Category Archives: People

[Video] Three questions to Barbara Santoro, co-author of “Italian Factor”

Barbara SantoroWe had the pleasure of meeting Barbara Santoro a few weeks ago in Rome, at the presentation of the book co-authored with Francesco Morace, “Italian Factor – How to multiply the value of a country”.

While we have been following, with great interest, the work of Francesco Morace for many years, meeting Barbara Santoro was a revelation and a pleasure both for her entrepreneurial passion and  her talent for communication.

We asked her to answer a few questions for our blog.

ermes ponti – I understand that the book Italian Factor, co-authored with Francesco Morace, was your idea, “ a sudden intuition” as you put it.  Can you tell us what inspired you?

Barbara Santoro – – Like all apparently “sudden” intuitions this too was the fruit of a complex series of different events, personal and professional experiences and reflections.

The most significant of these goes way back to when I was seven, when my family and I emigrated to Canada.

The moment the Leonardo Da Vinci  left the port of Genoa, I became profoundly aware of being Italian, and when I finally set foot in Vancouver, I understood what it meant to be a foreigner.

The first few years were tough; I learned the language quickly enough, but there were more profound issues:  back then, being Italian was seen with diffidence and prejudice.

In the span of only a few years however, thanks to the talent, the courage and the entrepreneurial spirit of my fellow Italians, everything changed:  being Italian became something to be proud of and everything that was Italian, tasty, tasteful and masterfully crafted became extremely desirable.

I came  back to Italy many  years ago, and in my work with Italian businesspeople,  managers and professionals in every field, on the development of their international communication skills , I realized  just how precious my intercultural experience had been.  Because I learned, without a doubt, that each one of us, besides our individual talent, education and determination, can count on the added value of a brand which is universally recognized and positioned as the third most important in the world:  Made in Italy.

Because  the sheer fact that WE are Made in Italy means we can count on an extraordinary competitive advantage.

The question is: how can we leverage this heritage?

A year ago, or so, I was working with an entrepreneur who in a few days was going to have to take part in an international press conference, in Brazil, in English, for the inauguration of his project.

He was in a state of panic not because his English wasn’t adequate but because he didn’t know how to describe what he did in a few, effective words.  When I asked him the question he said: “it’ll take at least a couple of days”.

After a torrent of words I understood that his company “italianizes” huge construction projects in the world.  Simply put, they complete office buildings, hospitals, shopping centers, and hotels with finishings, flooring, fixtures, furnishings and art, strictly Made in Italy.  The result is, that without incrementing expenditures, and  staying within the original budget,  market value  and sales are increased by 30%.

The challenge was: how to tell the story not just effectively but with marketing flair?  How to condense genius, beauty, artistry, innovation, tradition, culture and the know-how of a family, a business a regional territory and a country?

I suddenly realized that the sum total of all these typically Italian attributes constituted in fact a business development “factor”, a multiplier of value, that could be expressed in three words:  The Italian Factor!

italian factorep – Let’s start from “The missing ingredient”… you mentioned it in your presentation  at the Chamber of Deputies in Rome.  What do you think it is?  And what is the recipe?  And finally, who do you think can benefit the most from it?

BS – Every company is unique; the specific ingredients may vary, but the recipe is the same in every case:

For every company or value offering we need to

1) recognize the value and uniqueness of what we have to offer (The Italian Factor);

2) acquire with humility and determination that which know and aknowledge is missing or weak;

3) study, study, and keep studying  the market, the competition, the trends and the best practices of the major players;

4) enter the International arena armed with the most appropriate and effective marketing and communication tools possible.

We  must use the language and the tools of communication (brand identity, country of origin heritage, narrative and storytelling) and marketing (relations-based and  cultural)  using the media channels appropriately: web-based, social and interpersonal.

In my experience with Italian companies, the “missing ingredient”  lies almost always in the ability to communicate and promote the unique value proposition with confidence, and absolute effectiveness not only in Italian but most importantly in English, the language of International marketing.

This, I believe is one of the most important ingredients, which combined with the distinctive qualities summarized in the “Italian Factor”, can give the necessary propulsive energy to people, enterprises and to our Italian economy.

ep  – You repeatedly stressed the importance of self-branding as essential for Italian companies:  where would you begin?  And which, would you say, are some of the best practices to emulate?

BS– I stress the point because the talent and creative originality of our “cultural heritage” is uniquely ours; it cannot be acquired or imitated, whereas the techniques and strategies of International marketing and communication can and must be learned.

To underestimate the importance of this often means handing over, on a silver platter, our brands and our excellence to foreign groups who know how to leverage, enhance and promote our distinctive quality characteristics  and cultural value summarized in “The Italian Factor”.

Best practices?

There are many among the brands which are fortunately still Italian-owned:  Prada, Tod’s, Cucinelli, Ferragamo, to name just a few.

But among those acquired and repositioned by International groups we have historic brands such as Poltrona Frau, Gucci, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, Cova and Acqua di Parma.

The list is long, painful to read,  and it cries out for serious reflection.

There may be any number of negative factors which can critically affect the life of a business: from inter-generational transition to the hair-raising evolution of new technologies, to the sudden challenges of socio-demographic changes and the threats of International competition from emerging markets.

But the same factors, if faced with entrepreneurial passion, creativity , courage and the drive to affirm the quality of our work, can profoundly modify the destiny not only of a single company but of an entire country.

We thank Barbara for kindly sharing with us her personal experience, her observations and her vision.

And now, a brief video excerpt from the “Italian Factor” presentation in Rome.

Italians, crafters of their own future. Thanks Francesco Morace, Barbara Santoro and everyone at the “Italian Factor” presentation in Rome.

Francesco Morace

The Rome Chamber of Deputies presentation of the Francesco Morace and Barbara Santoro book “Italian Factor” has been truly interesting.

It’s been an engaging and focused think-tank on “how to multiply our country value”, conducted by Giovanni Aversa (from Mantua).

The “Italian Factor” project grows out from Barbara Santoro‘s passion.

She’s an Italian born entrepreneur and business coach who has lived in Canada.

As a proud Italian she is trying, with Francesco Morace’s help, to find new ways to improve Italian economic and cultural values.
Barbara Santoro








In Rome the other day, Barbara asked everyone to suggest “the missing ingredient” of the Italian recipe… in form of a Twitter hashtag

She started with #coraggiodiosare, that can be translated into #bravetodare.

According to Barbara, Italy must leverage its strengths in order to be more effective on international markets.

Just like Oscar Farinetti does with Eataly.

Farinetti has built a distribution system that gives visibility and relevance to small businesses, within the Italian Food + Drink system.

Symbola’s president Ermete Realacci proposed #honor.

His take was focused on Italy beating the crisis through its very own values; innovation, quality and beauty.

Tito Di Maggio, former president of the Murgia “sofa district” in his first term as a Senator, spoke clearly about Italian politicians inadequacy with regards to companies’s needs.

That’s why he suggested an encouraging #nihildifficilevolent  (nothing is impossible for those with a strong will!)… especially for Southern Italy companies.

Maria Sebregondi, the “Moleskine mother”, suggested #doittogether imagining that the sharing economy practices will be key in business, in the immediate future.

Paolo Cuccia (Gambero Rosso President) has been the boldest, with #newera.

In his opinion, this is the right time to promote Italian excellence as a whole, with special relevance to tourism, food industry and crafting.

Valeria Mangani, Altagamma Rome vice president, mentioned #infinitepossibilities.

She emphasized how the new luxury is “inside-out”: 100% human value, expressed in all forms, from bespoke apparel to custom-made furnishings.

Perhaps the most provoking speech was the one by Francesco Casoli of Elica.
#Passion, humility and connection: to win the game you have to stand for it!

As ermesponti, we suggested an idea coming from the Renaissance, and… from our company: #endtoendprocess.

In our view, excellence comes from the whole process, from the design phase to the manufacturing, through communication and sales.

After you’ve had a good idea, prototyping it is not enough!

If you cannot make it happen, for real, it’s useless.

It’s a shame to see Italians ideas and prototypes sold off to foreign companies growing their GDP with our talents.

