Davide Sartini, Executive Master in Sales and Marketing, Vice President Sales & Marketing at UNIFILL features among Forbes’ top 100 CMOs in Italy. This important recognition underlines his openness to innovation and to the major issues facing today’s managers. We met with him, exactly one year after his first interview, to find out how to build, but above all how to nurture, a path of continuous and constant growth.
Forbes’ ranking of the Top 100 CMOs in Italy selects figures characterized by an innovative mindset, professionals ready to take up the challenges of the future between digital and sustainability. Can you tell us what challenges and goals you are most focused on at the moment?
For some time now I have been involved in strategic planning and the definition of commercial and marketing policies and tactics, identifying the means, tools and actions to achieve concrete objectives in the medium to long term for multinationals in the industrial sector. Strategic and operational implementation within a company is a very complex process. Today’s changes are very rapid and concentrated on several fronts. Firstly, it is important to know your market analytically, secondly, you must fully embrace the entrepreneur’s strategy, and finally, you must always keep an eye open for technological innovations. Cultivating international relations in a multidisciplinary environment free from any ideological bias is an essential prerequisite. A predisposition to change and continuous and incessant training can help. With these foundations I devote myself to designing and implementing strategic, commercial and marketing development plans to consolidate or open up new markets and study new products, all with a holistic vision involving the company structure. Strategy is not just a top management affair, it is primarily devised for those directly acting on the business fronts. There is no point in keeping a strategy locked in a drawer, it has to filter through every department, every blind spot in the organization; everyone has to know what the company wants to do and why. The communication phase, the implementation phase and its monitoring of the strategic-operational plan is a marathon stage that is always and only played out as a team. It is a time-consuming phase that cannot be tackled from behind a desk. It is necessary to go where the profit is generated, to face the negotiations, to physically visit the market. Today, the market changes direction very rapidly and it is the duty of a manager to intercept these changes immediately without making the mistake of underestimating competitors. Speed of reaction is fundamental and strategic planning must always look to the future and to the markets. Finally, it is important to remember that business is a contact sport and not an individual activity: in my role as a manager it is important to have a clear vision and to develop strategic and operational plans that are consistent with one’s mission.
Digital and Sustainability are often associated topics. In your experience, do these areas communicate productively with each other today?
There is an abundance of literature that deals with these issues and attempts to link them to productivity. With humility, I have tried to contribute my “2 cents” by discussing them in an essay, “Meteore”, published in March 2021. I referred to concepts such as valuing our singularity in today’s complex world by cultivating self-determination: that slow and precious process of change that leads us to reaffirm, in a new light, our unique characteristics. In the book I talk about what I define as an eco-technological revolution and how we are trying to integrate, with some difficulty, technology and the “green world”. We are facing a turning point in history that will radically change the ingredients that have allowed the development of our society. Many technologies are making their debut in a new green economy, and I believe there is a further element to add, linked to a historical association: migrations of different kinds that will be increasingly frequent and unstoppable. These three elements (things digital, ecology and great migrations) are part of a very uncertain geopolitical perimeter, where western democracies come face to face with totalitarian regimes; this situation complicates the socio-economic dynamics creating further uncertainty about the future. Solutions must be found after careful analysis. I distrust slogans that promise immediate and painless solutions. I believe that the ecological revolution is the most complicated revolution that mankind has ever experienced. We are facing a global challenge that involves opposing interests. The important thing is to understand that sometimes the explanations for complex phenomena are economic, in other cases they are political. For this reason, the skills of a manager should be multidisciplinary so that they can adapt to different cultural, social and economic contexts.
In the light of the COP26 objectives, sustainability seems to require companies to make a strong innovative turn: what are, in your opinion, the company sectors on which to focus the spotlight?
