The Moment of Distrust Has PassedBOCCONI ALUMNA ILARIA TIEZZI, NOW AT BRANDON GROUP, LOOKS AT THE PROPENSITY OF ITALIAN SMES TO INVEST IN ECOMMERCE
Until as recently as a few of years ago, digital was still perceived by Italian SMEs as a threat, while today most of Italian midsize firms tend to consider it an opportunity, and even more, an obligatory step. In this transformation, the role of e-commerce professionals who know how to drive the development of family companies in manufacturing and elsewhere (i.e. most of Italian small and medium firms) has become increasingly strategic.
This is why the Brandon Group, which helps small and medium-sized Italian and European companies sell online through their platform, has recently chosen to strengthen its executive team by appointing Ilaria Tiezzi as its new CEO. A young executive who has already demonstrated that she is capable of combining business development with the management of innovation processes, Ms Tiezzi is a class of 2004 Bocconi graduate in Arts and Culture Management, where she also taught as a lecturer. Tiezzi’s mission at Brandon is to further internationalize the platform, expand its geographical reach as well as the product categories managed, and diversify the range of platforms through which to sell its customers' products.
You worked in the past for Mediaset and Sky Italia, but also for emerging start-ups. What is the most obvious difference between innovating in a large corporation and doing it in a small firm?
In large companies, the most significant advantage is the presence of senior figures who, even in the face of novel events, are still bearers of useful experiences and take on a leading role. However, decision-making is often slowed down by the hierarchy and a resistance to change that can derive from established practices which have well served the company in the past. Conversely, in start-ups, the need to quickly seize the opportunities connected to change is felt more urgently and this makes innovation immediately more efficient. I believe that the ideal dimension in this historical juncture is the scale-up, like the one I find myself managing today, because we are not a huge reality but we have a critical mass of resources that enables taking on more risk in investment compared to a traditional start-up.
What propensity for digitization do SMEs have in Italy today?
In a few years I myself have seen the distrust felt by companies for e-commerce greatly reduced and indeed many have now realized that it is an inevitable step. Until a few years ago, growth rates of physical retail channels were still significant and this permitted them to postpone the decision, but today the economic crisis and the rapid change in consumer habits make online sales the indispensable channel. Moreover, over time a greater understanding of the management complexity raised by e-commerce has emerged and, consequently, fewer and fewer people think they can go it alone. Valid products always find a way to reach online shoppers, and companies know this well; it is better therefore to put oneself in the position of actively managing the flow rather than being passive recipients.
What are the margins for e-commerce growth for SMEs?
There are still huge margins. If we think that about 90% of Italian companies can be configured as SMEs and that only 2 years ago no more than 6% of them were active in online sales. The potential of the international market for made in Italy companies, in particular, is extraordinary. In Brandon, for example, 75% of the customer base is Italian, but if we look at the outlet markets, only 35% of sales are made in Italy, the rest goes abroad.
Which of the technologies related to e-commerce do you think is the most strategic to implement today?
The most significant investment for us at this moment is the creation of a data lake and the analysis of big data. Selling on dozens of platforms and in different countries of the world we collect every day an enormous amount of data of various nature on the categories, the products, the most sought after brands and we garner a unique knowledge of the market that we want to transfer to our customers. Moreover, our knowledge of the market is all the more strategic as it offers us the opportunity to observe sales trends well in advance. Here, for example, the orders of typical Christmas products are closed in these weeks. We are therefore investing to increasingly refine our forecasting capabilities and develop a distinctive skill to help our customers select among the products with the greatest sales potential and develop ad hoc commercial strategies for online sales platforms and by country. Our goal is to be increasingly a strategic partner, able to direct production and, last but not least, to optimize return on sales through increasingly sophisticated dynamic pricing.
A 37-year-old Tuscan, she graduated from Bocconi CLEACC (Degree in Arts and Culture Management) in 2004. She was chosen among the Top 100 Bocconi Graduates of the year. Building on such a résumé, Ilaria's career immediately took off, first in the media industry, with Mediaset and Sky Italia, interspersed with a stint at Boston Consulting. “Then my interest for digital and technological innovation prevailed and I accepted the professional challenge represented by V-Nova, a little-known English start-up that would soon become a leader in the supply of video compression solutions." After getting back from London on maternity leave, Ilaria Tiezzi oversaw Cellularline's IPO listing as board member and, since last October, she has been CEO of the Brandon Group.
by Emanuele Elli
Translated by Alex Foti