In the end, we realised that the only who did not suggest an hashtag has been Francesco Morace.

He was strongly on his point, though:

Each Italian can and must act as a craftsman confronting his work (and perhaps his conscience): do it with passion and dedication in the best possible way, just for the pleasure of a well done job.

If we all could do this, without complaining about all things wrong in Italy, we already would have done so much for our country.

Italians, craftsmen of the future Italy… we could say, lulled by Pavarotti, who put an end to discussions with his unrivaled singing.

Italian Factor: Pavarotti

If the apprentice brings you a top job for the Venice Biennale: thank you Eugenio!

A few months ago we received a mail from a young architect, Eugenio Squassabia.

He was an apprentice at our workshop last year and now he is working for the German architectural firm ” Ciriacidis Lehnerer Architekten” based in Zurich.Eugenio, primo stagista della Ermesponti, mentre impara da un mastro falegname

We were very surprised to hear that they were searching for a furnishing company to produce some pieces of furniture for the German Pavillon at the next Biennale di Architettura, directed by Rem Koolhas , in Venice.

Here we are! We answered.

In January they came and visited us at our workshop, here in Mantua.

Il padiglione Germania alla Biennale architettura 2014They told us about their idea; they showed us the drawings and pictures of the wooden models.
We liked the project so much!

We talked about architecture. What a wonderful affinity between us! We both recognize in Adolf Loos one of our favorite masters of the Modern Movement and we both love his concept of “raumplan” and use it in our projects…

This can be a perfect demonstration of David Chipperfield‘s theme at the last biennale,

“Common Ground”. If there is a common background behind a little Italian architectural firm like ours and the German firm who won the contest for the next Biennale’s German pavilion, David Chipperfiled was perfectly right!

We just saw, at the opening, the results of the Rem Koolhas’ biennale, and the German pavillion has been judged by the Guardian one of top 10 best of this edition.

We are so proud to have cooperated with Savas, Alex and Eugenio for this project!

Padilgione Germania alla Biennale Architettura 2014

Our company bears this man’s name. An interview with Mr. Ermes Ponti.

We start today an open conversation with Mr. Ermes Ponti, the man whose name is also the company name.

His presence is always discreet, but nevertheless clearly perceived, more through actions than words, especially towards the young people in our company.Mr Ermes Ponti, of Ermes Ponti bespoke interiors (Italy)

For whoever works in the manufacturing industry, as we do, the generations who opened the way to our crafting activities are a constant reminder of technical abilities and approach to entrepreneurship, elements of our everyday life.

But now let’s hear from Mr. Ermes Ponti.

– Mr. Ermes, how did the company begin its activity?

Ermes Ponti – 

 – It all started on the banks of the Po river, in a small town right outside Mantua, San Giacomo Po.

At the end of the ’30s, my father bought the first machines to start a carpenter shop; the story goes that he rode his bicycle to Milan, and when the trucks with the machinery arrived in our village everyone came out of their homes, thinking the new bells for the church had arrived!

 – How did the carpenter shop grow, later on?

Ermes Ponti – A few years after the end of the war , the shop moved to San Biagio, where we are now, inside an old power powerhouse. We were an industrial company at that point, many people knew us for the modern furniture we would propose, something none around here did at the time.

Mr Ermes Ponti, of Ermes Ponti end-to-end interiors (Mantua - Italy)In 1957 we have been the first ones in Italy to be able to put polyester paint on furniture, getting the idea from a car hood someone showed us.

On April 12th – I still remember the exact date – we showed it at the Milan Fair, and it was a huge success. For many years after that we developed projects derived from the new polyester paint, which is still in use, by the way.

When the ’60s came by, it came my time to join the family company.

We decided to call a great architect, someone who could design new collections for us. I sat down with my wife Gabriella – to whom the Gabriella chair is dedicated – and wrote a letter to Mr. Gio Ponti, with whom we started immediately a long collaboration.

Mr. Gio Ponti designed for us a brand new furniture collection, based on an innovative home concept: the Apta series.

Unforgettable times: Gio Ponti has been for me a true role model.

