Dialogue with Claudio Domenicali, CEO at Ducati

10 December 2015

“Innovation is the curiosity, the desire to raise the bar and invent a future that isn’t there yet, using the tools that technology makes available to us, recombining them in different ways, in order to generate new, additional value for your customers”. Claudio Domenicali, Ducati CEO, was the protagonist of the second appointment of the Innovation Talks series, that gathered at BBS the Motor Valley top managers. We talked to him after the event.

Ducati started manufacturing motorbikes in 1946. Innovation and tradition are an oxymoron or two souls that may coexist within a company?

Tradition is of a paramount importance because it generates brand value, but it’s not enough by itself: it must be supported by a very strong innovative capability. For this reason, the companies that have a solid and long tradition and that manage to be innovative at the same time compete to be the leaders of the economic world.

What is the role of the human factor as for innovation?

It’s decisive, precisely because innovation is lead by curiosity and the desire to use the knowledge developed by those who came before us tu push further the frontiers of what is achievable.


What are the qualities a manager should have to work in high innovation content companies such as Ducati?

Some qualities are shared by every type of manager: the capacity to manage targets, to have a strategic vision and an empathic relationship with people, to be able to motivate people and make them feel accountable for what they do. In the area where the innovation content is higher it is necessary though to have a spirit of “dissatisfaction” and curiosity, an internal drive to constantly question what already exists and to look around to try and move the frontiers further ahead.

What is the percentage of turnover that Ducati invests in product innovation?

In the last 5 years we went from 5-6% to over 10%.

How do you organize the R&D activity? 

The R&D activity is the core process inside the company. It involves over 200 people and it needs to be organized and structured, also because it’s multi-project and multi-function. This means that, within areas of different technical competence (engine, vehicle, electronics, testing, design), a certain number of different projects must go ahead at the same time. The time needed to develop a product may vary between 36 and 48 months. Therefore, if we want to launch five products per year, and each of them needs four years to come to full maturity, this means we’ll have twenty projects that at the same time are in a different developmental stage. This is the reason why we gave ourselves a rather sophisticated matrix organization, one in which product-managers manage specifications, timing, quality, meet the brief, while a series of technical functions continue developing all the activities, in a paced and complex rhythm.

Three years ago Ducati has become part of the Audi group. What have you contributed and what have your received from this union?

What we brought to this union is the spirit of Italianness, a mix of entrepreneurship, passion for beauty, capacity of adapting to non-perfectly schematized and organised situations, and of reacting fast. We got a lot: we entered a highly sophisticated technological world, a large data-bank of technology and services. Audi, the company that controls us directly, is for us a fantastic management school: over the last thirty years they evolved and went from being a generalist car brand to becoming an extraordinary premium brand. The technology and quality they put in place to manufacture cars, their way of presenting them to customers, the management of retail services and dealers (the single-brand dealers) the extreme professionalism with which relationships are managed, also with the marketing department: all this is an extraordinary school for us.

You started working at Ducati when you were 26, with your engineering degree in hand. You have been product director and since 2013 you are the company’s CEO. What made you passionate about the job and this company?

I had the extraordinary opportunity of changing role often within the company. I’m an engineer, but I had the chance of studying a lot and furthering my knowledge in fields that previously were not familiar to me: from economics, to marketing and retail. Also, I had the chance of dealing directly with customers, suppliers, dealers and thus having a first-hand experience of which theories work and which don’t. The most extraordinary thing was this: testing concepts and themes, different in time, in the field.


Which was your hardest challenge in your professional life at Ducati and what was your greatest joy?

Things are going pretty well for Ducati right now. The company has capital, it produces cash, it’s possible to think about the future. Companies are organisms that have complex lives, though. Mine is a story of deep identification with the company: over the past 24 years, it’s been sunny, it rained, we had gale-force winds and it’s been terribly cold. In periods of crisis, it’s been hard to be face to face with people looking at me and asking “why” and not being able to give them an answer. The best part is every time I step into the canteen and I see the people working at Ducati. There, you realise that everything we do has a face, that there are 1500 families that, if the company is successful, have the chance of building their future. This is what motivates me, what pushes me, what gives me the strength to add something more every single day. The role of the enterprise goes far beyond the satisfaction of the shareholder (that needs to receive its fair and right compensation): the company is a living organism, made of faces and people.


What would you suggest to a student who’d like to work for your company?

Our company looks for talents, curious and determined people, willing to provide an added value and to put themselves to the test. Passion though is for us the most important quality: whether it is for the product or the way in which it is communicated. We ask our talents to have vision, to be able to look at a stone as the important element in a wall that will be part of a great cathedral. This is what we look for in the eyes of those who join our company.


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