He loves defining himself as a philantrepreneur, and more than Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, he is inspired by Richard Branson of Virgin, with the eye and acumen for business–and in many and varied sectors. Overseas, he is known as the Italian who is contributing to making Americans appreciate soccer, while in Italy he was propelled into the news headlines for having brought the Fiorentina soccer team on tour back to North America, bringing over an important player like Marco Di Vaio, and in 2013, for having given the prestige to Italian women’s soccer, thanks to the 19 Italian soccer players that he wanted on his team.
At just 45 years old, Giuseppe Pezzano seems to have risen too quickly, boasting a resume that an octogenarian would be proud of. Everything began in his Calabria, in Locri, where he was born and raised, in a difficult land that has taught him many values with solid points of reference. Then came an interim step in Florence, before fully embracing the American dream in Seattle.
A visionary and courageous like his father, Giuseppe experiments in many areas: from cell phones, to education, culture, soccer and hotels. And many others that he still wishes to invest in. It’s not business that is close to his heart, but rather the capacity to create and support this bridge between Italy and the United States through channels such as soccer and cultural exchanges.
A bridge that is strengthened by new projects, by experiences in the field that lead to opening more opportunities, with the hope that the younger generation of Italians learns the best of what the American model has to offer, and that the Americans get to know his country better. “There is so much satisfaction,” states Giuseppe. “I did so much for my country and now I want to enjoy the results of my efforts and see more recognition in my Italy.”
When he was younger, he was a fan of the Reggina team, but today he roots for his club, OSA Seattle Fc.
Regarding the possibility of investing in an Italian team, Mr. Pezzano believes that today, soccer is too complicated to invest in. You need to have many skills and a steady presence. “My objective is not business, but to give opportunities to young people so that they may have an international experience, broaden their own horizons and bring home new models that can improve their existing situation”.
From cell phones to soccer, to hotels and cultural services, your areas of business are diverse, and make you a modern entrepreneur, capable of facing diverse sectors. Let’s start at the beginning of all of this, from Calabria, where you were born and raised, and then on to Florence, where you graduated from university.
“I was born and raised in Locri, in Calabria. A difficult place, but precisely for this reason capable of creating interesting stories of how reaction to the difficult environment can lead to survival. My father, a military man, teacher, and at the same time, a businessman [the Pezzano family was one of the first to open driver education schools], was a visionary and always looked ahead. I inherited from him passion and dedication, honesty, and the capacity to always look beyond. Florence is my city by adoption, where I studied law, but it is also the city that opened my eyes to the world, and that breathes internationality. It was during my law studies that I realized that a career as a lawyer wasn’t for me. The need to explore and see the world, and above all to create something new, was already something that was very strong inside of me”.
Everything began with cell phones and an internet point in Florence. It was in 2000, and the era of internet points in Italy was just beginning.
“In Florence there were many American students that were a bit at the mercy of the disorganization and lack of services that existed. I understood right away the market potential, and thanks also to my passion for technology, I opened an internet point, offering international students mobile communication services. Just like every MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), I was a manager who purchased phone traffic from the major providers, and then I would resell it with my brand directly to clients.
In the span of a few years, that which was a beautiful business reality in Italy became PicCell Wireless when I moved to Seattle, with 100 employees, clients, and customer care service in over 25 countries, always with the objective of assisting international students with mobile phone services around the world. In 2009, I gave up PicCell Wireless, but from that experience were born other visions of mine, both entrepreneurial and project-based”.
“EduAssistance is a service company created in Florence in 2000 through a practical need that I lived with on a daily basis when I was in contact with students from other countries: the lack of services, whether for housing, facilitation of bureaucratic procedures, language, or health insurance. A real and actual platform, the first one, servicing universities and study abroad programs that in the United States are very common. I also created EduItalia in 2005, an association composed of language schools and universities, with programs for international students, which promote Italian culture around the world to providers, agencies, college and university study abroad programs (we are currently in India for a fair, representing Italy). All of this to reach international students, especially Americans, but not exclusively, and get them to come to Italy instead of going to other countries which may be much more attentive to this niche phenomenon, generating important streams of revenue (just think of the restaurants, stores, local bars, etc., with parents and friends that visit these students during their stay)”.