I believe companies should focus on three main goals: employees, excelling in customer satisfaction and reducing their carbon footprint. Profits will come accordingly. The most attractive and profitable companies are those that have always focused on research and development. An all-Italian dynamic is the “dwarfism” of Italian companies. A recent ISTAT survey showed that 18.2% of Italian companies are small (from 10 to 49 employees), while medium-sized companies (with 50-249 employees) and large companies (with 250 employees and more) account for only 2.3% of the total. Moreover, this figure is exacerbated by a strong geographical imbalance towards the North. This phenomenon prevents many SMEs from networking and relating to international markets. Isolationism in business is deadly and siloed organizational structures are obsolete, as they suppress speed and stifle creativity. It’s no accident that the largest digital companies were born in the US. In America, the capital market and the approach to work and innovation are completely different. Jack Welch coined the term SPIRIT (service, performance, integrity, respect, innovation and teamwork). Today, the economy is growing at very different and uneven rates, governments around the world compete fiscally and are far more pervasive than in the past. Global competition is fast, sometimes cruel, and technology accelerates the dynamics of change. Italian companies, especially SMEs, should put people at the center. This is not rhetoric, nor is it a phrase made for the usual house organs: I am referring to the purest essence of the term itself. I believe that basing a corporate culture on meritocracy and responsibility should be central to the corporate philosophy. A philosophy in which truth, merit, leadership and the pursuit of excellence are above self-centeredness and mediocrity. These values should be part of every SME’s philosophy. We live and work in a world of constant change and high uncertainty in which, however, these values enable companies to withstand market downturns. Employees should go to work knowing that they will be respected and that their company intends to invest to grow and prosper in the future. Talented people are attracted by companies that transmit values, that look to the future with clear and ambitious strategic projects, but above all by meritocracy. With regard to the reduction of the carbon footprint, the most successful companies have long since embarked on this process, and I believe that even the smallest SMEs must do so, as the risk is to end up relegated to the margins of the market. Finally, on this point, I cannot fail to mention the Sustainable Development Goals indicated by the United Nations (SDGs). These goals not only aim to reduce the carbon footprint, but also to limit poverty, inequality and other tragedies of our time. They aim for a more ethical, inclusive, and sustainable society. The pursuit of these goals is a magnet for the best customers and talent.
We often talk about “professions of the future.” From your point of view, what are the professionals we will need most and what would you recommend to a young graduate who is uncertain about how to pursue their education?
I am often asked this question and each time I ask myself: what advice would you give to the Davide of twenty years ago? When I think back to those years I see a very different guy and I’m not sure that the advice of a manager over 40 would change his mind. So, if I were asked for advice, I would want it to be an encouragement to action. I would tell him to be daring, to have courage and that he is not alone. Each of us has their own story and the starting point is different for everyone, but fortunately in Italy and Europe a young person has enormous opportunities, at least compared to other places. The important thing is to be ready, and for this reason I would urge young people not to waste too much time and to take their careers into their own hands, particularly through medium-long term planning. And then read, study and travel, but also don’t be discouraged by anything or anyone. In addition to planning, an essential element for me, at least in my professional field, but also in life, is that of competence through constant training: improving one’s skills, never feeling “you made it” is the basis for a richer competence of what surrounds us, or rather of all that we could use, as “innovation artists”, to help change a small portion of the world.
We talked last year, right around this time, for an interview about your journey at BBS. What, if anything, has changed since then in your relationship with our Community?
2021 has been a very important year from several points of view both personally and professionally. During my career I had the opportunity to hold positions of increasing responsibility as Trade Marketing Manager, B.U. Director, Global Sales Director, VP Sales & Marketing in important Italian and foreign multinational companies. Now, also thanks to the skills obtained in BBS, I will face a new important and stimulating challenge as Director of Corporate Strategy & Business Development at a multinational leader in the design and distribution of primary food packaging technologies. The year 2021 was also characterized by being the year of my first two publications, “Meteore” [Meteors] and “Codice di Autodeterminazione” [Code of Self-Determination]: both reached the third position in the Amazon bestseller list. My relationship with the BBS Community is one of deep esteem and sharing and I am aware of the imprint it has left on me and of how certain goals have been achieved thanks to this experience. Since receiving my Master’s degree in 2017, I have always kept in touch with faculty, tutors, and students. I am proud to be part of the BBS community and to contribute with testimonials. As I said, I sincerely believe that without BBS I would not have achieved the same results. I also believe that engaging with the Community is the most valuable and interesting element, and it still amuses me to imagine that I entered 2017 as a student and never really left it.
Finally, a curiosity: how do you get into Forbes’ Top 100 CMOs in Italy?
This recognition was an honor for me. Unfortunately, however, I cannot answer this question. But I can tell you my experience. Originally from Modena, the son of factory workers, I started working right away as a farm worker in a dairy, then as a general laborer in the grinding department and on the assembly line in a metal-mechanical company. In time, I resumed my studies and never stopped. Education is essential and going from one subject to another (without losing sight of your passions) can really make a difference. Choices in the field of education are at least as important as work choices. In addition, as a manager I had the opportunity to travel extensively and experience markets and distribution channels firsthand. Thanks to this cosmopolitan experience I have been able to design and implement innovative business models, which have been recognized and rewarded in Italy and abroad. I have always been open to change, with a forward-looking and very practical approach to business. Over the years I have had the privilege and the opportunity to live experiences that have left a positive mark on me, starting from the humblest jobs. And it is also and above all thanks to the experiences “from the grassroots” that I was cited by Capital magazine as one of the Top 150 managers in Italy under 44, in 2020. I believe that Forbes’ recognition is another step in a greater journey of constant growth. Our time is limited and perhaps it’s enough to remember this to find the strength and courage to move forward, even with a few risks. Passion does the rest.