Speech for the stamp commemorating Adriano Olivetti
Ministry of Economic Development, 15 December 2020
I would like to thank the Undersecretary, Mr Gian Paolo Manzella, and the Ministry of Economic Development for kindly inviting me. I send my warmest regards to Beniamino de’ Liguori Carino, whose commitment in driving forward the Adriano Olivetti Foundation is admirable.
I cannot talk to you about Adriano Olivetti in a rational and detached manner. Olivetti has influenced my way of thinking and my life, so I may not be objective in his regard. Today, all I can do is share with you a story.
I started my career as an entrepreneur in 1998 at the age of 22, spurred on by having discovered a wonderful new tool: the internet.
While I was building the company, my uncle Pasquale, a hard-headed man from Abruzzo who was very devoted to his work, did two things: he gave me two works by Adriano Olivetti – available today in ‘Ai lavoratori’ and ‘Le fabbrica di bene’, published by Edizioni Comunità – and he told me about the Olivetti Programma 101, the first personal computer in the world. Or the first programmable calculator, as the Americans call it – perhaps they are more pragmatic, or simply more protective of their technological superiority.
I think my uncle gave me these speeches by Olivetti because he wanted to make sure I understood not such much how I should do business, but why I should do it. What its ultimate goal is. Those speeches, in a style that to a twenty-something seemed far-off and from another time, actually had a profound influence on me. They succeeded in this because, behind that old-fashioned style, their values were timeless.
Secondly, my uncle told me about the Programma 101.
He worked in Ancona at the Institute of Economics, which was run by Giorgio Fuà, one of Olivetti’s advisors. They gave my uncle one of the very first Programma 101s, serial number 2. Thanks to that new tool, his work changed. For the better, of course. He was able to automate most of the tedious calculations and spend more time focusing on the part of the job that satisfied him the most: being creative. My uncle discovered the joy of gaining time thanks to a tool made for humans.
A tool designed not to replace people, but to support them.
It was therefore Adriano Olivetti, through my well-meaning uncle Pasquale, who taught me that a company can set itself a goal that goes beyond profit and that creating tools to allow people to improve and grow not only helps them, but is also a profitable way of doing business.
The world in which the Olivetti factory operated was a different world from the one in which we operate today. We have moved from a product-based economy to a services economy. From manual labour to intellect. We cannot take Adriano Olivetti’s teachings and apply them literally. But we can and must translate them in order to make them current.
Companies have certainly changed, although successful ones still fall into one of two main categories. The first group exploits human weaknesses: addictions such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling, sugar, and the more recent but equally dangerous psychological addictions introduced (for example) by social networks. These companies are easier to create and harder to destroy. For the most part, they do not create new wealth for society; they simply shift it from the weak to the strong.
Companies in the second category, on the other hand, are more difficult to create and unfortunately more fragile: they build tools that inspire people and help them to do great things. I have unconditional love for these companies.
I don’t think any of us can say what Olivetti would be doing if he were alive today. But I have no doubt that he would be supporting the young entrepreneurs setting up the latter companies. He would be doing this with his own capital, and he would be teaching these entrepreneurs to nurture talent by offering better working conditions to their employees. He would lend his help and support to ensure that the companies that elevate people prevail over those that exploit their weaknesses.
Based on my experience, I am certain of one thing: the application of Adriano Olivetti’s philosophy on a large scale did not fail because it was utopian, but because of his early death.
Beyond its tragic hardships, the pandemic that we are living through offers us a great opportunity for change. Silicon Valley, loved by Adriano himself as well as his father Camillo, has been attracting and stealing the brightest talents from various countries for years, but it is now experiencing the most significant exodus in its history. An exodus likely to redistribute talent more evenly across our small planet.
On this day where we pay tribute to Adriano Olivetti, I can only hope that the change brought about by the pandemic will lead to the creation of new businesses in the mould of Olivetti: fewer companies and entrepreneur-states that exploit human weaknesses, and more companies that are close to their respective communities, once again making people and their happiness the goal of the business.