Italian Business Structures

As has already been said, Italy boasts a large percentage of small and medium-sized family-owned organisations but even many of the larger companies are still controlled in large part by single families (Fiat, Benetton etc.)

Indeed, the traditional lack of available venture capital in Italy has meant that many organisations have relied solely on family money and retained profits for investment inputs. Given this ongoing family financial involvement, it is hardly surprising that the family would want to keep a large measure of control.

In keeping with this family suffused ethos, management structures have developed to be strongly hierarchical with most decisions, if not actually made at the top, certainly being pushed upwards by middle management for ratification. Much time can be wasted trying to get an agreement with peer level Italians only to discover at a later stage that the decision will be made elsewhere by people who have never been explicitly mentioned.

Therefore, possibly more than in any of the European countries, time is very profitably spent in the early stages of a relationship with an Italian company finding out what the real, rather than the paper decision-making process might be.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Italy

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Despite Italy’s much publicised economic difficulties, following the global banking crisis, it remains a vibrant and attractive economy which not only has an active export base but which is also open to new products and new ideas from abroad. Doing business in Italy has proved highly successful for scores of global companies – and will continue to do so as the country continues to grow at a steady rate.

Italy has a well-educated and discerning consumer base as well as a vibrant manufacturing sector with thousands of SME’s producing a wide range of high-quality goods across a number of sectors. Both the Italian consumer base and SME companies need new products and services and are actively looking to work with international partners who can add value to their lives. If you are not doing business in Italy at the moment, you should start to scan the market for opportunities as soon as possible.

Italy represents an attractive opportunity but that does not mean everything will be plain sailing when you get there. Like all countries, Italy has a distinct and unique business culture. Don’t expect business in Italy to function like things do ‘back home’.

Italian business is very relationship oriented and who you know is incredibly important. How are you going to make those all-important first connections and, when you meet them, how will you make a good impression? Are you speaking to the right person within a prospect organisation? How effectively will you be able to communicate your ideas and what are the ‘hot-buttons’ in Italy? These issues could mean the difference between success and failure.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Italian business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips