"I can honestly say that my contribution to the business has been shaped by the trust of my classmates"
Milestones are important markers in our lives. For Nicola Serafin, reaching 20 years at the well-known Italian company De'Longhi meant it was time for him to get out of his comfort zone. Nicola was in search of new insights and experiences at De’Longhi when he joined London Business School’s (LBS) Executive MBA (EMBA) in 2014. But he wanted the chance to add value to this family-owned business in an entirely new way.
“At the mid-point of my career, I found myself asking, ‘What can I contribute to this company and to myself? How can I go forward differently?’ So I came to LBS for a combination of personal and professional reasons.”
At the time of studying the EMBA, Nicola felt he had reached a plateau in his career at the exact point that De'Longhi had reached maturity. His corporate life mirrored his professional life. Over the years, De'Longhi has followed the typical S-curve, where the growth of company sales shows a rapid increase for a period time, followed by a tapering off.
“The big challenge for the company was to escape this plateau phase,” he says. “We are focused on moving the company to the next level – otherwise we could suffer from our past success.” With that in mind, Nicola set about tackling the challenge head-on by coming to London. “Everything – from the evolution of a company to creating new value, from strategic innovation to M&A – I learnt at LBS are topics I’m discussing in the boardroom today.
“Before LBS, I couldn't have contributed in this way with this confidence.”
Three months after completing the EMBA, Nicola was promoted to COO and CTO of the De'Longhi Group. Prior to that, he was already responsible for the operations and technical product development for some product areas such as home care and kitchen, now his responsibility for the whole group.
“I have a broader, combined role now,” he says. With just five other peers at C-level, today Nicola has a direct impact on De'Longhi’s business and growth strategy. His responsibilities extend from operations to supply chain, manufacturing to technical product development.
Over more than a decade, De'Longhi has acquired companies such as Braun and Kenwood to act as an accelerator in other product ranges and geographies. Nicola has been central to each of these acquisitions. “Before LBS, integrating different geographical and company cultures had always fascinated me, but it's something I developed through the experience.”
On the EMBA, he picked up a valuable piece of advice that has developed his way approach to acquisitions. “Try to get the best out of both company cultures,” he says. “The acquiring company is normally the dominant culture that tries to impose on the company acquired. But I’ve discovered that every culture has the same potential to bring value.”
For example, after the acquisition of Kenwood, De'Longhi has changed some of its processes thanks to the experience of Kenwood’s employees. To get the best from everyone, you need a respectful approach, says Nicola. “Listen, suspend judgement and discover as much as possible about what and who you are buying. Don't impose your policies, processes and perceptions. Stop and take the time to understand them.”
Nicola joined the EMBA classroom with an open mind but was surprised by how willing his experienced classmates were to shares their failures. Learning in a safe context was key to the entire learning experience, he says. “I remember Marcus Alexander told us, ‘It's better to make mistakes here in class because we’re not using real money. Do it now.’ So we all did – and I learnt from my peers' experiences, challenges and failures.”
Nicola and his classmates have stayed in touch and he’s now exploring new opportunities with peers in mutually beneficial industries.
“I had a great class, a great academic context to learn. In the real world, I take decisions that affect thousands of people and hundreds of millions of euros of business. You need to be confident that you’re making the right choices. I can honestly say that my contribution to the business has been shaped by the trust of my classmates.”
His life motto – “You can go faster alone but in team you can go further” – just about sums it up.