Italian art of management, "World Monitor"

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December, 2013 - Almaty, Kazakhstan - Gian Luigi is an Italian national educated in Belgium, started his career sales and marketing with Procter & Gamble and over the last 20 years built a successful career, acquiring international exposure in developed and emerging markets, as well as a rich experience in established, turnaround and startup operations. In August 2009, Gian Luigi joined JTI in Kazakhstan as vice president before being appointed general manager for Central Asia.

Gian Luigi, please tell us about your family, where you grew up and why you started working in sales?
Family is everything…what else do you expect from an Italian?! Similar to the Kazakh culture, the family and close friends circle is our anchor in life, the circle where you can really be yourself, outside of the ‘big theatre’ that business life is. My circle is split between Italy and Belgium, the countries where I spent my early life, before embracing an international career. I guess the lively environment in which I grew up was instrumental in leading me towards a sales and marketing career where fantasy is sometimes welcome. Definitely I could not have been a successful accountant!

I know that you met your lovely wife in school. Tell us what it means for you to be a family man.
My story with Graziella is an interesting one. I met her for the first time when I was 11 years old …I was hit by the storm! To cut a long story short, it took me about a year of hard work to convince her of my “future potential.” She trusted me, and here we are, still happily married, 33 years after our first kiss. Romantic isn’t it? But also my first serious learning experiences in life: when you believe in something, but need to keep pressing ahead, and ultimately persistence pays off – within the word impossible, there is “I’m possible!”

You spent more than 20 years in the FMCG industry, where you built your career to a CEO level. What advantages and disadvantages do you see working in the same sector or for one employer for such a long time?

“You don’t know what you don’t know.” What I mean is that nothing will ever replace experience and it requires time to build up. I didn’t spend my entire career with the same company, but I remained loyal to the FMCG industry, building experience and skills, position after position, country after country. There is no secret formula behind professional success, just hard work and a relentless commitment to self-development. Changing employers is a different topic, and very common nowadays. It is a good way to keep learning, challenge yourself and progress in your career. When you start in a new position, in a new company, you know you have got a limited period of time to prove yourself. This creates adrenaline, excitement…life.

How did you end up in Almaty?
I was with Coca Cola in Poland when JTI approached me for a position in Central Asia. The prospect of being rapidly appointed CEO was clear and I knew I was ready for it. I had an open discussion with my former employer and it became clear that a general manager position would not be available in the short term. As I said, stay in control of your career development… so I decided to move and embrace a new challenge in Almaty, as simple as that. To be honest, the idea to move to Kazakhstan was motivating as well; a quickly developing economy, good business growth prospects…a good opportunity to have a successful first CEO position.

What knowledge, skills or abilities must a person have to do your job?
I have my own core competences “shortlist:”

Think “integrated business”, not separated functions or departments and strive for quality by setting aggressive standards of excellence for yourself and your team. The CEO is the one “connecting the dots” in the organization.
Be visible and present across the organization: drive a winning attitude by building an open and challenging environment, learn to listen, communicate your vision for change, drive and support key initiatives, create an enjoyable work environment.
Energize and develop people: promote a culture of continuous development and learning, ensure proper succession planning, confront performance problems, provide feedback and coaching. Build the right team around you, a team you can trust.
Drive results: lead the strategic planning process but also get involved, when required, in operational details to ensure excellent execution. “It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change” (Charles Darwin).
Be a chameleon: one size doesn’t fit all; each person is different and many different communication and leadership styles are required to get your point across or to coach a person in the best possible way.
Situational leadership is essential: Not to mention that the CEO is the key link between the local operation and the head office…in our case located very far in Geneva. You must learn how to deal with them, manage expectations and communicate the good and…the bad news without creating a nuclear chain reaction! Indeed, you must be a real chameleon to be effective in the “business theatre.”

Interviewed by David Mashuri for World Monitor

About the Author:


David Mashuri is a Client Partner and the Head of Central Asia, Georgia and Armenia at Pedersen & Partners, joining the firm in 2008. His previous experience includes real estate, banking, government and private industry consulting work in Kazakhstan, Russia, Yemen and the USA. Before joining the firm, Mr. Mashuri held positions with JSC Kazkommertsbank in Almaty, Kazakhstan and prior to that owned his own firm, D.M. Security Investments, based in Los Angeles, USA specialising on health care and travel services.

David Mashuri holds a Master's Degree in Public Policy from Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, USA and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics from Russian People's Friendship University in Moscow, Russia.  In addition to his degrees, David Mashuri has completed certificate programs in HR at Cornel University in Ithaca, NY and is a certified Executive Coach, a member of the ICF, and holds a Coaching certificate from Erickson International.

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