In 2003, your move to the US became inevitable, due to your entrepreneurial visions that needed a breath of fresh air. Why did you choose Seattle and not New York?
“For me, it was a move that had to be made, that of going overseas. Not only because I was working with Americans, but also because I understood that the West Coast was the new frontier, and not New York anymore. It is not by chance that Seattle — where the headquarters of Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing are located — has always launched itself forward, in a new dimension, rich with technology and research, different from that of the East Coast of the United States”.
Before getting involved with soccer, there was also another sector in your entrepreneurial portfolio: hotels.
“The Art Inn Hotel chain explores a sector that is very special to me, that of design and hospitality. I had a concept of boutique hotels that recalled Italian class and elegance with an international flair. I was among the first – and here I return to my anticipatory vision with respect to timing — to have believed in Portugal’s economic recovery and its rebirth through the new generation of Portuguese. I’ve seen dynamics in Portugal that are not present in other European countries, and I was among the first to invest there, and still today I have a special outlook towards that country”.
Much more than a simple entrepreneur, you define yourself as a “philantrepreneur”.
“A visionary, a philanthropist, an enthusiast. Business in and of itself does not interest me, but the capacity to reach objectives that create development, opportunity, relationship exchanges and progress. I like to follow projects from the beginning to the end, from design to implementation, and above all, I like to see the concrete possibility of achieving results. A visionary, yes, but also practical. Money is not my objective as much as the capacity to create and construct a bridge between the United States and Italy”.
And here we arrive at soccer, your great passion, which you have transformed into an important business project, and where you have made a name for yourself in America and in Italy, being credited for having brought Italian soccer to the other side of the Atlantic. Let’s begin with Locri’s soccer fields…
“I am the product of that generation that has had the good fortune of growing up on the soccer fields and playing in the streets. Soccer has always been my great passion, from the time that I played for the Locri team, and from when I was studying in Florence, I continued playing at the amateur level. In 2008, I acquired an amateur team, the Fiesole Caldine in Tuscany, where in the space of three years I won two championships, moving straight into the Serie D. In those years, I began to build relationships and lay the foundations for a USA-Italy bridge in the world of soccer, also amongst the professionals. I was the first one to bring an important player like Marco Di Vaio in the new MLS era of Beckham!”
And in 2010 you brought the Fiorentina team, which had been absent for years, on tour in North America, with coach Cesare Prandelli.
“I have always been of the idea that sports are first and foremost culture, an instrument of integration and dissemination of healthy values. For this reason, I have actively collaborated for the creation of the Fiorentina School, the first one oriented towards being a Sports-science High School, born with the objective of providing a good education to kids that oftentimes are out of contact with the world of soccer.
With OSA, Olympic Soccer Academy, which you founded in 2008, your dream comes true and you dive into a very ambitious project.
“OSA for me has a very important value that tightens the circle around my role as an Italian entrepreneur in the United States: to create a bridge of exchange based on sports, in this case on soccer. It’s a type of sports academy in Seattle, with high-level facilities and staff, where young Italians are given the opportunity of getting to know a different world, learning new techniques, opening their minds up to new horizons, thanks to the fact that they are in Seattle, a city rich with resources. The return from this experience overseas becomes their resource, whether professional or technical, within the context of soccer, but also within a human context and a global one. I would like for young Italians to see how things in the American system work and become stimulated by this dynamic environment. At the same time, young Americans have the possibility of studying in Italy and playing soccer. That is the bridge, based on sport as both culture and the instrument through which the world is opened up to them”.
How do these activities translate into a business?
“I don’t always make money. On the contrary. But my passion is so great, and it goes above and beyond market principles. There is much satisfaction. Currently, in my club, which was founded in 2013, OSA Seattle FC, is the most important club in Seattle following Seattle MLS. There is a lot of Italy in this beautiful team, like my club partner and technical director, Filippo Milano, who is a professor at the University of Washington. Again, for me the most important goal is to bring young Italian men and women to Seattle and show them how a city like this works; a city that is home to Amazon, Boeing and Starbucks, besides being the location for prestigious medical and research centers. To get to know the world and see it from a different perspective with your own eyes helps you to change to the world. This is what I want: that young Italians should come here, and when they go home, say, ‘let’s try to do this in a different way, let’s try it the way they do it in America, following positive and professional examples”.
