The steady increase in the number of students studying Italian worldwide, in fact record numbers, tend to indicate that which motivates people to study Italian goes beyond the personal and cultural primary motivators. It seems that another factor that motivates some to study the language is work, especially if they are interested in business sectors where Italy is a key player, and more, or, as is the case of the Tri-State, in geographical areas where there is a significant presence of Italian businesses.
Connecting language study to the “real world” is always a key objective when we teach language courses at any level. We want to ensure that our students will be able to tackle real-world tasks they will encounter in situations and environments beyond the classroom. Recent projects undertaken by the Italian program and the Inserra Chair at Montclair State University have highlighted this, which aligns with some of the recommendations made in a report of the Committee for Economic Development in Washington D.C. aimed at strengthening our education system by increasing our students’ skills in foreign languages and cultural awareness. The Education for Global Leadership Document calls upon university professional programs, such as schools of business administration, engineering, and medicine, to consider incentives to encourage students to pursue high-level foreign language study, and urged business leaders to champion international studies and foreign language education by articulating why Americans need fill this gap and learn more about the world.
Heeding to this call, I chose to invite experts to class to give testimonials as business leaders to not only students of Italian (a foregone conclusion) but also to those who have a certain italsimpatia, that is a fondness for all that is Italian. To the point, a collaboration was born with the Feliciano School of Business to make Made in Italy and its presence and impact in the American market known to international business students. This guest lecture series, with a focus on fashion, food and an understanding of Italian business districts, was made possible in collaboration with Dr. Ricard Jensen and Mr. Matthew Soto (Department of Marketing and International Business), and addressed objectives of our respective courses, providing students with opportunities to explore connections between post-secondary education, business, and Italian language and culture.
Studying a contemporary Italy
Generally, when we think of Italy, what we appreciate is its rich cultural heritage, not so much its economy, which has become a punchline to a bad joke. However, we cannot dismiss a few key facts: Italy is the eighth-largest economy in the world, the eighth-largest exporter, the sixth-largest producer of industrial groups, and the second-largest manufacturer in Europe, and the world’s fifth most popular tourist destination – and if you’re an American student, Italy ranks first as destination of choice for study abroad in non-English-speaking countries.
The Made in Italy brand embraces numerous business districts and the world recognizes Italy as a world leader in the culinary arts, interior design, fashion, graphic design, auto manufacturing, furniture design, machine tool manufacturing, robotics, electromechanical machinery, shipbuilding, space engineering, construction machinery, and transportation equipment.
We tend to take for granted the numerous sectors in which Made is Italy is present around the world, especially in the Tri-State, and because of this, we must act on opportunities to establish connections across academic disciplines (beyond those traditional but still quite valid areas of study associated with Italian – literature, art, history, and pedagogy). During their university studies, students should also be in a position to define a contemporary Italy that is poised to grow economically and can contribute to both the cultural and economic growth of other countries, like the U.S.
To launch this University-Business collaboration was Francesco A. de Grossi of Safilo Group USA, with headquarters in Parsippany for over 20 years, but the brand dates back to 1934, and has a rich company history of eyewear production and design in Padova (in the Veneto region). de Grossi addressed the eyewear market and Safilo’s role in the US market for not only their proprietary brands and designs, but also licensed brands (e.g. Kate Spade, Saks 5th Avenue, Tommy Hilfiger and Bobbi Brown, to name only a few). Ken Browne, a post BA student pursuing certification in the teaching of Italian K-12, affirmed: “Mr. de Grossi gave an excellent talk. His presentation on the history of Safilo and its presence in the U.S. was perfect for us students in Business Italian as it evidenced what we’ve been learning. The alliance between university and industry, as he himself said, is very important today. May we have great success creating rich connections with Italian companies in our area.”
Antonio Corsano, our second guest speaker, is CEO of Veroni USA, a charcuterie company that dates back to 1925 in the Emilia Romagna region. During his testimonial, he discussed Veroni’s American expansion, which imports its own high quality products from Italy and fresh slices them in their plant in Logan Township. Corsano spoke to the opening of the plant to establishing US commercial presence, and strategy behind their highly successful retail packaging. “I thought the speaker did a fantastic job at not only explaining the process in which Veroni markets its products, but also the influence Italian culture has on businesses in the United States, especially in the North East. – stated graduating senior Giuseppe Morlando, a marketing and international business major – As a business student who is also studying the Italian language, the lecture certainly helped identify opportunities where I could put my degree to work in the future. The complimentary salami was also a huge hit!”
The final speaker, Simone Cimino, GM of Nextron (An Amerita Company), also has an extensive background in private equity. He introduced students to the concept of industry districts, identified as a cluster of interconnected entities with specialized productions operating in specific geographical areas. In Italy, there are 141 industrial districts, of which 130 (a solid 92%) are Made in Italy districts. The reputation in excellence and know-how is credited to small and midsize businesses—comprising 85% of Italian companies and employs approximately 70% of employed population, which generate between 12-17% of the GDP— that are locally rooted, using local resources. This is the foundation of Italian economic development. The agglomeration (clusters of business activity) of these smaller entities joins forces and creates a learning core in these districts, establishing a niche in the market, even internationally. “Overwhelmingly the students found it extremely eye opening as it pertains to all of the unique manufacturing prowess and know-how that resides in Italy. – declared Matthew Soto, adjunct professor of international business – It really drove home the point that when thinking about international business and geographic expansion, in many cases you must go where the competence and innovation resides to leverage expertise. In some cases that innovation whether it be related to R&D, sourcing, distribution, or production may ultimately be in a place you would not expect.”
The Italian program and Italian companies are in harmonious agreement in recognizing that businesses should play a more active role to support education in linguistic and intercultural competencies, and it is precisely these types of synergies that our Italian program at Montclair State and Italian business in NJ and NY aim at establishing. This guest lecture series is one of many tangible opportunities through we explore the role of Italian language and culture in our economy, given that an area like NJ is quick to recognize the excellence, beauty and know-how represented by the Made in Italy brand. In my opinion, testimonials of this nature will strengthen academic program initiatives and will provide the proper environment in which to foster new synergies between businesses and the University community. Montclair State University is investing in the Italian BA degree, striking a harmony between studying Italian and the global marketplace.