How to start your own entrepreneurial career? Francesco Serravalle answers.

Meetings with evangelists from the “Student Entrepreneurship & Innovation” project promoted and organized by the University of Salerno and the Unisa Foundation continue.

Long-time entrepreneur, business coach and experienced HR manager. We are talking about Francesco Serravalle, who last March 31 met with the 50 student “innovators” – selected by the University of Salerno – telling them about his entrepreneurial and personal experience, providing food for thought and advice on how to launch one’s career and what opportunities it is important to seize today from those entering the world of business, innovation and work. Great attention was paid to the themes of entrepreneurship, starting new businesses and the importance of generational turnover, a theme – the latter – strongly felt by the guest speaker who explained well during the plenary meeting how, in his opinion, it is from the collaboration between different professional and generational profiles that it is possible to create new added value for businesses and the territory.

On the sidelines of the meeting, Serravalle lingered with some students who were able to elaborate in an informal conversation on some of the “hot” topics addressed by the evangelist, who then also gave a brief interview.

Face to face with Francesco Serravalle

What do you expect from the SEIUNISA project? What can this initiative leave for the children and what can it leave for you?

Personally, I have always tried to give back to my area and to the younger generation what I would have liked to receive, and so I am glad to have had the opportunity to participate. I hope that a lively and sincere interest will be triggered in the young people who participate, and that from this path they will be able to grasp and have meaningful experiences within the innovation ecosystem that is emerging from this initiative.

He showed a strong attachment to the area. With respect to the current initiative-among the few in Italy of its kind and certainly the only one in the south-do you think the local context in which we live is able to offer the right opportunities for entrepreneurship, innovation, and the absorption of the specific high skills that are being trained?

On this I feel I can answer in the affirmative. Certainly a major impact was given by the advent of the digital economy without which I probably would not have stayed on the ground. Beyond the classic statement “it’s a beautiful place,” it is worth noting that if we have grown up with certain cultural and aesthetic references, this represents a definite competitive advantage for us: if I want to invest in a start-up operating in tourism here I am among the top 10 places in the world where it is possible to do so. Then of course the problems are there starting perhaps with the bureaucracy, the banking system but it is undeniable that we live better here than elsewhere and I would be foolish to go outside.

And in this context, can we see globalization as an opportunity or a threat? How can we approach the future of our area in this context?

Globalization has given a second chance to those territories that were lagging behind in economic development, and to seize it, it is crucial for decision makers to be able to network and create a system. Hence my commitment to Confindustria. There is also to say that becoming a father [in 2015, Ed] has contributed in making me approach the subject differently: I see the future and the territory in a different way than before, investments in an area are made if you plan to stay and for the future and well-being of those who will come later.

So what do you think are the most pressing issues that need to be addressed at the systemic level?

A first issue is definitely that of generational change. Provocatively, I might say “better a stupid young man than a smart old man.” I make it a matter of time horizon: an elderly person-no matter how capable and intelligent-has a tendency to reason and make his choices in the short term. Instead, the challenges facing the contemporary world require planning and long time horizons even with respect to the results to be achieved.

Another major issue is that of the need to regain a certain “self-respect” with respect to the land as well as a certain attention with respect to its protection. It is necessary to know how to team up and develop the ability-not at all Italian-to surround ourselves with people who “know” more than we do in order to have the opportunity to improve and learn.

Mistakenly one might think that innovation is something that pertains purely to figures in the STEM area, she seems to suggest instead that this is not the case.

Multigenerational teams, i.e., those that are more cross-generational in skills are the best. The point is really to be able to integrate skills: we need to be constantly updated to understand what the new trends are, and this is done through social media, comparison among colleagues in different fields or who have had different experiences and environments than we have.

Speaking of skills, what do today’s businesses base their hierarchies on?

There is no longer the idea that the entrepreneur must be the best at the production process, the management process, and the administrative process. Those who still think this way have little time to live. Today’s model is based, as we said, on skills, so putting the right people in the right place. The entrepreneur must be good at building a control system, but he or she does not have to be the best at doing everything.

Let’s shift the focus for a moment, however, to two hot-button issues today: sustainability and digitization. How do companies deal with these major changes sweeping through today’s world?

Regarding digitization, it is a fact. Either you adapt or you fall far behind. It is an easier path, from a certain point of view, because it depends on the organization and less on external factors. With regard to sustainability, however, the issue changes somewhat. There are variants outside one’s own society, variants over which one does not have much control. This is an issue that has emerged very strongly in recent years, but on which states and administrations still need to come to terms. Here, an entrepreneur thinking about sustainability will be faced with complicated regulations and mechanisms to put in place. The path is right, however, there is a need for more clarity and simplicity in legislation.

Here, and with respect to these issues, as well as innovation, what is the role of the university?

Research is fundamental, there is little to discuss. The investments should be even greater, in my opinion, and there would be a need for process efficiency, but we are not that bad off in Italy. Of course, it is undeniable that there is a certain gap between the north and the south, because the universities in the north have a closer fabric of business connections, but the goal must be the same: not to disconnect from the territory and to collaborate with businesses and entrepreneurs, thinking about concrete projects.

We take advantage of your experience as an entrepreneur and innovator to ask you a slightly more practical question. You read a resume: what are the things that first jump out at you?

The extracurricular activities. From there I can see how much you want to do, how hard you have been working and in what things. I understand the person a little more.

In conclusion what advice do you feel like giving to us kids?

Always ask yourself at the end of the day, “Am I happy with what I am doing?” If the answer is “yes,” it means we are growing and coming into contact with inspiring people who leave us with something: happiness is a key element in learning.