Kevin Roberts: Rome wasn't built on apathy

17 comments
We must first conquer our island syndrome and pull together if we are ever to win the world from the edge.

New Zealand needs to look at Italy and draw lessons from a country that lost its way but is fighting back.
New Zealand needs to look at Italy and draw lessons from a country that lost its way but is fighting back.

New Zealand needs to look at Italy and draw lessons from a country that lost its way but is fighting back.

Rational measures alone won't deliver solutions. Italy needs a dream in order to find its way into a position of sustainability, a dream that the whole country can work on together. Guest editor Sir John Kirwan and I have more in common than our lifelong love for rugby. Italy. And Italy has more relevance to New Zealand's future than you might at first think.

The starting point of our relationship with Italy is family. JK and I have Italian families, his wife Fiorella and their children, and my son Ben's Italian wife Clarissa and their children, my nipotini, Stella and Chloe. As No14 for the All Blacks, John's famous 80m try against Italy in the 1987 Rugby Cup brought up the first time the All Blacks had ever scored 50 points against an international rugby side. Later, he spent six years as a player in Italy and four years coaching with the national side. John is fluent in both Italian language and spirit.

For my part I am in Italy five or six times a year working with Saatchi & Saatchi offices in Milan and Rome. Saatchi is the leading creative agency in Italy and one of the stars of our network. They work me hard. I frequently give speeches, presentations and interviews to Italian companies, brands, media and commercial organisations. In October, I spoke to 2000 Italian managers and marketers at the World Business Forum, preceded by passionate New Zealand advocate and the original and most voluble of all business gurus, Tom Peters.

Italy has been much on my mind. I'm there this week speaking with 15 of the most senior Italian business people who head the Italian Strategic Fund (FSI) and whose goal is to grow 20 Italian companies, internationalise them, make them into leaders and list them on the stock exchange, all within five years. FSI has investment partners from the Russian and Qatar investment authorities. Central to our discussion with FSI is identity, nation branding, or in PR-speak, how to re-create Italy as a Lovemark.

This is a necessary job, as FSI appreciates. Italy, shall we say, has better days ahead of it - if it does the right things, and quickly, with passion and precision. This is not football; this is a nation's future on the line.

Despite the nation's abundance in heritage and culture, its expertise in food, fashion and engineering design and manufacturing, the Italian economy and political system have been in a parlous state. Young people despair at their prospects of work and careers. Tax collectors despair at the avoidance culture. Rational measures alone won't deliver solutions. Italy needs a dream in order to find its way into a position of sustainability, a dream that the whole country can work on together. Like New Zealand, Italy's No1 economic imperative is export (it's impossible to walk 20m in Manhattan right now and not be aware of The Hobbit opening on December 13).

Significantly, World Expo 2015 is being held in Milan. These are globally impactful events for those countries which embrace the opportunity. Italy is preparing for Expo 2015, expecting 130 nations exhibiting and 30 million visitors, and Saatchi in Milan will play a role in shaping how Italian creatives, producers and manufacturers project a message of "Created In Italia" to the world.

With the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, Expo 2015 is a brilliantly framed opportunity for New Zealand to present a dream of "winning the world from the edge". Our role as a leading world food producer and innovator must be at the forefront of our current trade communication programme. New Zealand has not yet announced plans for Expo 2015, in fact a Google search reveals nothing at all about our intended presence. While Europe does not match Asia Pacific as a trading priority, the opportunities are still strong and, most importantly, at Expo 2015 Milano will be the world's most influential gathering of food-makers, manufacturers, trendmeisters, deal-makers and policy honchos.

New Zealand's exhibit at the 2010 Shanghai Expo wowed Chinese keen on our National Park-like showing. Milano must be more applied and focused on manufacturing sophistication. The messages must extend well beyond "beautiful place to visit" to those of product quality, integrity and desirability. The sharp edges and shiny surfaces of our studios and labs must actually be celebrated ahead of pastoral idylls.

For a couple of decades I have been passionate about New Zealand's export competitiveness. Though New Zealand and Italy are roughly the same size in landmass, Italy has 60 million people and is located amidst a population mass we can only dream about. Winning the world from the edge needs to be our national attitude. Language matters. Strategy is useful but a dream is motivating and galvanising. Performance indicators keep score. Dreams unleash and inspire action.

We need to look at Italy and draw lessons about a country that lost its way economically and politically and is fighting to come back. I don't see a scenario whereby New Zealand becomes the Italy of the South Seas, but we do need to be continuously active in avoiding all paths that lead down that road. Our greatest threat is apathy, that "island-ness" overwhelms our desire to win in the world.

The edge metaphor contains the seeds of destruction as well it does delight.

Individual talents like Lorde, Eleanor Catton and Lydia Ko are essential inspiration, and we need to be doing this collectively: one team, one dream. The determination of Asian nations which has seen them eclipse our education standards is a good case in point. Higher education standards are a tactic, the means to a bigger end. We need to start with the dream.

The All Blacks are our exemplar of the dream, the tip of the spear. 2013 has been a banner year and it has been achieved primarily through belief: in legacy, in immediacy, in execution, in finesse and accuracy, in supporting each other, in killer attitude. This is cultural attitude at its best. Never, ever, believe that we cannot win.

Kevin Roberts is chief executive worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi.

*Dialogue Contributions are welcome and should be 600-800 words. Send your submission to dialogue@nzherald.co.nz. Text may be edited and used in digital formats as well as on paper.

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 30 Dec 2014 06:03:21 Processing Time: 499ms