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Italians don’t like entrepreneurs very much, even though they hold the key to better development

Italians like enterprise and consider it the main driver of economic development, especially if it’s an SME.

 But they don’t like entrepreneurs. A bit of a paradox. A country quite unaware that industry is it strength and wealth. In a nutshell, these are the results of a survey just conducted by IPSOS, the respected research institute headed by Nando Pagnoncelli. The study was presented last Friday in Parma, at the Centro Studi Confindustria conference on the theme of “entrepreneurs, geniuses of development”. An unsettling result and not so much because it’s surprising (the popularity of entrepreneurs has long been waning in the general crisis of credibility and reliability affecting the entire ruling class) but because at the very moment when the fragile reprise needs all the support it can get, it threatens to overshadow the positive energies that even during the long recession have built wealth, work, social cohesion: enterprises, those who head them and who can guarantee their future.

An IPSOS survey, conducted on a sample of 1,000 Italians and confirmed by various other statistical data, documents that setting up a business is far less appealing than a decade ago, when over a quarter of the population was in favour of it, and today this is down to just a fifth.  And if respondents are asked for advice on which profession to seek, the sample equates “entrepreneur” and “civil servant” (20%), conversely expressing much appreciation of “freelancers” (35%).  This is an Italy mainly of office workers, doctors and lawyers.  Who don’t wonder who builds wealth and innovation.  Pagnoncelli says, “There is no up-to-date image of the industrialist that combines growth, competitiveness and social engagement.  So 45% of interviewees think that the work of entrepreneurs has regressed compared to the past.

Italy has the second largest manufacturing sector in Europe, after Germany, and is among the top five countries in the world with a manufacturing surplus in excess of 100 billion dollars (mostly due to its excellent mechanical engineering industry, followed closely by furniture, clothing and food). But Italians are unaware of it. And they don’t care. Yet if we want to get ahead on the path of economic development, competitiveness, employment opportunities for the younger generation, it is precisely the entrepreneurs who have to learn to face the great cultural, social and also political challenge, for a new and better awareness of their role.

“The challenge awaiting Confindustria,” says Giorgio Squinzi to an audience of industrialists meeting in Parma, when handing over, in a manner of speaking, to his successor Vincenzo Boccia, “is the need to build a new vision and a new awareness of our production world.” This means a better description of enterprise which will also engage politicians, economists, men and women of the worlds of culture and creativity: entrepreneurs as innovators, but also as social players responsible for the quality of economic and employment growth, skilled at handling new technologies as keys to environmental and social sustainable development.

Top companies have already embarked on this route, escaping the traps of familyism and the distorted ideologies of “small is beautiful”. Nonetheless, the pursuit must go on, in the wake of the strategies already defined by “pocket-size” multinationals, medium and medium-large companies with strong family roots yet with strong management structure, innovative, present on their home ground, but with a far-sighted attention to international markets: manufacturing companies that are the face of the best of “Made in Italy”.

There is certainly a very widespread anti-enterprise sub-culture around. And there are areas of public opinion (and institutional players) persuaded that entrepreneurs and managers are interested only in profit, in business that aims only for success, who are unscrupulous and will stoop to any compromise, however low. It is a conviction to be countered.

“Beat the corrupt, not the market,” wrote Antonio Polito quite rightly in his editorial for Corriere della Sera, on 9 April: “Corruption must be fought without quarter because it is destructive for the economy, but woe betide us if we think of decimating business to kill it off: the quality of our lives and our income depends on the level of development and technology of the country in which we live.”

The challenge is not only in business, culture and society. It is also moral. The Positive Economy Forum held at San Patrignano on Friday and Saturday, by initiative of Letizia Moratti, discussed this during an international debate attended by entrepreneurs, economists and artists: “Reshape the spirit of capitalism, making altruism prevail over egoism, and the interests of the whole over the interests of the individual” said Il Sole24Ore. Responsibility, sustainability, engagement, quality of development, “doing well by doing good”, says Kasturi Rangar, professor at the Harvard Business School. The new frontier of enterprise is development and quality. An achievable objective.