The Bocconi Method to Implement Dreams

The Bocconi Method to Implement Dreams


"Urbano Cairo combines qualities that are rarely found in a single individual: creativity as well as rigor, courage, energy, a deep sense of logic, pragmatism, and the ability to dream". This is how Riccardo Monti, president of Bocconi Alumni Community, described the Milanese publisher and entrepreneur in announcing his nomination as Bocconi Alumnus of the year 2019. The alumni community decided to award the current president of RCS Media Group for his attainments in various spheres of activity, but above all for the ability to transform his passions into entrepreneurial ventures, following a rigorous approach to business and the impulse to rise up to ever greater challenges, something that he considers the Bocconi trademark. "Dreaming of ambitious goals must continue to be what drives Bocconians," said Cairo. "Bocconi plays a fundamental role because it helps future managers and entrepreneurs compete successfully internationally".

What kind of student were you?
Very serious and dutiful. From the start, I considered studying at Bocconi as a job I had to keep up with. Perhaps because I came from a high school that hadn’t prepared me so well; it was the 1970s and with student strikes, demonstrations, occupations almost every week, I felt I had wasted too much time I should have devoted to my studies. I remember that I really wanted to get started with my university studies and engage in something serious. I maintained my commitment and managed to arrive at thesis defense with an average of 28.5/30, which was not bad.

In the light of your subsequent career as manager and entrepreneur, what do you think is the most important legacy of the years you spent at Bocconi?
I could list so many teachings that have left their mark. In addition to business and economics, I became very interested in economic policy, sociology, marketing, business  organization, all subjects I found very useful for my profession in the following years. But the main lesson of those years was certainly learning a habit made of rigor, discipline, and consistency in the application of a method. It was something you breathed in the University’s halls and classrooms, and it even put me in awe at the beginning. One time, due to sentimental vicissitudes, I arrived very unprepared on the day of an oral exam. I went, but then I saw the professor and my colleagues I felt ashamed; I went back home to study for real and passed the exam in the next session. The Bocconi environment demanded the best from everyone, and I for one wanted to do things well.

When you were a Bocconi student, you won a scholarship and attended a semester at New York University. Is that where your passion for the world of media and advertising was born?
That was a fundamental experience, even though I always had ahdd a passion for media and communication. In the family we read Corriere della Sera every day, and I often bought La Notte at the newsstand because at the time there was this editor-in-chief, Stefano «Nino» Nutrizio, who was putting out an innovative and popular daily newspaper. Private television meanwhile was growing fast in Italy, and that also was a world which attracted me. In the US, I came across a more advanced form of television communication than I was used to in Italy, and I decide I wanted to explore that world further. I read some essays in on media in America, in particular The Powers That Be by David Halberstam struck me deeply. When I returned to Italy, I immediately thought I had to talk about what was happening in the US with the Italian entrepreneur who, at that moment, was most active in the industry: Silvio Berlusconi.

What was your ambition then?
At the time, my idea was already to be an entrepreneur, but I was aware that to do that, I first needed to follow the manager's career path. I would have liked to become a television publisher one day and pointed in that direction; I thought it was difficult but not impossible, because the sector was opening up, freeing up space and resources for new initiatives. In the US, I had already experimented with the early forms of pay television and I thought of bringing the idea to Italy but then nothing came of it. As for Corriere della Sera, as I said it was a constant presence at home and an authoritative reference, but I thought it was a closed world very difficult to penetrate. I do not say impossible because I believe nothing is really impossible, but certainly if they had told me then that one day I would become the Corriere’s publisher, I would have really struggled to believe it.

Is dreaming really so important for an entrepreneur?
My mantra is "nothing happens if you haven't dreamed it before". Imagining new possibilities is a constant exercise for me. Certainly there are moments when you need to really focus to give substance and solidity to a new project and then there is not much time left to digress, because there is a turnaround in accounts to be made, jobs to be maintained, decisions to be taken. But as soon as the waters calm down and the situation stabilizes, I start thinking about what the next step might be.

You have always had a passion for politics. Could this be your next step?
In this case, I believe you need more cautious than in other realms of life. It is true that I am passionate about politics, as a young man I followed US politics with great interest, but I am aware that politics is not a commitment that can be taken lightly, on a whim. I have a lot of respect for public affairs but also for the people involved in my companies, who operate in a complex and constantly evolving environment. I don't think it would be a simple decision to leave all these responsibilities behind to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to politics.

Born in Milan, 62 years old, Urbano Cairo is president of Cairo Communication and RCS Media Group (where he is also CEO). He graduated in Business Administration from Bocconi in 1981 with a thesis on "The financial strategy of medium-sized industrial companies that are expanding", he joined Fininvest right after graduation and went on to  pursue a long managerial career, becoming also CEO of Mondadori Pubblicità. In 1995, the leap into entrepreneurship with the foundation of Cairo Pubblicità. In 1999 he acquired the Giorgio Mondadori publishing company, in 2003 he founded Cairo Editore, which today is leader in the Italian market for weekly magazines, in 2013 he acquired the La7 television network, and in 2016 he launched the successful takeover bid with which he seized control of RCS Media Group as majority shareholder. Since 2005, he has also been the owner of Torino Football Club, a Serie A team.

by Emanuele Elli
Translated by Alex Foti

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