Antonio Flora is the owner of the Centre for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation “Tarantini” in Trani.
Your encounter with the health universe is quite coincidental, it seems.
I was one of about hundred officials who gave birth to the Puglia Region when in 1970 the first Regional Councils were elected throughout Italy, implementing the constitutional dictates. The regional experience lasted ten years during which I was involved in health care first in the office of the cabinet of the president of the council and then as head of cabinet of
the councillor for health. In those years I was also member of the Health Commission of the Puglia Region and in 1978 I
experienced closely in the front line the health reform that led to the closure of mutual societies and the creation of the
Usl. Yes, it was a random meeting, each of us officials had been assigned to an area of expertise, I was touched by the health
sector. A lucky coincidence.
After a few years, in fact, you found yourself in the private sector to run a health empire with 1,200 employees: what happened?
I resigned from the Region and together with some friends I created Apulia Salus, a company with whom we started to manage private clinics. We started with a first nursing home in Geriatrics, then another in Eye Surgery and then another specialized in Orthopedics. We opened a very famous clinic in Bari, “La Madonnina”, which unfortunately is no longer there. Another important clinic in Manfredonia, two rehabilitation centres Riabilia in Bari and the Frangi Institute in Acquaviva.
A lot of courage: you chose to leave the fixed place everyone yearned for to be an entrepreneur.
I resigned from the Region, took the liquidation, sold the house and made a real leap in the dark. My wife worked at Di Venere, we had half a salary in the house and already a child. That experience in the Region was pressing on me,what I was living did not satisfy me and besides that, I always like to challenge myself.
In short, we can say that entrepreneurs are born, not made, you are witness to it, right?
When I was an official of the Region, I bought a newsstand that was closing, under my apartment: one day I went to the
person who was managing it and I said: “Don’t worry, from now on you work for me”. Once I bought three garages and
even today my daughter Alessandra and I own a hotel in the center of Florence, “Hotel Borghese Palace”, a structure managed
by my daughter who moved there several years ago. But I’ll tell you more. In 2008 I sold all my companies operating in
the health sector.
I received an important offer from a French multinational company. I sold everything, so I stayed six years without doing anything. Together with my wife and children, I travelled around Italy and Europe.
You enjoyed a little bit of backward vacation.
When I had Apulia Salus, I worked a lot: I used to leave home with my driver at 8:30 a.m., take the kids to school and
go home in the evening, completely destroyed: in those eighteen years it was a bad life, we also worked according to
European standards on Saturdays and Sundays. I also spent fifteen years as a football president, by the way. I started out for
fun at Acquaviva delle Fonti, then I was offered the Barletta that I brought from promotion to the C series in just four
years writing an absolute record in the history of Apulian football. We filled the stadium with 8,000 fans, a great experience,
only driving a car or motorbike at 260 km/h gives you the same emotions. Obviously losing a lot of money, with football is like that, it is useless to say it. In those years I denied a lot of holidays to my family. But then I got tired of not doing anything.
Did you get tired of enjoying life?
I think enjoying life is doing what you like to do. The great Italian comedian Alberto Sordi used to say: everyone tells
me that I’m stingy and that I never go on holiday, the truth is that I do a job that I like very much, they pay me very well for
this job, while when I go on holiday I have to spend money and I don’t have fun. It’s been a bit the same for me too.
So at a certain point you came back to the field and here we are in this physiotherapy centre in Trani.
It was a coincidence in this case too. A friend from Trani, an accountant, told me about this physiotherapy center run by Dr. Vito Antonio Tarantini who needed a hand, an important center that worked for twenty-five years here in Trani and therefore already well known. When I came here I found a complete disaster. I started to work on it and at a certain point I proposed to Dr. Tarantini to take over the centre. I re-founded the structure from scratch, changed location, bought 700,000€ of the most
modern equipment and fixed the relationship with the employees. We have done a great job, today we are talking about a company that has an operating margin of about 400,000 euros a year, we are among the top 70 most advanced centers in the world, about 1,800 square meters of covered area, there are no other centers like that in Italy. We are an excellence for Puglia in terms of number of employees, surface area and quality of services.
Today, health care, particularly in the public sector, is almost always in red: what was your magic formula instead?
