Giovanni Ottati is a businessman. An explorer of border territories, a discoverer of opportunities and markets. He is the President of Confindustria Assafrica & Mediterraneo, the association of the Confindustria System which brings together, represents and supports Italian companies operating or interested in developing in Mediterranean countries, Africa and the Middle East.
His main characteristic is determination and, notwithstanding the difficulties it has had to face over the years, it has been able to create a company, Vuetel, from its sole managerial experience, capable of linking together the telecommunications operators of the individual African States with the rest of the world.
An Italian man has united and connected Africa with the rest of the world. Probably today it seems to us a normal thing, but it is not: it is an important fact to be proud of.
President Ottati, you are a global entrepreneur without managing a multinational.
First of all they are personal history. I studied until the first high school in sub-Saharan Africa, then I lived in Ryad working for Italcable, the company at the time the Italian state concessionaire to provide telecommunications services to and from Italy in non-European countries that did not appear on the Mediterranean and, with one exception, in Israel.
I also went to Hong Kong in the mid-nineties and then in Telecom until 2008 as head of international activities for the Mediterranean, Africa and the Middle East.
Finally I decided to start my own business by founding Vuetel in 2010: I did it without drawing on family capital, which I didn’t have, investing $ 10,000. I bought the first software in Russia and installed it on an American server …
Vuetel develops from the beginning in Africa, why?
It was the only area with a market space that could justify the investment of a small one: at the time there was a strong delay on telecommunications and related services. Over the years the gap has been filled by the furniture market: do you know today how many Africans have a mobile phone? Almost all, 97% … In Africa the main companies present are the French Orange, the South African MTN, Vodacom which is part of the Vodafone network and the Indian Airtel: at the time I did an operation taking advantage of the knowledge of the territory . I was able to get the subscribers of every single operator to communicate with the rest of the world. I rented the satellite, the submarine cables and some repeater stations in London and New York. Then with 15 other companies I opened a Data Center for business connectivity services in Carini, in the province of Palermo
Your experience is almost pioneering. In countries that at the time were struggling with infrastructure, security and public order, only a multinational could afford to invest in Africa.
It is so, but since then the Italian presence on the continent has not changed much. While historically we have witnessed the establishment of Italian subsidiaries in the energy sector, at Fiat in Ethiopia and Mediobanca in Liberia, today among the leading credit institutions we find those of France and Morocco. Italy counts on ENI, Cremonini, Renda, Impregilo Salini and around 800 Italian companies, of which a large number are Campania companies.
Why should Italian companies invest in the African continent today?
Because today Africa represents a strategic opportunity to grow internationally. You can often see it as saying that Italy is increasing its companies’ exports and it is so naturally, if we compare the results year by year; but we need a report on the global market for international trade to measure how much our exports actually grow in absolute value. How many do as Calzedonia today? He invested in Ethiopia by opening a production plant, created employment and grows big planning development in other African countries. Hardly anyone moves in the same way, except China, which systematically opens manufacturing companies in Africa
Can Southern Italy be a functional logistics platform for the settlement of Italian companies in Africa?
The South can be a platform of specialized knowledge and skills to be complementary to the manufacturing development of Africa. Logistics then comes by itself through a reasoned development of the port system and of the real infrastructures needed to sort goods towards European markets. However, it is not enough, we should recover a role of the freight forwarding companies in the Mediterranean ports by negotiating a multilateral management of those hubs. In this sense the role of the Cities would be of help to companies in a perspective of enhancement of the South, therefore of the Italian System.
What should the role of cities be?
Together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Joint Chambers of Commerce and the Ambassadors in the individual States, the Cities could play a role of cultural and planning diplomacy capable of supporting the settlement of their suppliers and of the entire local economic fabric. The synergistic action of the Cities is thus framed in a single national action that focuses on differentiation and not on competition pushed between communities, nor on a random action where everyone goes for himself.
Vuetel is among the first partners of E4Impact, the Foundation promoted by Letizia Moratti.
Yes. Industrial action is associated with initiatives linked to training: the experience of Letizia Moratti is very well organized from this point of view. It is a great alliance between stakeholders to better promote entrepreneurs who have a significant economic and social impact with the African continent.
Your passion today is concentrated in Niger. Can you tell me more about it?
Vuetel has been the only Italian company in Niger for seven years. It is a country that I love as much as Libya, but it is little known, indeed it is often confused with Nigeria or at most noted among the countries from which migratory flows start. In error, because from Niger they emigrate to Libya and stay there. Niger is a fascinating country, a border that links the countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea, the Atlantic, with the Mediterranean through Libya and Algeria.
You spoke of a cultural turnaround by Italian companies as well as the entire European entrepreneurial system. Can BusinessMed and BusinessEurope be an organization capable of animating the Euro-Mediterranean Single Market?
Yes, the Italian company must thoroughly rethink its business model by allocating small, medium and large investments primarily to timely knowledge of the African market. My advice then is to be physically present, favoring the growth of training projects linked to the opening of factories and focusing a lot on the development of Italian cultural production as an ally to invest with.
Having said that, economic diplomacy needs to grow among European companies: if our main European trading partners understand that it is possible to present ourselves in Africa with common economic operations, they will benefit from generalized benefits. In this the action of the Presidents of Confindustria, Medef and BDI is very important: the concept of complementarity between entrepreneurs from different countries can open an innovative season in economic relations. In this sense, BusinessMed and Business Europe can certainly be tools to be implemented in the service of the single Euro-Mediterranean market.
This article was translated from an original work by Silvia Davite on Formiche.net.