Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The leaping Italians

I was transferred to the Italian office in the mid 70’s as general manager.

In Milan, the first week on the job, there was an executive committee meeting. We are all sitting in the conference room and these guys are dressed magnificently. Armani dresses Milan’s police so you could imagine us at McCann.

We are in deep discussion about something the NY operation wanted, more profit probably. All departments are represented as well as the Rome office, all in all, about ten guys. Millions of lire worth of clothes on everybody. We are talking about a very cosmopolitan group of people.

The president of the office is very serious.
Suddenly the president's secretary interrupts the meeting and tells us the head of Nestle, one of our biggest clients, is on the phone and insists on talking to our president. All hell breaks loose, everybody in the room is leaping about, grabbing their nuts with their left hand and making the sign of the cornuto with their right.
I cannot believe this, two seconds ago this was a sophisticated group of men discussing profits and staff - serious stuff. Now they are leaping about and urging me to get up and join in. I feel obligated to do it, so I do. I leap about with the rest of them, not quite as enthusiastic as they are but grabbing my nuts just as hard.

They tell me this will prevent us having a catastrophic phone call, so we will not lose the account. If it works I’m for it. So, the call turns out to be just a minor matter and everybody adjusts their clothes and congratulates each other for the excellent execution of the protective dance.

That was my first introduction to our Italian operation. The other one shows their seemingly cavalier attitude to life, with great style.

A couple of months later I was in the office one day at eight in the morning, as usual. Office opens at nine, notice I did not say everybody comes in at that time. The creatives are probably the worst offenders.

One of our creative guys comes in to my office and wants me to go to the conference room to see some ads. I am amazed, it’s 8a.m. Did they work all night? I cannot imagine them in that early. I walk in and the entire creative department is there, singing Happy Birthday in Italian to me.

They poured champagne and we really had a good time. I returned to my office after about an hour or so. I was feeling pretty good. Once a year I will get the creative department in, not only on time but also early.

Two hours later I asked to see one of the creative teams and called their secretary. I was told the department all went home and would probably be back after lunch - well, so much for them coming in early.

They did, but they didn’t.

I am a stickler for promptness, wrong country. I was learning fast.

Italy will always be leaping Italians in great suits, grabbing their balls and doing the sign of the cornuto, as well as coming in early once a year,
sort of.

1 comment:

  1. That's why I'm never lucky. I would try it but at my age I'd probably break a leg. Nuts.