Claudio Bozzo (President - Italian Chamber of Commerce in New York)

Il meglio dell'Italia: nuova, di successo, a New York

Nov 21, 2013 5418 ITA ENG

In describing the protagonists of different aspects of the relationship between Italy and the United States, we often met young successful (at least, young by the Italian standards), other times prominent managers or entrepreneurs, or institutional representatives. The person we interview today combines in himself all these three aspects, together with a love for Italy and great availability that are also features found in our other guests, but that continue to favorably impress us, targeted as we are by negative news coming from our beloved and difficult country.

Claudio Bozzo is 46 years old and is President of Mediterranean Shipping Company USA, and also President of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in New York. On the same ocean where once traveled millions of our fellow countrymen in search of economic survival, today the company he leads is leader in the transportation of Italian products, ambassadors of a country which is appreciated in the US and can, indeed must, promote itself even more towards a people that love us and our lifestyle. We meet him on the eve of the Chamber of Commerce gala, to be held on 22 November in New York: a moment of celebration and showcase of a beautiful, successful and proud piece of Italy.

President Bozzo, you are the head of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in New York, the oldest Italian Chamber of Commerce in America and one of the oldest in the world, among those out of Italy. Please tell us something about the history of this institution, and its numbers and activities of today: the Chamber of Commerce has just turned 125 years old, but at the same time you are looking towards the future ...

Correct, the Chamber is the oldest in America and the second oldest Italian Chamber abroad and we celebrated our 125th anniversary last year, in an excellent way: we had a record year in terms of everything, from the number of events we organized to the number of members of the Chamber of Commerce, from the number of visas we issued to the financial result of our institution. It was an historical moment for us: but we still have a long way to go and we're still trying to improve. This year we will have another record year, which means we're on the right track.

Five years ago, when I became president, we gave ourselves some goals, and we are perfectly in line in achieving them: the main objective was to make sure that the Chamber would become an organization of which the Italians and Italian Americans here in New York would be proud of.

First of all, we wanted to be a profitable organization, without any help coming from Rome: we wanted to make sure that we would able to find the funds that we needed here in the United States, because we live in a rich country and we wanted to depend just on us and nobody else, and we already achieved this.

We wanted to make sure that, in comparison to the other foreign Chambers of Commerce that operate in the US territory, we would be the best and most recognizable one: and we reached this goal, too. Actually, this year, I even became the President of the Association of all the European Chambers of Commerce in the United States. This is a clear recognition that the other EU chambers have seen what we have achieved in these past years.

Another objective we focused on was to prove the big heart of the Italian people, working on some consistent charitable donations: last year we were able to donate 100.000 dollars to Operation Smile, which helps kids in poor countries. We were very proud of that, showing that we are "a small chamber with a big heart", as our payoff said.

Then, we realized the mission to increase the number of our associates: our membership, which is of course completely on a voluntary basis, grew a lot during these years. Now we have a little bit more than 400 companies associated to the Chamber, and it's a number that increases every year. This is a very telling number. Companies would not join the Chamber if they would not get something back!
Concerning the most important of our missions, creating trade between Italy and the USA, we also did very well. The number of missions we organized between the two countries has increased more than 4 times and our success rate is very high in helping Italian companies open a new market in the USA.

Another important issue I'd like to mention is that we have a very productive relationship with the other Italian institutions in the US: the Consulate in New York, the Embassy in DC, ICE, ENIT. A couple of years ago we've been very happy and proud to be asked to organize a special event when President Napolitano came to New York, and this testified the confidence the Chamber has acquired in organizing meetings, missions and other kind of events, which I proudly have to say are always very successful and every year more crowded and appreciated than the year before.

On November 22 the Chamber will celebrate the annual gala. Galas have always a great importance for American and Italian American institutions and associations: they often are also the time for the many charity initiatives put in place. What's in the program for this year?

The gala has been for a long time a moment of celebration for us, and a moment of union between Italians. It's also an occasion to show the new Italy every year and keep that image up to date.

Every year we try to pass a new message. This year's message is the introduction of two new books published by the Chamber together with Primi dieci Society: PrimiDieci and PrimiDieci Under 40. The objective of these two books are to capture the essence of who the best Italians were this year the United States. We are not talking only about business, we're relating to any field. We will publish and distribute these books all over the Italian and Italian American network in the US. We will distribute them among companies and institutions in Italy too. It will become a yearly publication and people can start collecting them to create their own history of successful Italians and Italian Americans in the USA. This is for us is also the first step towards the goal of creating a society, PrimiDieci society, that will incorporate all these people that are awarded so they can stay in touch with each other. Our intent is also to create an event in Italy, the "Cortina Think Tank"– because it will happen in Cortina d'Ampezzo – in which we'll bring all these PrimiDieci to Italy and have them meet with Italian entrepreneurs, young and old, in order to exchange views and to create a network of connections between Italy and the US. We believe that Italy invented what we call "the Human internet". In fact, we are the country with the most amount of emigrants all over the world who have reached very important positions both in business and politics. Promoting and strengthening the link between Italy and the US means being able to help more Italian companies in their internationalization programs.

We have the perception that you give a very strong importance to young Italians, are we right?

Absolutely. Another goal we reached as Chamber of Commerce has been to develop a young people network, the future of our country. There are a lot of young Italians coming to New York, even just working a year or two and then going back to Italy or moving somewhere else. We wanted to help them get the proper managerial mentality, so we created the "Young executives program" (YEX) that over the years has become a very important project, with 1100 young people involved that don't pay a penny, because the Chamber pays for it. The YEX organize around thirty events a year between networking, cultural, business and charitable. We even created a "certificate on Internationalization" that you receive once you have completed 30 lessons on many aspects of business.

Helping Italian young people's minds in developing their commitment and their love for Italy is something very important to all of us at the Chamber. But please, let me also tell you that another group inside the Chamber that we created, and I'm very proud of, is the "Women forum", designed in order to help business women to do business here in the US with other women. W2W, Women to Women, a privileged road for business. We're working hard to promote this opportunity because we believe that the change that we need cannot come without the contribution of Italian women.

If there is a place where the two ways of being an Italian in America coexist, the one of the millions of Italian Americans and the one of the new professional recent emigration of young Italian talents born and raised in Italy, that place is undoubtedly New York. From your point of view, how these two sides of the same coin live together and recognize each other, in a relationship that is not always that tight?

I've been living here for twenty years, and here's my thought. Both Italian Americans and new Italians that recently came here basically share the same love for Italy. But it is for different ideas of Italy. When you go abroad, in a way for you Italy stops in time when you leave: you remain attached to the image of Italy that you have in your mind. So different generations of Italians have different perceptions of Italy, and they are in love with that Italy, which is sometimes different from another Italian's one. So what the Chamber wants and tries to do is to keep the image of Italy updated, for the Italians who live in the US, and foster the communication between the various groups: and the fact that they all are in love with Italy, even if different versions of Italy, makes it easier.

There isn't, though, an association that combines these two ways of interpreting the love for Italy: there is still a little bit of division, and we would really like to be able to build a bridge between the two types of Italians in the US. In both PrimiDieci books, for instance, we have both Italian Americans and new Italians in the US, and this is not by chance.

You are also President of Mediterranean Shipping Company USA: an Italian giant in the sector of moving goods, a world leader in this field. On the same ocean that once carried millions of Italians towards what they called "Lamerica", how is today the relationship between Italy and the United States from the point of view of transport of goods?

MSC is for me a clear example of a successful Italian company. They did not make the mistake that a lot of Italian companies do when they go abroad, and I say this as the President of MSC but also as the President of the Italian Chamber in New York. When Italian companies go abroad, they often tend to try to control everything from Italy, and do things the Italian way. But when you open companies abroad, you have to embrace the local way of doing business, and so you have to leave a little bit of power in the hands of who represents you locally. I was very lucky because the owner of MSC, Mr. Gianluigi Aponte - who I consider a genius not only in this field but generally as an entrepreneur – very well understood this concept and left to my predecessor and then 9 years ago to me the opportunity to handle things the way we thought was the correct one, dealing with the US market. Don't get me wrong, I still get a lot of inputs from headquarters but I also have a big degree of freedom and they listen a lot.

Today we are the number one transportation company in the US, and of course we represent a little bit a bridge between our two countries: and this bridge can be as wide as we want it to be. If the bridge is small (a small ship), the prices go up; vice versa, a big bridge (a big ship) means lower costs. I think that our role has been and is to help Italy in its connection with the world. We have increased the number of ports that we serve, the service we give, the sizes of the ships: and being Italians, having a passion for Italy, we made this bridge bigger and bigger and it is going to continue this way helping Italian companies export their excellences abroad. There is no doubt that we have a soft spot for Italian companies.

How is Made in Italy doing in the USA?

Made in Italy continues to have a tremendous potential in the United States, We are very well liked all over the US, our products are very much appreciated, the American people recognize and admire our quality and our creativity and the combination of two: Italy is a provider of dreams for Americans. So despite whatever we're going through in Italy right now, here there's still an incredible love for our country and our products. The potential remains huge.

We know that a lot of Italian companies are looking east, to Asia, in order to expand their market and sell their products: they are not wrong, these are developing countries with a lot of opportunities. But those are also places where is sometimes difficult to do business. The US, on the contrary, is a country where the entrepreneur is still a king, where whoever is willing to sell will find a way to sell, where is very easy to do business especially if you are Italian. This is a country that has gone through many recessions but is always coming out of them faster than anybody else: the system is a healthy one, the institutions help businesses to grow, the competition between States to keep their businesses from going away creates a competitive environment which is very good for the market and the companies. And believe me, there's huge room to increase the penetration of Italian products, all over the United States. Every Italian company that made a bet and decided to come to the United States or to expand its operations here, has been very successful. Here there are opportunities that no other country gives.

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