It’s thanks to you that a spotlight has been turned on to women’s soccer — which has been ignored until now — and for having brought 19 Italian female players who were instrumental in winning the title. For the first time, we have found ourselves cheering for Italian female soccer players overseas. How did the phenomenon of women’s soccer explode?
“I began observing the world of women’s soccer in 2010. Already at that time, I was fascinated by the techniques that were different from that of men’s soccer. Together with the technical aspect, there was something in particular that pushed me: women’s soccer in Italy was unjustly ignored. In 2013, the women players of my team, AC Seattle — of which 19 players came over directly from Italy, on a team managed by Fabio Cimmino and coached by Antonio Cincotta (former coach of the Fiammamonza team) — not only realized the dream of playing in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), the second most important US championship after the Women’s Professional Soccer, but they also won the title out of the entire pool for the WSPL northwest championship. Today, women’s soccer finally has its own followers, and the right prominence. The proof can be seen in the last match played on March 24th, Juventus vs Fiorentina, Serie A women’s soccer, which set a record for number of viewers”.
Americans are finally taking notice of soccer. If we consider that many teams are owned by them, it looks like passion may be born at home, but in public, Americans sense it could be good business. Is it only passion, or also business?
“Passion and business. The first one developed in public and began with the David Beckham phenomenon, when he came to play in the United States. From then on, Americans have developed a passion for soccer and have begun following the English and Spanish league championships, which still today remain the most popular. At the same time, they also noticed that all of this generates good business, as demonstrated by the US consortium that owns A.S. Roma, or Bologna F.C., which is owned by the Italian-Canadian Joey Saputo. Rich Americans, just like their Russian, Chinese or Arab counterparts, have set their eyes on Italian soccer. We are a country that’s up for sale, and the business of soccer is very tempting”.
Do you think that the sport of soccer that has been reduced to a business has lost all of the charm that it once had? How do you view Italy, the country, and Italian soccer from America?
“Soccer is the mirror of society, and I see Italy as an extraordinary country with immense potential, but one that isn’t able to protect its own resources, its “Made in Italy” brand. Soccer is plagued with scandal because corruption starts with society. I want to bring back to life a healthy soccer of passion and sound technical skills, without scandal and corruption”.
What was it like growing up in Locri for a visionary, such as yourself?
“Just like many other difficult places in Italy and around the world, growing up there was more complicated, but full of fantastic memories. I spent my childhood between school and the soccer fields, between the seaside and the Salesian center, which at that time was doing great things, constantly demonstrating that if you wish to do something, it can be done, regardless of who is doing it. And never forget that Locri was, and still is, potentially, a pearl of the Ionian Sea, and like many other parts of southern Italy that are not taken advantage of to their fullest potential! Remember that Locri still has one of the most beautiful and fascinating amphitheaters of Ancient Greece, one that should have never-ending lines of visitors; where during the times of the Greeks, the first written laws were created, thanks to Zaelucos, the first Greek jurist of the Western world. Without history, you cannot create a future!”
Growing up in Locri, what did you think about the ‘Ndrangheta?
“It was the evening of March 20, 1989, when my uncle, Vincenzo Grasso, my mother’s brother, was killed by gunfire in front of his dealership because he would not give in to extorsion, and always denounced everything, continuing to work with a lot of honesty and dignity. At the time, I was 15 years old, and I was in Egypt on vacation with my parents, and we came back as soon as we heard the news. It was difficult for me to understand at that age certain mechanisms and dynamics, but it was certainly an event that touched me and forever changed me. Today, I am very proud of that Calabria that my uncle represented, made up of hard work, sacrifice, passion and honesty”.
What would you do today for Locri’s young people, to help them to develop new ideas and stimulate them into creating interesting projects?
