Dr. Fontana, what was your first  thought when you sat on your desk aspresident of Confindustria Bari-Bat?

Before the election as president there was a long period of listening, I was concerned of listening to the needs of entrepreneurs
in order to get to know the problems that persist in the various sectors. Now is the time to find solutions with all our other main partners such as the Puglia Region, the banking system, Puglia development. We have the opportunity to ensure that Puglia can achieve even better results than those are shown today.

During this listening phase, what emerged from the discussion with your colleagues entrepreneurs, can you make us a map of the instances that come from the the business world?

There is a very serious problem related to the bureaucracy and the enormous slowness with which an idea can become a reality and be brought to the market. The second problem concerns the difficulties of access to credit: it is a difficulty that often does not depend on the banks either, but on how an entrepreneur deals with the financing system.

Meaning what?

What often happens today is that first you make an investment and then you go to look for money in the bank. Today we need a better planning of the sources of financing: the banking system is the preferred system for companies, but there are many other tools such as bonds, mini bonds, basket bonds, private equity, listing on the stock exchange, in short, a series of opportunities that companies must be able to seize and to do so it is necessary to strengthen the corporate culture.

How can this be done in concrete terms?

Let me give you an example. When we introduced the balance sheet certification at Farmalabor, many people told us that we were not obliged to do so and that we would have to bear the costs of paying the external certification body. Instead, thanks to the certification of financial statements, a company can more easily present itself to the markets of the stock exchange or in markets other than that of the banking system to access sources of finance that do not worsen the financial position but
represent risk capital for those who can invest. Leverage is another instrument that is little used due to a lack of business culture.
We are filling it thanks to the work of Confindustria, with the Puglia Region and with the Bari-Milan axis, which is one of
the first things that I will implement thanks to the dialogue with the Lombardy region and the Elite of the Italian Stock Exchange.

What else does it take to complete this micro-enterprise’s transition to a culture typical of medium-large enterprises?

We need a mission, good entrepreneurs and excellent cooperation with the university system. In Puglia we have an excellent Polytechnic and an excellent public university that form exceptional minds: the effort must be to retain these resources and these minds. Companies are not only made with walls, but also and above all with the brains that are inside. We must learn to collaborate more and focus on greater synergy with the university world.

Speaking of intangible infrastructure, I recently read some statistics that the regions of Northern Italy are able to take on, on average, more young managers than in the South and above all to pay them better.

The most enlightened entrepreneurs are those who surround themselves without fear of people who are better than them. Let me explain: at Farmalabor I hired a woman as head of Administration, Finance and Control, she is a young manager I took from Milan and she is much better than me. The same goes for my Quality Control Manager. I have no fear of being surrounded by people better than me. It’s like when you used to play football in the street when you were a child, you used to draw lots to choose your team and those who started first started from the strongest: the goal is to win the game. Today we can’t keep our human capital because  there are not enough companies. We send a lot of graduates who have been trained here elsewhere. At the beginning of their working experiences they are also supported by their families, then they stay elsewhere to create wealth. It is no coincidence that Apulia has absolute excellences that work in every part of Europe. 

This is a subject that recurs on a daily basis: how do we actually turn the tide?

Forward-thinking, vision, studying and working. We must work having an absolute market knowledge and a clear longterm
mission. What will Farmalabor look like in ten years’ time? It will be a large Italian company, will have exceeded 50 million
in turnover and 250 employees. Here, I have the mission, now how do I achieve it? I already work twelve hours a day, every day, I can’t do it alone. The only possibility is to hire good people, to set certain goals, share goals and measure these people in the field. I am totally against precarious work because a company needs people who have the certainty of a job, know where we are going and are motivated to not to work for someone but to work with someone. At Farmalabor all the people who work there from the cleaner to the lab worker, everyone knows what the turnover is, what is our mission, that our company does not avoid taxes…

…Dr. Fontana, you are certainly an example of excellence, we do not get to know you today: your company represents an entrepreneurial model of best practice. The point is how do you transfer these models also in the associative field?

The association represents a very positive moment, a field that incentivize dialogue. During our meetings we often talk to each other, we tell our experiences, how we are moving, what we are doing, what products we are targeting and which are the financial instruments we are using.

A process of mutual contamination.

One of the biggest problems of the entrepreneur is that he feels locked up in his happy island off from positive contamination. I want to create opportunities for dialogue and confrontation by leveraging on the presence in Confindustria of important companies with thousands of employees, listed companies operating worldwide. We can count on the experience of companies as important as Granoro, Exprivia, Bosch, Getrag, Sanguedolce, who work with a different logic from that of a small company of twenty employees, which has all my respect. The latter, however, can learn a lot from the big ones, small companies can create relations with large companies, Confindustria generates a logic of contamination where one plus one becomes three or four. This is the role of the Confindustria: creating synergies.

