Suddenly, a flurry of fresh air bangs the door open pouring its flow into the room and turning some of the papers upside down. For a brief moment I feel shivers running through my body, which is the exact same feeling of my meeting Claudia for the first time. With her own unique way to tell and reveal herself – exuberant yet accurate, breaking out of the mould, and yet extremely lucid and smart. Born in 1971 in Brescia, Claudia Parzani grew up near the city in Rovato, part of the Franciacorta wine county, in a middle class family. As a girl, her mother had studied to become a secretary – did you notice this word was only meant in the female gender? Only to interrupt her career when she married Claudia’s father, an entrepreneur from Brescia. Her dad, after the classical high school studies and a few years at the university to become an engineer, devoted his efforts as a non graduate to the job’s world. Claudia, after her classical education in Brescia (at a high school originally founded by the Jesuit order), determined she would choose to study at the University in… Milan. Not Brescia, Pavia, Padova or Verona. This, was first of many unconventional choices she made to get away from Rovato.
– Smalltown life was flowing so slow. I felt suffocated. –
Becoming a commuter would not be enough to come up again for air, but not even to get back home for the weekends. Claudia really wanted to break away, she felt the ruge to plunge into what was the most chaotic, lively, frantic, and creative environment you could imagine at the time – Milan in the ‘90s. Life in the metropolis – I wanted to attend “la Statale” (“State University”), where you had to be in a queue for all sort of things. I wanted to enter the world –
Though she had always felt attracted by a lawyer career at the same time she was also a finance enthusiast (unlike her schoolmates, who went on the become notaries or magistrates). Therefore, then as now, she complied with her inclination cultivating curiosities and passions that are not necessarily or traditionally defined by labels.
– That disposition for “outside the box” choices still accompanies me to this day… –
Out of the norm, or anyway, very close to the edge.
– So, what course did you choose ? – I eagerly inquire.
– An experimental course in Business Oriented Law, strongly pushing towards finance – only a few of us entered it! I still remember Guido Rossi, my professor in Special Commercial Law (ed note: Rossi has been a renowned Italian jurist, lawyer and academic. He passed away in 2017) and other teachers who, at the time, were really on the cutting edge and who, today, would fill in the so called “business lawyer” model. They were teaching extremely demanding subsidiary subjects that most of the students would desert; but this contributed to mould my skills for micro and macro economy, listings, assessments… Well, this is how we got our family’s first graduate! – she exclaims, with a bit of irony and challenge, only to get one of my many smiles for her words.
– How did you landed at Linlkalters? –
– In a very unusual manner… for a change –
Right now, Claudia is mainly attends to capital market – market operations with listed companies – businesses that in most cases have an American component – .
At the time (2006), though, she was working for an American studio spin-off that would later be transformed as an Italian boutique (ed note: a company operating in investments whose client target is of very rich assets), but with no American partners in the firm. When an international “deal” was at stake, she would often turn to other firms, to cover part of the job that could not be handled from Italy. Generally speaking, this is how profitable relationships are established between firms operating in different jurisdictions – relations that, in time, can generate reciprocal business opportunities.
When finding a partner became of the essence, Claudia decided to turn to Linklaters (one of the major law firms worldwide, established in London in 1838 that had no Italian branch at the time). Linklalters had a renowned and solid friendship with an Italian law firm, so she was absolutely aware that the exchange could never be mutual.
– But they were the best and this is why I chose them. –
– The Italian firm colleagues, I imagine, were really pleased with this…-
– They wanted to “kill” me, of course – Claudia bursts out laughing – but it did not matter, because I wanted to offer the best to my clients. – When Linklaters resolved to open an Italian branch, they asked her to come on board. As I am listening to Claudia’s professional history, I ask myself (and her) if she would advise her (three) daughters a pronounced studies specialization.
– No. Not really. In times like these, with instable markets and countries and the inability to “predict” the future, I would rather suggest a pronounced intellectual honesty. That is what gave me the most satisfying outcomes, leading me where I am now. And of course passion, from which yield the necessary consistency and strenght to carry on. I believe these qualities come before an ex ante specialization -.
Wanting to dig a little deeper in the daughters issue, I ask Claudia what is the role she thinks the schooling institute should have to educate the children for the inclusion of all diversities. She answers with one example.
– When I was President of D Value, we had many activities proposed on issues as female leadership, governance, role, model, training for the access to roles of Director…and they were all quite useful; and then one evening I was watching my daughters and I realized that we could never change the world starting from the top down. Let’s create professional and living examples, let’s work for and with women managers…Yes, all this was an important part of the course, but the gap needed to be filled from below. It was, and still is, the only way to create change.
This is why Claudia, in her last mandate’s year at D Value, started a collaboration with Inspiring Girls (Ed note: launched in the UK by Miriam Gonzales, the Spanish woman who started a national campaign to connect British girls with female role models living and working in the country), that is still in place. In Italy, it is operating nationwide with two major financial sponsors: Intesa San Paolo and Eni. This project was made possible thanks to an agreement sealed with the Ministry of Education that allows Inspiring Girls to enter secondary grade primary schools (11-13 years) and secondary school (14-18 years), and to take in the classroom such female role models as football trainers, army commanders, oil platform engineers… But the most important thing is that once in the classroom, they speak to girls and boys. We all need new culture models to refer to, non only the female one.
