General Electric buys Avio from Finmeccanica, the US giant Mohawk takes control of Marazzi, the historic brand of ceramics in the heart of the Sassuolo district. A few months ago, Audi added a majority share in the prestige motorcycle company Ducati to its portfolio. Just three of so many stories. “The Made in Italy label snatched by foreign multinationals!” Short-sighted provincial defenders of economic nationalism tear their hair out, calling for protectionism and impossible subsidies. All in an age of open markets and globalisation. What a country really needs to do is to attract massive international investments and, at the same time, have its own companies carve out spaces on foreign markets. The problem with Italy is unfortunately that it is at the bottom of the list of EU countries in terms of attracting investments and of those with powerful multinational corporations in the world. And this is a serious brake on growth.
Foreign industrial investments (except for those of the rapacious post-colonial kind) have a great advantage: they do not just bring wealth, jobs and continuity to historic companies that lack solid stock ownership (Ducati, as we have seen), but also new culture, research, skills and relationships. And they encourage fertile interactions with local expertise. The efficient organisation of the English- and German-speaking world coupled with the Italian flair for flexibility, creativity, adaptability and a perfect combination of quality and beauty (our finest design). In other words, investments can lead to a business culture that brings together the cosmopolitan approach of big business and the national talent for combining tradition and innovation for which Italy is famous. This is how Italian companies with a more competitive ownership edge are created. And it is they that inspire global competitiveness in the finest companies that are Italian not just in name but also in their ownership and management. Protectionism leads nowhere. Interaction, on the other hand, leads to development.