Alessandro Benetton addressing a speech to the young people at Fordham University, NY

Alessandro Benetton addressing a speech to the students at Fordham University, NY

Infrastructure  |  Editorial  |  Business

“Imagine, be creative and disagree”: Alessandro Benetton to the young at Fordham University

The Chairman of Edizione and vice president of Mundys addressed a speech at the 6th annual American Innovation Conference

I see a significant part of my life’s journey and my approach to life—and therefore to business—in the words [mentioned at the beginning]: courage, independence, and discontinuity. I’d like to use them as a starting point to talk about myself and the companies whose trajectories I’m currently contributing to shaping.

I'd like to start with "independence" because that's where my journey began.

I come from an Italian family that built a fashion brand from scratch, with today thousands of stores worldwide. We revolutionized the dynamics of the entire industry, in terms of marketing and communication, by promoting the brand in ways that were previously unthinkable, with cutting-edge advertising campaigns. Personally, I was also part of the synergy created between fashion and sports, by running the Formula 1 team that led Michael Schumacher to his first victory.

I firmly believe that it’s never a good idea to sit back and accept whatever fate brings. That's why I've never been willing to passively conform to habits previously established by other people. I’ve taken everything from my family's history that could help propel me towards the future: strong roots, clear and unquestionable values, and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to create a vision.

Asserting my independence—the first of my "discontinuities" and that was my mission for some time.

It turned out to be a wise choice. To pursue this goal, I had to find my voice at a tender age, raise doubts, strike out along new paths, and challenge myself in areas far removed from the family business.

It was then that I discovered who I was and what I wanted to do.

Studying in the United States was crucial for me. In the 1980s, it was unusual for an Italian boy to get on a plane and go and study abroad. It was somehow an act of "courage" to break a mold that had remained unchanged for decades. But I felt I needed to broaden my outlook. I also felt that this would be where the rules of play for the future business landscape would be set and I wanted to be there.

I consider myself very lucky because this turning point was crucial for me. So much so that I strongly encouraged—to put it mildly—my three children, Agnese, Tobias, and Luce, to pursue their studies in the United States as well.

Boston University shaped me as a student and as a person, but the real turning point was a meeting with Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, the founder of the Shared Value Initiative, which brings together a global community of organizations that deems solving social problems to be vital for business development.

What exactly does that mean?

It means that when we invest in ideas, in businesses, we are always investing in the context they’re a part of. So, our decisions should not be guided only by a short-term return on investment, but also by how we want to impact the context.

This principle applies at all levels, including the micro-level of small and medium enterprises that I’ve been investing in for over 30 years through 21 Invest, the company that I founded when I was 28. Deciding not to join the family business, but rather starting my own company and being a pioneer in the Italian private equity industry was again an act of courage.

And maybe, it is because of this courage that I’m here today as Chairman of Edizione, a European Industrial holding company with Euro 14 billion in assets, a company that among other things is the major Shareholder of Mundys, a world leader in the infrastructure and mobility industry.

With its airports, road infrastructure, integrated mobility services, and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), Mundys together with its asset companies operates in 24 countries around the world.

So, the challenges Mundys faces are global ones. The primary challenge is obviously to respond effectively to the climate crisis, in which the infrastructure and mobility sector is undoubtedly a key player.

We strive to answer this question every day: how can we do business in this sector, and improve the passenger travel experience, while reducing our environmental impact, moving towards zero emissions, and revolutionizing the energy sources on which our technologies rely?

Our solution involves changing pace and innovation.

The mobility sector has been unchanged for many years.

The engine is the same, as are the emissions. Let’s now consider the telecommunications industry. Audrey Hepburn, in "Roman Holiday" in 1953, would probably have made a call using a public phone made of Bakelite. I witnessed the birth and gradual miniaturization of mobile phones. Today, we can make phone and video calls via a smartphone, a computer, or a smartwatch.

It's time for a major rethink, even a revolution, in the mobility and infrastructure sector.

It's what the new generations demand of us, and it's what the planet needs.

So, this is the mission that Mundys intends to pursue, integrating innovation into every aspect of what we do.

To show you how we operate, let me give you the example of Rome’s Fiumicino airport, one of the most innovative and sustainable aviation hubs in the world.

First and foremost, we’ve approached innovation from a structural perspective, by renovating the terminal.

An example is boarding area A, inaugurated in May 2022, built entirely according to circular economy principles and partly powered by a photovoltaic system installed on the roof.

This model will soon be extended to the entire infrastructure: by 2030, the whole airport will be powered by renewables and all airport vehicles will be electric.

Secondly, given that airport-to-city trips generate additional emissions, we’ve strived to diversify the airport's connectivity as much as possible. We promote car sharing, public transport, and a rail system that efficiently connects the airport with the city center. We are also strongly committed to the first Italian vertiport, which we will inaugurate in time for the Rome Jubilee in 2025.

It’s a vertiport for electric flying taxis that will transport passengers from the airport to the center of Rome in twenty minutes. With zero traffic, extremely low noise impact and zero emissions it’s not just an innovation but also marks the birth of a new form of urban mobility that experts call Urban Air Mobility.

Knowing that not even the most enlightened entrepreneur can, single-handed, innovate continuously, we decided to create an entire ecosystem dedicated to innovation within Aeroporti di Roma.

Let me show it to you.

The Innovation Hub is the first startup accelerator dedicated exclusively to the airport sector.

Under the guidance of an "innovation crew" of top professionals, numerous startups from around the world are developing and testing new concepts for cutting-edge airport innovations.

23 of them have already received proof of their concept, along with financial support and business opportunities. We have also been instrumental in promoting: Airports for Innovation, bringing together 10 airport operators from around the world who share our mission because sharing is also part of innovation.

A powerful example of the technologies we are developing is Aeroficial Intelligence, a startup that applies artificial intelligence and data analysis to airport operations. To give you an idea, imagine an airport where every day 1,000 aircraft land, take off, move around the runway, refuel, load and unload passengers and cargo, and undergo security checks. Where unforeseen events, such as weather changes, are always just around the corner. Now, imagine an artificial intelligence system that manages all of this predictively, with the ability to modify the flow of flights because it already knows how traffic will evolve over the next 4-5 hours. The benefits in terms of efficiency and safety will be significant.

Every year, we review applications from new startups, but I’m proud to announce that starting in 2023, we’ve decided to also welcome ideas from Aeroporti di Roma employees.

The ADR Hangar Program is designed to harness employees’ knowledge of the airport sector and their insights on how to improve it in a sustainable way. It’s a similar call to those aimed at startups. but reserved for Group employees who will have the opportunity to bring their project ideas to life under the guidance of experts from the Innovation Cabin Crew.

We will replicate this model for implementing innovation at all levels of corporate life for another of our major subsidiary, Avolta, the world's largest travel, food and retail group.

As you can see, there are many ways to implement innovation in the infrastructure and mobility sector.

The model I’ve presented is already quite advanced—to the point that the World Economic Forum has asked us to coordinate a special panel to identify new financial instruments to enable the energy transition of the world’s 18,000 airports.

However, I’m the first to admit that it can be improved and that the way to enhance it is to listen to people who really have their eyes on the future, and the right perspective to look towards tomorrow. And that means you, young people.

So I’d like to end my speech with a request.

Clearly, my generation must do everything it can to pass our knowledge and tools for action on to you.

But it will be up to you to take up the baton and run the next leg.

So, imagine, be creative and, if necessary, disagree.

Always, keep your head held high and make your voices heard. 

*Chairman of Edizione and vice president of Mundys

Alessandro Benetton*

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