- Programme: Strategic Branding
- Nationality: Italian
- Job Post-programme: Group Marketing and Communication Consultant, The Vitec Group plc, ARC International
A barista in Sydney harbour. An espresso cup in Shanghai. A plume of steam in New York. To mark the launch of the FAEMA E71 professional coffee machine for her company Gruppo Cimbali, Simona Colombo spearheaded a photography project representing all the FAEMA machines in action around the world.
Coffee is part of Italian culture but Colombo knows it plays a strong role in other cultures too, each with their own unique take on the familiar brew. And that sense of curiosity in different countries and respect for diversity is at the heart of Colombo’s approach to her life and work.
As Group Marketing and Communications Director for Gruppo Cimbali, the world’s largest manufacturer of professional coffee machines, she is now based in Milan after jobs and studies that have taken her to the UK, France and the US. But she’s always found time to return to her native Italy and in particular to Lake Como, just north of Milan, where she grew up and continues to visit to enjoy the countryside and walk and ski in the mountains.
“This job comes at a perfect time for me,” she says. “I wanted to work for an Italian group but it’s also important to me that it is international with 83 per cent of its business in exports, and that it has such a strong link to different cultures in terms of food and beverage.”
Colombo is used to large organisations: she worked for the photography division of the Vitec Group, French tableware company Arc International and consumer goods company Newell Rubbermaid, but it was after a year’s sabbatical that she landed her current role. The sabbatical was an active one involving working as a marketing consultant and two back-to-back week-long courses at London Business School in 2014 in marketing and strategy, but it was just what Colombo needed.
“I really wanted to go back to study – to learn and be updated about the latest thinking,” she says. “When you are working on large projects you are often pushed for time. I wanted to understand where I was compared with the latest theory in marketing and strategy compared with the rest of the world.”
Colombo particularly valued hearing from Michael Bolingbroke who is currently CEO of Inter Milan football club but was formerly a senior executive with Cirque du Soleil. Bolingbroke described how he worked with Cirque du Soleil as it grew to become a major international entertainment business developing its unique mix of circus and high art. The balance of setting business KPIs whilst encouraging creativity from the artists rang true for Colombo who sees similar challenges in her marketing role.
“You need to be a bit of an artist to make people accept your intrusion in their daily lives,” she says. “We have to create ways of making people feel engaged and feel that what we are talking about is useful to them, and that’s the creative bit that brings our job to life.”
The spice of life
This is the third time Colombo has been asked to turn around a marketing and communications division and she’s relished the chance to develop her team of 15. She says her goal is to create an open environment for good collaborative working and to bring a fair, diverse, non-gender approach to her team.
Most important though is to unlock people’s enthusiasm and what Colombo really wants to know is what her team members like doing in their free time. “I want to know whether they have a passion,” she says. “If they don’t have something to run home for then I’m not interested. “It could be music, mountains, origami, or gardening, but you need to have something to wake up for as there are days that will be a nightmare and if you don’t have a passion then you give up sometimes.”
One thing London Business School taught me was to always find time to pick up an article, read a blog or a book. When you are managing projects you might be busy but it’s important to step back from the detail and keep looking for new perspectives.
I travel a lot for work, for trade shows and events, to places like China and the US, and I always tell my team that if they have a few spare hours when they are abroad they should go to a museum or see some art.