| Author: Bendetto Buono, Alumnus MBA
Today we are meeting Nicola Altobelli, who graduated from MIP Politecnico di Milano with an Executive MBA.
After completing his degree in Industrial Relations, Nicola started work in his family’s business, Eceplast s.r.l., and today is the company’s Commercial Director, responsible for new market development.
In May 2014, he was appointed as Sherpa for the Italian delegation of young entrepreneurs, GI Confindustria, to G20 YEA, and in July he became President of GI Confindustria Foggia.
What does your work actually involve and what are the greatest challenges you face every day?
Basically, my job is to managed contacts with our major customers across the world and, through our continuous exchange of information and experience, I try to develop new solutions that can improve our offer, to anticipate our customers’ needs and beat our competitors on time. Everything today is faster and more connected, running at an extremely rapid pace and the chance of failure very high. Even so, I do not believe that my job could be more stimulating or rewarding. More recently, I have been spending more and more time and energy on strengthening our sales force, which, without doubt, the most serious challenge any business person can face, to build up a successful team that is more than the sum of its parts.
What were the best and worst moments in your professional life?
Let’s start with the worst. In industrial packaging, the task of keeping costs in check is a key factor and can often drive even the most loyal customers to try out low-cost solutions. About four years ago, the European market was rocked by massive dumping of goods and we lost a large share of the market. We were torn between reducing our sales prices by 30% or trying to ride it out, coming up with innovative solutions, with savings for our customers in another form. I must admit, these were tough months, but this difficult period taught us to present our offer better – while opening new ways for development. As things go, today in particular, we are coming out with a revolutionary product and we hope that it will really change the market, and will allow us to scale up our business model, including on other continents. I am certainly delighted to see the surprise on the faces of my customers every time I demonstrate this new technical solution.
What does the word “leadership” mean for you and how do you bring it into your work environment every day?
Leadership means knowing how to lead others towards achieving the results we set as a group and as individuals. I don’t see myself as a person with natural or charismatic leadership qualities, but I am without question full of determination, and people on the whole stay close to me, crediting me with a capacity for vision, planning and, most of all, execution. I think that this is good starting point and, all things considered, the results are mostly on my side. I have admiration for great leaders in any sector, but I also believe that their natural qualities do come into play, and these cannot be built or learnt. As for me, I only try and set a good example, with commitment and results. A simple formula, maybe a bit outdated, but I think it works.
What does the word “innovation” mean for you and how do you bring it into your work environment every day?
To mark our 20th anniversary, we have recently restyled our corporate logo, so I included a new tag line: “bulk packaging innovators”. This is exactly what distinguishes our offer on the market, we are innovators in our sector and our corporate history is dotted with key moments where an innovation led to a new opportunity. Let me give you some examples. In 1995, my father was able to start his company from the family garage because of a production technology he had invented (technological innovation). When all our competitors were relocating their businesses, we invested in the development of a more automated process, increasing our services to customers instead of going down the route of lowest costs (process innovation). When our customers asked us to reduce our prices, we were able to offer products with cost benefits that did not affect our margins. Eceplast is based in the province of Foggia, the social framework is rather complicated and certainly far from the more industrialised areas, but we have always invested in people and their growth, introducing incentive systems to increase productivity (organisational innovation). Today, we are focusing on a development model based on “open innovation”, creating a community around our most innovative products.
In conclusion, as Steve Jobs said “innovation is the only way to win” and we totally agree.
What is your favourite quote?
I have several, but Henry Ford’s favourite maxim “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” is probably best suited to this historical transition phase we are going through at Eceplast.
Our challenge is to focus on renewing our market offer through a value proposition that is not linked to the quality of our products, but to our capacity to create innovative solutions that create value for our customers. It is a challenge that excites me and I believe that we hold all the right cards and can play this game. Ford may have grasped the absence of a latent demand, producing a solution that his potential customers did not expect, one certainly more costly than a horse, but not in any way comparable. Ultimately, I would like to get our customers to see Eceplast as a partner of value and not simply a supplier of products.
Thank you, Nicola, for the time you have given us and our interesting conversation.