A couple of months ago I received an e-mail from Roberto Bonzio, asking for an interview. Roberto told me he was here in Silicon Valley for a few months on a project about Italians. After a few e-mails, we set up an appointment and a few days later we met at my office. We spoke for a couple of hours about my experiences here in the US and my company, Novedge. A couple of days later Roberto published the interview on his blog, Italiani di Frontiera. I read the interview and was amazed to discover how much Roberto was able to capture from our talk. Despite taking few notes during the interview, he understood all the details about our online system and strategies, as well as our company strengths and weaknesses. Impressed by Roberto's professional capabilities, I've become an avid reader of his blog and discovered a mine of interesting articles, stories, and people. Despite not being a journalist myself, I wanted to return Roberto's favor and so invited him to be interviewed for the BAIA blog. Here are my questions and his responses.
Roberto, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your professional activities?
I was born in Mestre Venezia, start working as a reporter in Venice newspaper Il Gazzettino, as my grandfather Roberto, my father Giovanni "Gibo" and today my brother Giampaolo. I moved to Milan in 1986 at national newspaper Il Giorno, joining Reuters Italian service in 2001, now in a 6 months leave of absence here in California. Be pro-positive and nonconformist have been often not helpful, working in Italy, in media too. I got some more opportunities in reportages around the world for magazines. Then I found in Reuters a fantastic chance for good journalism and international perspectives. And in the web the ideal environment for my unordered curiosity. That goes from movies (I graduated at Venice University in History of Cinema, dissertation about Harpo Marx), to music (I play a lot of instruments, you wouldn't believe how many and how badly), rugby. And new media.
What is your project "Italiani di Frontiera," and how you come up with this idea?
Less than a year ago, I was just trying to figure out how "to survive" to come as a freelance journalist in leave of absence in USA, with wife Pola Science teacher and kids (Alessandro 18, Francesca 16, now happy students at Gunn High School in Palo Alto). I knew few about Italians in the Bay. Three e-mails changed my mind (and hopefully my life): from Matteo Daste (BAIA) Jeff Capaccio (SVIEC) and Palo Marenco (Silicon Valley Italian Study Tour). I understood from their committed answers there was a big story waiting to be told. And this was the right moment (not only for Super-Euro), in a blooming of activities (Baia, Sviec, Mind the Bridge...), and commitment of US Embassy too. In Italiani di Frontiera I am interviewing entrepreneurs, researchers, engineers. Some young newcomers, some veterans with outstanding records, as Federico Faggin, Roberto Crea, Enzo Torresi. They are a mine of gold of memories, enterprises, challenges. Still more precious are their thoughts and critical comments about Italy, its qualities and its faults. Now a blog, then an interactive web site with videos, Italiani di Frontiera will be a book in Italy, sponsored by Centro Formazione Management del Terziario for FrancoAngeli Publisher. And more is still in my mind...
After spending some time in the Silicon Valley, how has your opinion of America and the American way of life changed?
I first came in USA 30 years ago as a young hitchhiker At that time this was an other world from Italy. Big cars and standardized behaviors impressed me more. Today cars are a bit smaller, I'm still impressed by standardization and predictability in daily life. Sometimes I find it funny or boring. But I realize these strict rules are fundamental ground for a multicultural and multi ethnic country. Meanwhile, Italy and Italians became more standardized and stereotyped, after years of flat consumerism and silly hedonism pumped by TV model over exposition. But they lack a ground standard of rules and civic commitment, quite strong here. We still have a sense of quality of life, in terms of friendship, food, beauty. While sometimes I had the feeling that a part of American way of life, in its pursuing of success, has still the goal to make money to show money and money symbols. And then... what else?
After interviewing so many "Italians," did you find some sort of common background or shared archetype?
Yes, absolutely. And much stronger than I expected. Perhaps we managed for centuries to survive with unpredictable as individuals. And our classic roots, deeper than we realize and remember, are the best background for an open mind. Italians graduated in averaged Italian Universities act wonderfully here. Many of them told me they feel to have a special capacity to solve problems out of the standard better than others. Somebody thinks too you can recognize a software "made by Italians" for a particular touch of creativity an aesthetic...
Once you are back in Italy, do you think you will be able to communicate and share your experience?
If I'll fail, I'll be the only one to blame. Because I think contents and thoughts from Italiani di Frontiera are of extraordinary value, for what in my view is today Italy. So many outstanding goals achieved thank to Italians to remember, while the country dramatically lacks memory. And so many examples to study and pursue, in hard work, creativity, courage, challenge on a global competition, both in entrepreneurs and in corporations. Mainly ignored in a country dulled by local argues and silly gossip. A country of emigrants, now pretending to isolate and protect itself, than better widely exploit its talents. Let's open doors and windows in Italy, to fresh air! More web, more English speaking. More good models for young people. More chances for inspired ideas. And more sights from abroad, from Italians in the Bay too!
The Italian community in California is very fragmented. Only now are Italians becoming aware of being part of a community and gaining a benefit from that. What can associations like BAIA and Italian institutions such as the Italian Consulate do in this direction?
They can act stronger, in building a powerful community here. But I really think that in this, meetings and networking must be supported by a strong cultural effort. This means first to know what other Italians are doing here around. Then be aware how strong can be their contribution and example non only each other but for their country. Business opportunities are not enough, we need a careful consideration. About qualities that let Italians here acting fantastically: open mind, improvisation, aesthetic taste etc. And a critical reflection on what obstacles the emerging of the same qualities in Italy in entrepreneurship. It is a cultural effort because from my work it emerges that bad habits, distorted traditions (for example family extensions in corporation management) are for Italy heavier chains than old infrastructure and lack of financing.
Will you come back to California with a new project?
Telling the truth, I'm just ready to stay... Kidding (not too much). At the end of July I have to go back to Reuters in Milan and finish my work on the project. For me and my family it would be a dream to come back to stay. There are a lot of subjects and links to work on, in media between Italy and the Bay. I could have ten more "start up" projects in my head, as a web radio, needing a venture capitalist I am afraid... because this adventure 'til now has been hardly self-financed. Good investment for me, my wife and mainly for my teen son and daughter, in their international open mind experience at Gunn High School (while Ale, soccer striker, scored 18 gols in 7 match with Stanford Earthquakes...). One new project is already a part of Italiani di Frontiera. I called "Italindiani" some outstanding Italians in the West, discovered by my friend Cesare Marino, anthropologist at Smithsonian Institution and one of most prominent experts of Native Americans. Nearly unknown both here and in Italy, they deserve a book for themselves, having in past centuries the same bold spirit of Italiani di Frontiera we all need to challenge the new 21th Century Global Fronter.
I would like to thank the Roberto Bonzio for taking the time for this interview and for the incredible work he has done in such a short time exploring the local Italian community and exposing the unexpectedly long list of entrepreneurs, researchers, and influential people. If you have a question for Roberto or for BAIA please do not hesitate to contact us or to leave a comment below. Roberto is also a member of our online community BAIA Link where he can also be reached.