If you have ever questioned the toughness of your boss or wondered how mean-spirited you have to be to run a large corporation, I would like to recount an experience that that proved that you can be smart without being a bully. Gianni Agnelli, owner of the Fiat Automobile Company, aka L’Avvocato (the lawyer – he graduated with a law degree even though he never practiced) was a multi-millionaire playboy and style icon. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Agnelli was the most important ﬁgure in the Italian economy, the very epitome of capitalism. His ﬂair for fashion inspired and inﬂuenced Italian menswear and for this reason I regularly followed all the news and gossip surrounding him. Esquire magazine named him as one of the ﬁve best-dressed men in history. His style magic could be seen in his impeccably made suits, which ﬁtted him beautifully and he had a knack of accessorising that was unique. He would wear his wristwatch over his shirt cuff or his tie slightly askew and would even pair brown outdoor boots with a tailored suit. He was one of the ﬁrst truly global ambassadors of Italian menswear style. One morning in 1996 I read that Gianni Agnelli was stepping down from his responsibilities at the Fiat Group, even though he was still to be active in other ways. Although it was entirely improbable, I had the brilliant idea of writing to the then Senator Agnelli and offer him a job to work as a consultant for my small Milanese company. My business was expanding fast and I knew he would increase its potential and visibility by a mile. My personal assistant translated my letter into Italian and embellished it somewhat so that it might at least be read by someone as important as L’Avvocato. We mailed the letter, fully expecting to hear no more about it, much less receive a reply. However, a few days later my assistant rushed into my ofﬁce, barely able to speak and made me aware that Mr. Agnelli’s secretary was on the phone and wanted to make an appointment!
Apparently, Agnelli had asked his right-hand man and general manager of the Fiat Group to meet me in Milan to talk about my ‘offer’. This historic meeting took place a few weeks later and was very uplifting for me by its very existence. Unfortunately, as I probably could have anticipated, my company was still much too small for a man of his stature and skill and it all came to nothing. The life lesson I learned from this experience, however, was that no matter how grand or important a person might be (or might think they are) if they remain open to new opportunities and changing scenarios they will always stay at the top of their game. Every opportunity, no matter how big or small, is worth looking into and to be evaluated to discover how it might work for you.
Michael St John is the CEO of Design Piazza, a full-service creative solutions network with its principal offices in Italy and the USA.