– When did the company the company headquarters took the actual shape?

Ermes Ponti – It was in the ’70s, when we broadened the premises and built the actual laboratory; in that period we got important assignments, mostly very big hotels and private villas.

– With which important brands did you get involved?

Ermes Ponti – We worked with many, crafting high quality pieces designed by the most famous architects, one name for all: Driade.

–  Does this mean you specialized in design?

Not really, we specialized in… well done jobs.

Later on – mid ‘ 90s – we got in touch with the fashion industry, with the MonteNapoleone Corneliani boutique, in Milan.

After my son Paolo and his wife Daniela, both graduated in Architecture in Florence, joined the company, Corneliani offered us the chance to work on the first projects of integrated design; initially a small showroom in Paris, then a boutique in Russia, and so on… until they decided to rely on us for the entire London New Bond Street project, and Milan Montenapoleone project.

To this date we have realized over 50 Corneliani shops all over the world.

– In the recent years, which have been the main projects?

In the last ten years we have worked mainly with fashion industry, designing and building great flagship stores, both mono-brand and multi-brand, worldwide.

The whole process – from the very first idea to the turnkey realization – is managed by us, and guarantees the client a constant reduction of resources employed, optimizing the whole project in terms of:

  • functionality
  • architectural aesthetics
  • handicraft furniture quality (drawings, samples etc.)

Thanks to this new integrated method of design and building, we have acquired important assignments in luxury retail and top brand yachting.

– The yachting industry: everybody says that it has been hit badly by the economic crisis…

Ermes Ponti – It’s true, but – as strange as it may seem – the hard times have pushed many people towards our company.

When we approached this industry, a few years ago, the crisis was already at its worst… but our method helped reduce consistently the resources needed to complete a project.

For instance, we have been able to cut by 50% the delivery schedule of a 94-feet boat, by reinterpreting the drawings and optimizing the building times.

– Crisis as opportunity, then?

Ermes Ponti – The crisis has taught a lot to us.

It asked us to evolve, by diminuishing time and costs, and increase quality.

My son Paolo has been working in this direction for 10 years now, putting into practice many equally important elements: his architectural culture, his practical and organizational intelligence, the passion for his work, the commitment to his community, the daily sacrifice.

I think that these are the values of the “small” Italian companies, something that have made “great” the Made in Italy in the world.

Personally, I think that such values are still relevant, and maybe the economic crisis has helped us to re-discover them.

“The Bonn Chancellor’s Bungalow today at the Venice Biennale… also thanks to ermes ponti.” By Alex Lehnerer and Savvas Ciriacidis.

Lehenerer and Ciriacidis architects

The architects in charge of the German Pavillion at the Venice Biennale talk about how they met our company and the way the collaboration between us evolved.

Thank you for your post, Alex and Savvas!

By Alex Lehnerer and Savvas Ciriacidis.

Padiglione Germania Biennale Venezia

We were very fortunate to have been able to work with ermesponti on the project “Bungalow Germania” of the German Pavilion at the 14th International Architecture Biennale 2014.

At first we were quite concerned about how to rebuild the Chancellor’s Bungalow in Bonn from 1964 here in Venice.

Then, only by chance we met Daniela and Paolo from ermesponti.

Our Italian friend and collaborator Eugenio Squassabia from Mantua recommended them to us as years ago he used to work for them.

We have already heard a lot about the exquisite craftsmanship of North Italian companies, but never really imagined what kind of enthusiasm and precision there is involved in their work since we met ermesponti.

key hole study by ermes pontiDaniela and Paolo immediately went to Bonn themselves as they had to see the “original” and to have a close look at all the details of the wooden furniture of the Bungalow to be reproduced in Venice – all the way to the brass key holes of the cabinet doors, as shown in the drawing.

This analysis almost resembled an archeological project into Bonn’s recent past.

Paolo’s dad then went to Milan to get exactly the right kind of veneer for the built-in cabinets of the Bungalow in Bonn.
The result is stunning.

Padilgione Germania Biennale Venezia

There was so much care and love involved that we almost feel guilty that after six months of the Biennale everything has to disappear again.