First of all, to set a concrete and credible objective. Projects are walking on people’s legs and it’s useless to make big proclamations, the times when we enriched ourselves with health are over. If I buy a company that can give a margin
of 10 I can’t hope to have 20 if not destroying the company or doing filth: if that 10 is good for you, then you must aim to reach 10. How? Through work, commitment and good employees. Well, if there is a talent that the inner father has given me is not to make a mistake in choosing the right people at work. You can’t miss those, and if you realize that you’re wrong, you’ll have to cut your head off right away, with no ifs or buts. Because only when you have a good staff, clear ideas, experience and concrete goals, only then you will succeed. In health care you don’t earn much, but the numbers are very high. Calculate that this
structure makes 2 million euros of turnover per year: 10% of 2 million makes 200 thousand euros. If you are good you can earn even more, but the goal must remain earning 200 thousand euros.
Reading your story, it seems that when you take a project into your own hands, you make it a success: do you want to compliment yourself?
I’m a former casino player, I’ve done this as well in my many lives. Montecarlo, Venice, you think I made my honeymoon
around the European casinos. I played at certain levels and I can tell you that there a winning player does not exist. And still,
I assure you that if you went into a casino with the aim of winning… I don’t know… let’s say twice as much as you bet… well,
if you came to win and found the courage to stand up and leave, you would be a winning player. And if instead you lose
all your chips and manage not to change more, you would still be a winning player. Because the truth is that you have to
know how to stay with your feet on the ground. Be concrete. To be satisfied with a small victory or a good defeat. Sometimes
an honourable defeat is also good for you, tomorrow is another day, youcan play again and go back to winning. This is an important lesson that football has taught me.
You are a gentleman of a certain age, with a certain experience, you seem to me to be a self-confident person and also satisfied with your life. Is there one thing that scares you?
Mmm… one thing that scares me… I don’t know… ah, one thing that scares me is the sufferance of the people I love.
When my children were not well I couldn’t work. Today I have a beautiful grandson named Alessandro, he is the most
beautiful joy that the Eternal Father could give me. Being a grandfather is beautiful, I wish you to become grandparents, you take only the best, you have to say always and only “yes”, it’s easier than being a father… when my grandson is not well for me it’s suffering. The rest doesn’t scare me.
Is there anything you would like to teach your nephew right away?
Avoid hurting people. I’m not a practicing Catholic, I’m just a man. But if you can avoid hurting people it would be a good thing, there are many people who hurt unnecessarily. But if someone hurts you then you must hurt them more. I was born on the border between Bari Vecchia and Bari Nuova, the front door of my house overlooked Corso Vittorio Emanuele, there were two ways, one to the civil world and the other to the road. I, the son of two State officials, always used to run to the side of the road. My mother taught Italian and Latin at Horatio Flacco, she used to put me down, she used to tell me I didn’t have to go with
those bad boys. I didn’t give a damn, I was having fun with those guys: it was there that I learned first of all that you had to be able to defend yourself and hit hard those who hit you hard… don’t forgive, that’s why forgiveness doesn’t exist for me. If you’re wrong, you have to pay. If you have hurt me, I must hurt you more. That’s why my first rule is not to hurt anyone.
Beyond the balance sheets and income statements, is there any satisfaction that you have in mind and that concerns a medical “miracle” instead?
Once I remember in the Riabilia centre a pilot of a Finance Police helicopter who fell in Bari while flying at low altitude
arrived. One of the two pilots had a lot of fractures, we could no longer move neither legs nor arms. After 4-5 months we were able to release him standing on crutches. It was really a miracle of rehabilitation, although I believe that the real miracles are those that do heart transplants, the surgeon who does a liver transplant, the professor who intervenes on a cancer patient, removes a piece of intestine and makes him live another 15 years.
You own another health facility in Barletta, right?
It’s a day care center for Alzheimer’s patients. It’s something I’ve only done for a wonderful relationship of affection that I have always had with the city of Barletta. It is a structure that works and gives a great service to the city.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
This is a good question… this was the question I was afraid of… what do I want to do when I grow up…? Grandpa.
No, I don’t believe it…
No, I don’t want to be just a grandfather. I’m like that man who waits in the station for the next train to pass and wonders where it will take him. Well, I see myself as someone who is there with his suitcase ready and asks himself: will this train pass? Where will it take me? If it does, I’ll get on it.
When was the last time you cried?
Ah, but I’m easily emotional. No… for God’s sake, let’s not talk about it… I see a film and I’m very easily touched.
The relationship with politics…
Ah… this is also a long story
Let’s hear: Have you ever been tempted?
I’ve been very close to politics, I know all the politicians but I’ve never had any direct experience: my wife threatened to
throw me out of the house.
Am I wrong or your wife is one of the few who can cope with her?
Well, after forty-five years, it can’t be different… she’s my polar star, there’s nothing to do. My wife is the one who puts me on the ground, she is the one who raised my children during my absences, she is the one who has always advised me, supported, sustained, loved. She’s my life partner.