader if I were to admit one…
Being a leader of a giant apparel fashion house, how do you keep yourself updated about on fashion around the globe - especially in countries like India with reserved cultures?
Apart from my personal interest, which makes me an attentive observer of trends, I travel around the world to get a sense of the up-coming fashion and lifestyle trends of young people. Life is one of our sources of inspiration, as are the arts, architecture and the web. They are all expressions of an increasingly global, interconnected world with which we have established a solid relationship. Regarding India, during my recent trip there I perceived a great enthusiasm for looking to the future, with far more confidence and energy than ever before.
You are both a Harvard graduate and the heir of a family run business. Do you think leadership runs in one's DNA or can be learnt in MBA institutes?
I think everything is talent , it's partly innate, and the rest is down to learning, commitment and a lot of hard work. And, being aware that a day you learnt something new is a day well spent.
Are you open to debates on your decisions with your co-workers?
Sharing, and respecting others' opinions are fundamental teamwork values. It's important to listen to one's co-workers' comments and opinions. Then, you can decide on your priorities according to your conscience and competence.
What is your leadership mantra?
I think there's more than one. Firstly, leadership consists of the ability to make decisions and shoulder responsibility. Secondly, as I said before, it is also the ability to create organisations that generate ideas and creativity. Then, the capacity to work in a team and making teamwork a vital tool to manage an increasingly complex business world.