But before that you should go and see the exhibition yourself and how precise all the ermesponti furniture is crafted in the Pavilion.

We even started to tell people there: if they wanted to see how everything looks in 50 years, they should go to Bonn!

Padiglione Germani Biennale Venezia

But maybe you should also go to Mantova and have a look at ermesponti’s workshop and listen to Paolo how carefully they choose and compose every piece of veneer by hand to get the right character of wood for every single project.

It is amazing and inspiring to still have people around today who care so much about what they do.Paolo Ponti of ermes ponti at work on Biennale German pavillion

Antonello’s Annunciata

Antonello da Messina - L'Annunziata

This year I had an amazing birthday present on Christmas Eve.

It was the great exhibit of Antonello da Messina at the MART Museum of Rovereto, near Trent. I really enjoyed this experience. The exhibition layout was clear and each piece was well arranged. I very much like all Antonello’s works, but, this time, I was especially impressed by one of them.

The Annunciata (Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo) is one of my favorite pictures. More than an work of art, it seems to be a poem or even a prayer. In such a small dimension (about 35×45 cm) you can see the essence and the spirit of the Italian Renaissance.
It’s a perfect portrait. It’s not only a realistic picture like the Flemish ones, but also a perfect expression of the great achievement of Italian painting.

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The Legacy of Steve Jobs.



He was brilliant. He had his own style. He had his own approach,” Gates said. “Mine is, I guess…a little geekier than his was”.


While Bill Gates admits to being less cool than Steve Jobs, Jobs made ​​a more profound distinction. He recognized in Bill a “businessman” who “has excelled on the financial side of things.” Steve instead saw things differently, though, saying that for him: “The motivation was in the products, not the profits.”

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products.” This was Job’s creed. His goal was the excellence of a product that would meet the needs of the people, even before they expressed that need; “ Our job is to figure out what they‘re going to want before they do.”

The last few pages of Steve Jobs’ famous biography sum up to perfection his identity and his legacy. Reading and rereading these pages I note the deep affinity between our tiny company, ermesponti, and the giant, Apple: from the mission to create quality products to the lack of interest in profit, combined with an almost Socratic problem-solving attitude towards customer’s needs.

But the thing that strikes me most is the similarity of approach; Jobs called it the ‘end-to-end process’. It was the integrated control of hardware, software and content in a single system that allowed Apple to reach product perfection, intuitive use, beauty of design and, finally, device synchronization.

This is what we have been seeking to do at ermesponti for years, by combining architectural design with good site management and high quality artisanal production and by focusing on the specific needs of the customer and solving their problems in terms of space, time and cost.

It is the economic crisis itself that demands it. The logic of interior design and traditional contract jobs are no longer applicable; there are too many players, over-fragmented processes, unbridgeable gaps between aesthetic, technical and practical demands; long waits, inefficiency, errors and costs that are disproportionate to the results. Excellence and simplicity come at a price; not only lean production but especially an integrated, uninterrupted process which ensures quality and customization optimization along with time-cost factor containment.

The comparison is daring, we know, yet even Jobs seems to confirm it when he refers to Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci as authoritative examples of seamless integration between the humanities and science, art and technology. Do these two worlds not meet here today in the workshop of a contemporary carpenter-architect such as Paolo Ponti, or in the Apple product development labs? Richard Sennett in The Craftsman teaches us that the term ‘artisan’ should be newly defined to involve everything that man thinks and produces directly; from ice cream to furniture and products of the new technologies. Then ‘the end-to-end process’ could be a starting point for defining our new identity as regards future challenges; not just for a specific industry but for all those areas where the process requires a new organizational structure, including, for example, the current need for market competitiveness.

For us at ermesponti the end-to-end process is Steve Jobs’ greatest legacy and what links us most closely to him. A seamless process from the first ideas for the design to the finished product, guaranteed and highly personalized. A key-in-hand service that unites the design phase with the executive one (head and hand, as Michelangelo or even Richard Sennett might say) ensures an optimum result and a highly competitive time/cost ratio. Don’t believe us? Take a look at our case histories