My Story, Our Story: Grazia Di Salvia

8 March 2016

BBS alumni talk about themselves: what was before, what came after and the memories of life as a student, to offer a personal story and a narration of one’s own professional experience, for a history of our Community.
The protagonist of the (:::) episode is Grazia Di Salvia, General Manager at Itea SpA, EMBA XI.

Grazia’s soundtrack is: Absolute Beginners by David Bowie.


Having the sea as one’s horizon. A beach where, over time, after crawling as a child, one learned how to walk; a place from which to raise anchor on a sailing boat. When it’s possible, when the weather and the time one has at one’s disposal allow for it. The sea. A calming down straight line, to be observed looking out from a window frame. Habit, familiarity. Surprise. Second year of high school, school trip to Ravenna. The coach takes the wrong road during a night journey and they end up driving along that stretch of road that runs parallel to the petrochemical plant. A majestic facility, studded with lights and curved lines, pipes, pinnacles. An immense and stern silhouette that stands out on the unchanging and restless sea. Young Grazia, her nose against the coach window, grasps the charm of a construction that powerfully invades the natural landscape. The love for that titanic and contorted monster was born: an outpost of architecture and human science in the silent Adriatic sea.


The story so far
“I was born and grew up in Gargano [area of the region Puglia]. I attended university in Bologna, Industrial Chemistry.” That landscape made of nodes and webs of pipes had become engraved into her mind. She often thought about it and in the end the force of attraction won all. “The writing of my experimental dissertation, that lasted a year, brought me back to Ravenna. I was immediately hired by ITEA as a lab chemist, then I finally was entrusted with managing a pilot plant.” Grazia, together with a colleague, invented and patented. Not one, but many ideas. “For a patent to pass the exam, it must be recognised as being useful to humanity.” You certainly need to have quite a lot of talent to invent new and useful things. “Talent is one of the few things that I find exciting. It means achieving great results naturally”. Steve Jobs is often mentioned. “Who knows, maybe he could have been an average engineer. But he had that capacity, that is a gift, to interpret people’s future needs”. In other words, a cross-breeding between talent and genius. Imagination that is able to foresee scenarios that are unimaginable for most, in which there’s an answer to every question. The functional answer, the right one.

The attractive city
“Bari is luminous, with its immense sea, it’s the town where I live; Bologna is beautiful, it’s my city, where I go every time I can and where I experience my best moments”. It seems beauty is the driving force behind Grazia’s deepest decisions. A driving force that lead her to BBS. “The beauty of going back to school. The need to ask questions and exchange views. I asked myself whether I was happy of what I’d achieved and the answer was no. Habit had gained the upper hand.” At the time of the EMBA, Grazia was already managing director in a company. “When you feel you’re no longer giving your best, there may be two reasons for that: either you’ve suddenly realized you chose the wrong job or you have an urgent need to reorder your ideas”. She had the illumination during a lecture at Villa Guastavillani, where the speaker talked about how Napoleon won his battles, how he devised his strategies. “For my thinking to evolve, I needed to change my analysis pattern. Less rules, less scientific solutions, more global vision. Trying to analyse things with a wider-ranging look”. Then she stops to think for an instant. “One should draft a business model, or perhaps a case-study would be enough, in order to identify that triggering factor that creates the human and collaborative relationship I found at the EMBA. Identifying it and bringing it inside the companies.” According to Grazia, a quid that would make every workplace more productive, more creative, easier to live in. But it isn’t an idea that can be patented. Even though it’s helpful, more than others, to mankind.

No-one should feel excluded
The collaborative relationship that she found at the EMBA, Grazia believes it’s at the basis of the concept of team itself. “Not meant as team within the company though, but as a leading operational reality while the others stay there to observe the results with expectations.” According to Grazia, the team, the real one, is made up of all the company’s stakeholders. “A cascade involvement starting from the shareholders, down to the basis.” Just like for the shooting of a film, a crew is needed,comprising individuals who can play their role at best, where the producer, by deciding of investing on a good director of photography, may change the final outcome. “Or like in an orchestra, where the false note of a single instrument can be immediately perceived. But if the right motivation exists, if the management is knowledgeable and the staff is coordinated, well then the performance is perfect. Then there will always be out-of-key instruments, within companies as in other contexts, it’s not a question of low level of professionalism or lack of preparation, often it’s something else altogether, it’s ‘just’ lack of vision. If the strategic decisions were the prerogative of these individuals, the world would be stuck at the iron age… or perhaps we wouldn’t even be there!” The concept of “lateral thinking” returns, something Grazia found at BBS and which she defines “contamination of ideas”. “I’d like to talk about art with Romano Prodi and about South-East Asian economy with Renzo Piano”.


Creativity vs. Experience
“Experience can kill innovation”. For Grazia there are no middle roads. Creativity is an energy that explodes and like every form of energy it tends to peter out over time. At that point, the journey of experience starts, which is summing up and ordering ideas, until one manages to have a complete overview, “a scheme that’s useful to solve known problems in defined contexts. But when you’re faced with the unexpected in a changing context, experience alone – i.e. being able to do things well, adopting well-tried schemes, may be a highly limiting factor”. “As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t really even started, trust me, nothing has happened yet.” She says it frankly and with a pinch of understatement, but Grazia thus reveals an unshakable trust in her creative potential. An energy that she maintains also thanks to her capacity of organizing her time delegating to others. “The quality of life also lies in the organization of work, in planning”. Fade-out. In a living room that looks dusty and middle-class, a bit fake, reconstructed in a TV studio, Piero Angela [a famous Italian science popularizer] sits comfortably in an armchair, legs crossed, his fingers entwined. He’s launching a piece about complex technologies regulating pipelines hydraulic systems. The images describe one of the patents that Grazia, together with her colleague, invented and deposited. Of course recognised as useful to mankind.

A piece of advice for a student
“If this conversation may help to stimulate taking on risks, to challenge oneself without any certainty about the outcome – if not for the profound certainty that that’s the right way – well then it will have been a helpful conversation.” Nothing much could happen/Nothing we can’t shake/Oh we’re absolute beginners/With nothing much at stake. “From the critical moments, learn to take brave decisions. Follow the roads driving in the best way. Expect the unexpected, try to always be a beginner, because it’s better than showing you’ve been an expert in the past. Put together your own method, use it, invent your own original thinking, and if you realize it doesn’t work, analyse it, acknowledge it and start again.” But we’re absolute beginners/With eyes completely open.



Do you want to read more stories from the BBS Alumnae and Alumni Community? Click here.





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