After a career that took him to the top at Philip Morris International, Maurizio Arrivabene is today Team Principal of the Ferrari racing team and Managing Director of Ferrari Gestione Sportiva (the Formula 1 activities). He was the protagonist of the fifth talk of the Innovation Talks series at Bologna Business School.
You took up this new position when the team Ferrari was undergoing a crisis in terms of results. What was the situation you found when you arrived in Maranello?
When I joined the company I found that people only focused on their own department, to avoid any criticism. This doesn’t work if expectations are very ambitious, because nobody thinks about the good of the company, but only of their own good.
Substantial changes have been implemented, in a very short time, under your leadership. Which were the main elements of this evolution?
My task is to make the engineers work correctly and make them do it with team spirit. This is why I acted so as to break the ‘silos system’ that had come to be. The first step was identifying the weak spots of the organization before those of the car; then we understood which aspects the various groups could cooperate on, in order to optimize results. For instance, when one wants to obtain excellent performances, it is fundamental that engine, chassis and aerodynamics specialists talk to each other. To build next year’s car, the chassis experts gave a hand to the engine specialists, thus creating a solution that turned out to be very relevant for the engine. In exchange, the engine experts reduced the crankcase of the engine architecture so to give the aerodynamics experts the possibility to work better. The car you’ll see on the racing tracks next year is therefore the result of a team work.
I tried to change the spirit that was in place to approach competitors, that is a fundamental element in competitions as well as in the labour world. It’s important to be humble, and one needs to be able to take a step back before advancing five steps. But mostly, it’s necessary to think differently. A few months ago, the target at Ferrari was to catch up with Mercedes. But with such an approach the maximum you can achieve is equalling Mercedes. Instead, it’s fundamental to work thinking about what can be done to go beyond that. This is why we need applying completely different work methodologies that can create a sustainable competitive advantage. The choice is between surfing the wave or becoming the wave, between lagging behind or becoming a driving force.
Once the main competitor has been overtaken, what is the right strategy to continue being competitive?
Keep on thinking you’re the second, never the first. As soon as you start thinking as you’re best in class, you lose completely the competitive advantage you’d gained. Then you have to create a virtual competitor for yourself, divide your company into two competing teams. That was the problem we had at Marlboro a few years ago: for a very long time, the company had been the undisputed market leader; then, even though it still was, the company started losing important shares and mainly resting on the brand value. Then, at one point, this advantage got lost, because with the evolution of digital technology and the momentous change that occurred in communication, the communication power fell and consumers started having a more critical approach towards the product. This happened because at Marlboro they were thinking they were number one and this had blocked innovation. When I was entrusted with the international communication at Marlboro, there wasn’t much to be happy about. The big change was to redesign packaging, brand and create a new communication campaign. It took time going back to be the market leader and I can tell you, it wasn’t easy. 80% of the people in the company would accuse me of being the one who’d killed the cowboy. But, with some perspective, I think I can safely say I saved many jobs.
What was your spirit in dealing with the challenge you were confronted with when you joined Ferrari?
At Philip Morris I covered a position I’d have never dared to dream of as a boy, I was a successful man and for this year I had thought for myself that I would stop. But I had worked in motor sports in the past, and it really excited me. Therefore, this new experience at Ferrari was a challenge, rather than a job. Once I’d accepted the position, it was very important for me to stop and try to understand where I was, to get to know the company, its people, its history. Thus I was able to get what Ferrari means and its history, that others wrote before me. At that point, I was able to start asking myself what the resources of this company were, that before being changed, must be used or improved.
What would you suggest to a student who has the ambition of working for a company such as Ferrari?
Joining Ferrari is extremely hard, so much so that it’s us who have to go out and look for candidates, because many think it’s so difficult they don’t even send their CV. What I’d like to say, instead, is that it’s not as difficult as it seems, but you need to feature three essential qualities: humility, determination and dedication. If you have them, send us your CV.
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