Claudia’s seemingly non-linear, and yet consistent, career path, made it possible to simultaneously hold different positions. As a lawyer, and a Linklaters partner, she has two important roles: Western Europe’s Managing Partner (a first, for a woman; a first for an under 45 person; a first for someone who never managed a branch and who is now leading the firm’s largest territory), taking care of 1500 lawyers spread out across nine countries. She is also head of global Marketing & Business Development (a first, for a partner…), managing 200 professionals worldwide. Finally, and thanks to all these roles, she sits in the worldwide leading board of the firm.
– So you get to have “two seats” at the same table?! – I utter while my admiration loses its last bit of restraint …
– Yeah –
Claudia, let me add, has many other prestigious governance mandates: she is the Allianz S.p.A. President, the major Italian insurance company, and member of Allianz SE; she is also Vice President of the Italian Stock Exchange, and a member of the Milan Polytechnic board of directors…
She has a clear assessment about the value of holding so many positions: it enables to contaminate different worlds for the time needed, and then move on. To change and do something else. So far she has never offered herself for a second mandate in the same role – I doubt she will in the future. When she was elected President for D Value she changed the Association Charter (in her words) to avoid being caressed by the idea of running for the role a second time.
– There is an immense sense of dignity in leaving when the time is right; and there is a great value in making room to others. It is hard to think of leaving power places, and I understand that; but to build a legacy and promote a way to hand something over are fundamental acts – .
It is also equally important to work together with men – to involve them in the change; as President of D Value I introduced another new thing: the “board duplication”, first formed by 15 women, we then added 15 men.
It really is intriguing to talk and there would be many questions I’d like to ask Claudia. But I have three words in my head and so I ask her to tell me, just listening to her guts, what they conjure up in her mind. I smile, because I know that the whole interview was run following our guts: the woman sitting in front me is instinctive and spontaneous in her replies, and I doubt this happens only in this room.
– Europe, I utter.
– It is our future. It is time to be European. There goes our credibility and our peace of mind.
– I like that word less: in people’s imagination it refers to lucre. If you allow me, I would substitute it profit with value. Adding that everything needs to bring value, even economical value, of course.
– Identity is fundamental. Through respectful and truthful modes, in each and every context we need for everyone to bring their own identity. As of now, we keep pretending from others those same things that we are not even pretending from ourselves: we are asking something we don’t even think we should give. Instead, we need to start from ourselves; it is everyone’s duty to find out who we really are in order to promote our own identity.
– Do you know this cartoon?
– No, I didn’t know it, but If I was the woman depicted in it, no doubt about my reply to their question: another woman. That is to say, I would bring in another woman, the best professional I know, and then another, and another… Culture is also modified with numbers, otherwise it is difficult to cause change in such a one-sided context –
– Can I launch a provocation? – she suddenly asks me.
– Please do! –
– Let us employ pregnant women only. Come on!
– Claudia bursts out laughing, but her look is quite serious.
– It can come out as an aggressive approach, I know. But think about it: what if a company decided to employ a woman when she becomes pregnant? That particular professional they just acquired would never ever leave the company, and she would work with a dedication unlike anyone else. She would offer her talent and motivation, and the outcome would be a happy company where also employees are happy at work. The energy level would be high and it would attract talents of a similar rank. On the contrary, too many companies are still filled of people who complain all the time – in the corridors and at the espresso machine; and the talents they attract – if there is talent at all – will definitely be of a different rank…The frustration that companies and people will face while witnessing a wonderful moment like giving birth, is so amazingly high: and this happens because it does not perfectly fit into the working machine, in the way it is currently arranged. The implementation of inclusive policies in the companies would, and will, create better environments, a sense of belonging, and loyalty.
– Claudia, I think the recurring and often quoted necessity of a cultural change, has become an alibi rather than a starting point. This really annoys me: it’s as if they went into auto pilot mode to counter all the questions or the hardships the country is going through. Everything is a culture issue, is it not? Femicide, pollution, tax evasion, racism…Don’t you reckon we are really laying back on this?
Let me answer with a quote. This year, the Ambrosetti Forum opening (ed note: since 1975, international meeting for the discussion of mainly economical themes held at Villa Este in Cernobbio, on the lake of Como with head of states, ministers, Nobel prizes, economists, all invited to the meetings) paid its homage to relevant personalities, and among them the late Sergio Marchionne, quoting him: «if we do not change – all of us – as a community and as individuals, we will get lower and lower. It is up to each person, in all conscience, to decide what type of change he or she wants: theirs, or the others. And when we do this, we must be aware that the first requires sacrifice, courage, and a sense of responsibility in building the Italy we want. The other, instead, will single us out to a spectator role. And it condemns the Italian community and the future of the country to a victim role».
I agree. Culture change is such a generic answer that it is good for all kind of questions. It is more interesting to ask: «In order to change, what are you doing?», for there are differences that need to go. It is so self-evident for me and for you, but not for everyone. In order to make them visible, it is crucial to highlight these differences: the conceit that they do not exist, is still strong. To avoid this they must be emphasized, noticed, observed…until the day that they are ruled out. That’ll be the day when we finally won’t see headlines such as “The first woman qho…”. But currently, those headlines are still used.
PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN DIVERCITY II September 2020