Senior Italian Managers Excelling in Global Business

Authors: Jacob Hoekstra, Marco Tiozzo Fasiolo

Great managers with the right skills are hard to find. Especially as the profile of the manager is changing and more and more is asked of them. What about managers in Italy? In this article, we explore the reasons why Italian senior managers choose to work abroad or stay in Italy, the skills that make them highly sought-after and opportunities available to them. We also discuss the age range of Italian managers going abroad, and the growing interest in Asean countries, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand.


Why do senior Italian managers prefer to work abroad?

Abroad, many companies have realised that the new 20-year-old is 50 years old. Clearly most companies want to invest in young talent, but the reality is that this category does not stay in the company for more than a few years, changing all the time and creating discontinuity. The fifty-year-old, on the contrary, stays, creates a spirit of belonging, perhaps does not guarantee the same performance over the years but allows continuity of know-how and corporate culture. Abroad, the issue of great resignation has existed for longer and companies are running for cover by welcoming with open arms people who are older and still eager to make their professional contribution.

Outside Italy, age is not in question while, unfortunately, in our country the hunt for young, sought-after talent is still on. In some foreign cultures, such as Japan, if you are not at least 50 years old you are even considered too young to hold certain roles.

In short, we are in the longevity economy triggered by the demographic trend of lower birth rates and longer average life expectancy of people staying longer in the workforce.

Experienced managers are therefore more likely to find fertile ground for their careers abroad. 

The managers we talk to in our work as headhunters tell us that they have gone abroad for economic reasons but also to broaden their horizons and seize professional opportunities that were slow to arrive or were not equally attractive in our country. They have thus speeded up their own professional growth, which appeared too slow and tied to excessive bureaucracy.


What are the most appreciated skills of Italian managers abroad?

Italian managers are highly appreciated abroad because they have certain key characteristics sought after by companies.

In fact, Italians are accustomed from a very young age to showing their feelings and affection, this leads them to have a good sensitivity in reading the feelings of others and leads to congenital empathy and generally good relationships in the working environment. We Italians have a spontaneity in enjoying life and this helps us to create cohesive working groups capable of working in harmony. The fact that we have been surrounded since childhood by the beauty of our country and art means that we develop a great sense of aesthetics. This is precisely why we are in great demand in the fields of marketing, product design and the fashion world in general. But the thing that most distinguishes us is our adaptability. In fact, in a society like ours that creates rules but also teaches you to break them and find a faster way to solve things, people, in order to survive, instinctively develop lateral thinking that allows them to think outside the box and that makes us more flexible than other people.


Are there more opportunities abroad for female or male managers?

It depends on the country you choose. In many countries there is no difference between hiring a man or a woman as, for example, in America and, indeed, the trend is to give equal opportunities regardless of gender.

In other countries, however, women are still relegated to the domestic sphere and are not yet an integral part of the country’s workforce.


How many Italian managers are abroad? Is their number increasing, stable or decreasing?

From our headhunter observatory, the number of Italians moving abroad is undoubtedly increasing. Many managers, but also young people, are leaving our country, and especially Northern Italy, for economic reasons and for salaries that are not competitive in relation to the ever-increasing costs of living.

The flight, therefore, is not due to a disaffection for our country; on the contrary, people leave most of the time reluctantly, but they do so to close the salary gap. Italian companies have nothing to envy other foreign companies in terms of complexity, attractiveness and opportunities but, however, the big difference in the exit is made by the different salary conditions.



What is the average age of Italian managers who go abroad (so, are they young professionals or mature managers)?

Both categories. Speaking of the younger ones in Italy, unfortunately they still have to undergo very long internship periods before they can land the fateful permanent contract that would allow them to obtain a mortgage, rent a house or even just buy a car. Everything is easier abroad and they manage to become independent more quickly.

On the other hand, as far as senior people are concerned, we have seen various trends over the past few years: first, entrepreneurs and managers asked us to find Italian professionals to accompany their companies abroad on an expatriate basis. Later, they asked us to replace expatriates with local candidates in order to cut costs and because they realised they could be trusted. Now, on the other hand, Italians are willing to move with local contracts and no longer as expatriates, so companies also feel more comfortable evaluating candidates who speak their own language and culture. So we are again looking for Italian managers to be sent to other countries mainly for Italian companies. The more senior ones have grown up children and are freer to start travelling again and are willing to change country facing a new phase in their working and personal life.



Is there a sector or a country, in particular, where Italian managers go abroad?

If we think of Europe, the most sought-after countries are certainly Germany and Switzerland, but Spain is also becoming a popular destination for many, even if the salaries are not much higher than in Italy, but the cost of living is lower and therefore the benefit is real.

America is becoming more challenging due to problems with entry visas, but is still one of the most sought-after destinations for expats worldwide. Marco Fasiolo, Director Americas of Kilpatrick will address this further in a later article. 

On the other hand, if we think of the Asian world, with China practically closed, there is now a strong interest in Asean.  In fact, countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand are growing, where many manufacturing and commercial companies and, consequently, many managers are moving.



Opposite trend: is the number of foreign managers coming to Italy increasing or decreasing?

For years at Kilpatrick we have been trying to bring the brain drain back to Italy for our clients but with little success. In recent years the trend has definitely changed, also thanks to the law on the return of brains, which allows tax relief on the salary packages of those who return to Italy and who have certain characteristics (university degree, stay abroad for at least 2 years, etc.).

The tax benefit belongs to the individual but companies often use it to attract candidates to our country that, at other times, they would not have thought of courting.

Covid has awakened in many the desire to be close to their loved ones. The scale of values has changed, and whereas before people returned only to improve their careers, today they return for something else. The quality of life in Italy is certainly better than in many other countries. Candidates positively consider the work-life balance but also appreciate relational aspects, the education system, the culture and also the logistical aspect of our country.