When it comes to synergies, one  of your most important interlocutors is politics. Next year it will take place the regional election campaign and the Region is one of the most important institutions for dialogue between institutions and entrepreneurs. What are you going to ask the next political actors?

Look, I am going to surprise you: we want more state and more politics, we want clear rules and we want the rules to be respected by all. A world without rules and without controls is just a jungle. We want a political class at regional level,
too, to take decisions and to have a longterm vision aimed not at the next election campaign, but at future generations.

In fact, I am surprised by your answer: you would like more rules and more state, but we didn’t say one of the problems of entrepreneurs is too much bureaucracy?

No, if the rules are certain and the same for everyone. There cannot be those who work in illegal employment and those who work in accordance with the rules. When you have a clear demarcation between lawful and illegal, then it also becomes absolutely clear what is white and what is black. In this way we would avoid those grey areas where the interpretation of the public official on the granting of a right of access or on a permit is valid. In that grey area lies the logic of knowledge, favour and corruption, even in the smallest of cases. 

Will tourism be enough in future to support the Apulian economy?

In the hospitality sector there are some segments in which we have not achieved excellence yet: I am referring to the massive numbers of incoming that concern the largest conferences. Apulia is so attractive that it could also focus on conferences with thousands of people. Today, however, if you think of an event  with 3-4 thousand people you would notfind conference centers with adequate hospitality. Another difficult thing to solve concerns the many bed and breakfasts that work illegally: we would like the taxes to be lower but paid by all. The manufacture remains a key sector for Puglia: this is also said by the data of the Bank of Italy. It is the sector that is holding best:  we have excellence in the field of shoes, in the food sector as Granoro, Sanguedolce,
Oropan, Divella. There is all the mechanics induced in Molfetta, as well as in the area of Monopoli the pharmaceutical sector. 

How are entrepreneurs preparing for the digital revolution and the Internet?

Let’s say that we have wide margins for improvement. There’s a lot to do, I don’t want to say that we’re at year zero also because in Puglia there are top level excellences working in the digitalization. Alongside these, there are companies that are struggling to adapt to an era that is changing very quickly. Today things are changing exponentially and require a great adaptability to change and a culture of innovation. There is a quote by Adriano Olivetti to which I am very attached: “There is only future in me”.

You are also very attached to the 3 P’s: People, Profit, Planet: we have already talked about the first two, how are we getting on with the “planet” issue?

Here too it is a question of triggering a new cultural process: we can no longer create wealth by damaging someone or something. On road signs an industrial area is described with a chimney and black smoke coming out. Today the icon of the factory can no longer be this one. The company must be a pleasant place where people work well, produce and return home well.

What contribution can Confindustria make on the subject of environmental sustainability?

Once again, there must be clear rules at the heart of everything. I am against media and street processes. It cannot be an environmentalist to say whether a company is good or bad, it must be the State to establish it through the Harp, through the Carabinieri del Noe or through a judge. After that, companies that do not comply with the provisions of the law do not, in my opinion, have the right to be in Confindustria. Just as they must not have illegal workers, so companies that pollute knowing that they pollute are not worthy of being in Confindustria. 

You make statements of principle that are absolutely acceptable. The reality, however, tells of a macroeconomic context that is not favorable to entrepreneurs. I mention three topics of very
topical interest: flat tax, citizenship income and minimum salary: what do you think about?

I think that the flat tax is an extremely positive solution if everyone pays taxes. The point is that we are in a common market
that is called Europe and there can be no a different taxation passing from Italy to the Netherlands to the point that Fiat decides to move its legal base there. Common market means to have rules incommon. Rules also mean taxes. As you can see at the end of the day, the center of everything is always the taxes issue.

Citizenship income?

It’s a mistake. I am of the opinion that a person who has no job should be helped with a whole range of activities, but call it citizenship assistance not “income”.

Yes, but the substance does not change…

It’s a total cultural change. Only work generates dignity, only work generates income. Assistance is another thing. To help
people return to work, it would be much more effective to encourage companies to hire people with citizenship assistance,
for example by not making them pay contributions. Then, if I hire you and you are a valid person, I’m not a fool to let you
go. The only ones that generate work are companies.

Minimum wage…

We can set any level of salary we want. But if we create a context in which labor costs are different between different European countries, how do you think Italy can be competitive? It is not the policy that can set prices but the market. Otherwise we will no longer sell anything: we will be delighted to pay people more to produce something that we will no longer sell.

Allow me just one question about your Farmalabor: what are you doing in this moment?

We are working with a series of supplements to lower cholesterol. They are great and we are selling them all over the world without any difficulty, with great interest in Italy and in Qatar. It’s an example of how you can make a made in Italy valid not only in the food sector but also in the pharmaceutical one. When we focus on training and research, no one can stop us.

In which role are we going to meet you next time?

Today I hold this important position which, I would like to stress, is not remunerated. I have an obligation to serve the companies of the territory, to serve my colleagues. We have a duty to leave our mark and make a qualitative leap as territory.