This is your first foray into Italy. Why Italy, and why now?
One word: climate. Not the weather, which is very similar, but rather the business climate is very much the same in Michigan as it is in Italy. Michigan, particularly the Lansing region, has been committed to Italy for quite some time and I have been assisting Italian companies to bridge the gap between domestic and international business in three primary market segments – automotive, fashion, product manufacturing and distribution. Each segment, while very different from one another, represents significant opportunities for Italian companies to grow revenues by expanding overseas.
Italy's been through a turbulent time, economically and politically. What makes you confident about doing business with the country?
The Italy that I see now looks strikingly similar to how Michigan looked in 2008 and 2009. Politics are politics and the economy is the economy, but you cannot become a victim of the market.
The way to climb out of a hole is to start climbing. And while the local transportation workers in Rome strike and the unemployment rate hovers around over 12 percent, I am turning the key to the economic engine and putting my foot on the gas.
Every person I have met in Italy is interested in the Lansing turnaround story because to them it represents hope. Not long ago we were in the same spot, seeing our companies and talent leaving for greener grass. I've been there and I can help; I see the same resilience in the eyes of good Italian people who may not know what the next step should be. My mission is to help those who desire success and want to climb out of the recession.
Which sectors are the ones you see as the most prospering in Italy?
I have a wonderful vantage point, traveling around this beautiful country, from Rome to Milan to Turin.
In Rome, there are so many product manufacturers who are eyeing Lansing as their best bet for international expansion through our manufacturing expertise and our foreign trade zone.
In Turin, there are automotive suppliers hit hard by Fiat's exit to Serbia who would like to explore opportunities with U.S. automakers.
Lansing, with General Motors in our backyard, is quickly becoming the automotive manufacturing capital of north America, with both the new Cadillac and Camaro products being made in there. In addition to cars, Lansing boasts The Runway, a fashion incubator where designers have maker-space above a fashion showroom where they sell their goods and apparel. From Fashion to Fiat, there are opportunities for Italians suppliers in Lansing.
How have you found doing business here so far?
Business is booming, and everyone has been great to work with. Moreover, I have made some wonderful business colleagues who have become friends.
My goal is not just to find any company who wants to do business abroad, but to find the right companies with the right people who seek a long-term engagement that goes well beyond the number of parts shipped overseas. I don't see a job, I see the family who benefits from the job, and when work and friendship collide, well, there's nothing quite like it.
What do Italian businesses hope to get out of doing business with you in the US?
The payoff is new hope, increased revenue and the understanding that there are wonderful opportunities in the north American market. If they want to do business in north American then I can give them a platform in the Lansing region of Michigan to achieve their goals.
What do you think Italy could be doing to make it easier for foreign investors?
Tough times demand strong leadership. The Marine Corps taught me 14 leadership traits; in closing I am going to share with you three that seem relevant in today's tough economic times in Italy.
Decisiveness. The most important element to success is the ability to make decisions. Your character, courage and competency will all be judged by your ability to arrive at a conclusion and pull the trigger. To make wise decisions you must ask questions — a lot of questions — and develop answers based less on emotion and feeling and more on data and fact. If you are right, outstanding, and if you are wrong, take corrective measures.
Initiative. To be a leader you have to show up. You have to be the first in line when times are tough and the last in line when times are good. You should do what you are asking others to do before you ask them, and you should hold yourself accountable to the same standards as you hold others.
Integrity. In tough times, poor decisions are the result of fear and weakness. Don't compromise your integrity or the integrity of your team just because times may seem desperate. Are you willing to work with a client who is less than honorable just because it's work? Are you changing your rules of business, putting your company and employees at risk, to win a project? Be fair. Be honest. Be respectful. With clients and employees alike, in good times and more importantly in bad times, your integrity as a leader may be the only currency you have.
David Olson is vice president of global sales at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership and can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or on LinkedIn atwww.linkedin.com/in/djolson.