Some days ago I was invited to speak at the conference of The Aspen Institute Italy under the topic "Merit, Not Age as a Discriminating factor", jointly organized with the Agnelli Foundation at their headquarters in Torino, Italy. The conference was preceded on the eve by an interview in the Financial Times with Mr. John Elkann , Vice-Chairman of the Fiat Group, who in fact co-chaired the plenary sessions with Mr. Mario Monti, President of Bocconi University and former Commissioner of Competition of the European Union.
When I was invited to contribute at the conference I believed that the main theme was the consequences of the ageing population phenomenon for European business. Consequently, my presentation dealt with some foreseeable measures, such as postponing the time of compulsory retirement, and some solutions from educational institutions, for example promoting entrepreneurship programs for the elderly people, since this segment of populations is experienced, skilled and in many cases have the resources to pilot new start-ups. Actually, Peter Drucker affirmed in one of his latest contributions that the fastest growing segment of future education will be programs for the mature and aged people.
However, upon discussion with my table neighbors at the starting dinner I realized that the crux of the conference centered on how to ease the access of young people to key positions at Italian institutions. Interestingly, gerontocracy is the prevalent regime at most Italian organizations, from business to politics and academia. This is largely due to traditions and culture, but is also caused by strict labor laws, lack of real internal competition and the dominant systems for selecting and promoting people at the top. Indeed, Italy has one of the highest average age ratios of leaders across the board although there are some other countries in the same cluster, like Japan.
Back at my hotel, located in the superbly restored Centro Histórico Fiat, once the reference of futuristic architecture, I redid my presentation to cover some topics related to the net generation and include some suggestions for promoting the advance of young leaders to management (see presentation attached). My main proposal was to foster the implementation of the Bologna Process at Italian universities. I believe that if Italy opens up to the cross-border movement of students, faculty and knowledge, the benign winds of international competition and global convergence will facilitate the access of young generations, Italian and foreign, to many of its institutions, thus promoting meritocracy over gerontocracy. "Non habete paura" and open your doors to true competition.