“The south still feels the effects of its historic problem, that of being different from the north. We must understand that thanks to this difference, perhaps we can create development and opportunity. I imagine a Calabria that would live off its tourism–thanks to its natural resources–more than from development centers or virtual centers, which could also be useful, but aren’t the solution. I return to the example of Portugal again, which a few years ago risked going bankrupt, but that today is growing expansively, thanks to young Portuguese people, and the will to change. That which I can do for my land is to provide a new impetus, and make people reflect through my experience, through communication with young people to always look beyond, that opportunity is around the corner and not behind the ‘desk’. That traveling and discovering the world, not only while on vacation, helps you to return to Italy stronger, with new and valid ideas and rules, to apply them with competence and professionalism. Living overseas, in my case in the United States, also means coming to terms with the likes of Amazon and Microsoft, companies that have for years attracted immigrants from other countries who have become a resource for development for the host country–always thanks more and more to technology, to the English language and the internet, through a process of regulated integration. To foster change in a place, to change a mentality, you must do things with a great sense of personal duty and a sense of collective responsibility”.
As an Italian with American training, what lessons have you learned from the United States?
“The sense of duty, the dedication to work, and honesty, are values that I learned from my father, but here they find fertile ground and they transform dreams into reality. I am an Italian at heart, and by blood, but I am an American by training”.
As an entrepreneur and philanthropist, are you inspired more by Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?
“More by Richard Branson of Virgin, who invested in various sectors and is also a philanthropist. My model however, always remains my father: a great visionary”.
It seems strange that as an Italian entrepreneur you haven’t yet invested in the culinary world.
“In fact, it’s true. West Coast Italians, especially here in Seattle, are usually chefs, restaurateurs, doctors, engineers, but for sure they don’t do what I do. Many assume that I work in the restaurant business, which is an area that interests me, but that is also complex. I have many ideas, but I want to be cautious. Knowing myself, I realize that I am incapable of curbing my desire for creating new projects”.
45 years old and a career that a young Italian back home could only dream of. What is Giuseppe Pezzano’s dream today?
“I’ve done a lot for my country, and now I want to enjoy the results of my efforts and see more recognition in my Italy. I want to spend more time with my family, with my wife, Emily, an American that I met in Florence, and my son, Liam, who is eight years old and loves soccer the way I did at his age. Seeing how I view business, beyond business in and of itself, they are very involved with my projects and often travel with me”.
If today you were to invest in an Italian soccer team that you would need to put back on its feet, where do you see potential, where would you invest?
“There are certainly many beautiful and interesting prospects that are waiting to return to great soccer, such as Lecce, Brescia, Palermo, even Catania. But today, soccer is too complex to invest in. You need a lot of skills and a steady presence, but my objective is something else; it’s soccer as an opening to the world, not as means to do business”.
The French World Cup in Women’s soccer will take place in June, and this year, Italy is finally participating, thanks also to the contributions of young women who came to Seattle to perfect their techniques. Can you tell us who are the “American Azzurre” (All-Stars)? And what are your predictions? Who will win the World Cup?
“For the World Cup in France, being an Italian….but today also an American, I’d say that Italy has grown hugely in the last few years (I take some credit for this), and obviously, same for the US team, which is not new to this undertaking in women’s soccer! As for men’s soccer, we are light years away and even there I am working contrarily. We had Alia Guagni in Seattle for three consecutive years, from 2013 to 2015 (in the group photo above, with me at an away game in Portland, standing 2nd from left). Alia was named the best Italian soccer player for two consecutive years, 2017-2018, and she made a difference on the Italian Women’s National Team, on the international level. The growth of a sport starts with the growth of the person. Seattle assisted her growth as an athlete on and off the field. This is a practical example of how experiences in cities like Seattle contribute to becoming number one! Then, we also had Valentina Giacinti, who plays Forward for the National Team and who has a great following; Francesca Durante, Goalkeeper for Fiorentina Women’s F.C. and the Italian Women’s National Team (standing last from right in the photo above). Other Italian women that currently play in the Serie A are Francesca Vitale (standing 3rd from left next to Guagni), and Deborah Salvatori Rinaldi, a Striker in the Serie A (standing 5th from left next to Guagni).
So, which team does Giuseppe Pezzano root for?
“When I was young, I rooted for Reggina, the team from my province. Now, I root for my club, OSA Seattle FC!”
Translated by Emmelina De Feo