Skills learnt the Italian way

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

Government spending cuts are throw-ing Italian schools and universities into turmoil, sparking campus sit-ins and mass street protests around the country. The education system is in crisis, its brain-drain and lows in world rankings matched by its teachers’ pitiful salaries.

“These are tough times,” says Gianluca Spina, professor of management and dean of MIP, the Politechnico di Milano school of management.

MIP’s governance structure, unique in Italy, gives it some shelter in the storm, however. Founded in 1979, it is 51 per cent owned by Milan’s Politechnico, Italy’s oldest and largest state technical university, and 49 per cent by 17 corporations, mainly Italian multinationals, as well as subsidiaries of foreign enterprises, including Taiwan’s Acer and Accenture of the UK.

MIP was born out of the desire of industrialists at Pirelli, Eni and Fiat to provide their engineers with management skills. And, as Italy is drawn into the mainstream of globalisation, MIP is supplying customised business management packages for its corporate shareholders, as well as the open market.

“We are helping Italian companies with globalisation, how to manage cultural diversity as they acquire companies abroad, make greenfield investments and open factories, how to forge a corporate identity,” says Prof Spina.

He gives the example of the corporate MBA programme developed for Italcementi, Europe’s second largest cement group which is expanding in the US, Asia and the Middle East. Non-Italians make up 25 of the class of 30.

Known as a country of small enterprises and family-run businesses, Italy has relatively few companies on the list of Fortune 500 in spite of its status as a G8 country. But MIP has found its own niche there, by educating foreign customers on how small companies perform.

“US and China want to know about Italy’s small companies, industrial districts and fashion houses,” Prof Spina says, noting its training programme on the exhibition and convention industry run with Shanghai’s JiaoTong University.

About half of MIP’s 600 to 700 students are individuals rather than on corporate programmes, drawn by Milan’s reputation as a hub for design, fashion, finance and football. Among the wide-ranging courses on offer is a post-graduate course for athletes and young managers in the business of sport.

A full-time MBA course over 14 months costs €25,000, while an executive MBA spread over two years is €28,000. Of the 75 students taking the full-time MBA, 50 are non-Italian. The institute has recently received accreditation from Equis, the accrediting arm of the European Foundation for Management Development.

Prof Spina sees three types of non-corporate students. The first is the non-Italian seeking a life experience – learning Italian, having a clear idea to return home and find work there. Type two are students from emerging economies – Chinese, Indian and Latin American – who see a full-time MBA as a gateway to the developed world, expecting to find a placement in Italy or Europe. The third is more international career- oriented, seeking good placements but not necessarily in Europe.

Anthony Lambkin, an Australian, is clear “type three” material. After graduating from Brisbane University, he moved on to the University of North Carolina in the US and then the car industry in Detroit.

He says he was attracted by Politechnico’s reputation for technological innovation, an MBA course that is shorter and more intense than in the US, and the inclusion of an internship, which he will complete at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, working on clean technology start-ups.

“Milan feels like a hub,” he smiles.

From the start of the next academic year in May, MIP is moving with a large part of Politechnico out of its cramped and functional quarters in the suburbs of Milan. A campus for 20,000 students is being built in a former industrial zone outside the city in Boviso.

Prof Spina notes that Politechnico di Milano, with 40,000 students, provides 50 per cent of Italy’s designers, 25 per cent of its architects and 15 per cent of its engineers. It is a powerful brand that enables MIP to compete with its more established and better known rival, Bocconi, a private university also in Milan.

Unicredit, Italy’s second largest bank, which is also a member of the shareholders’ consortium, took the un­usual step of “forcing” the two rival schools to co-
operate and integrate programmes for its executives. “They threatened to go to Insead or London Business School instead,” Prof Spina recalls.

As the international debate continues over the role that the MBA “culture” has played in the global financial crisis, there are some wry smiles from around the table in recalling the MIP programmes that assisted UniCredit’s move into Germany and central and eastern Europe – an expansion that prompted the bank to seek a €6.6bn recapitalisation last October, and which was followed by official Libyan funds taking a 5 per cent stake in the bank.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.