Italy has looked distinctly old at the top. The average age of Italian chief executives is 59. It goes up to 63 for university professors, 64 for government ministers and 67 for bishops or bankers. Silvio Berlusconi was 75 when he stepped down as prime minister. But there are younger, successful Italians who can teach their countrymen a thing or two. Here’s a selection, across eight qualities—or quali-“t”s—that will count for Italy in 2013 and beyond.
1. Talento (talent): Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Thiago Silva? No, Paris Saint Germain’s best buy may turn out to be the playmaker Marco Verratti (born in 1992). Serie a’s top teams thought him too young to direct play on the football pitch.
2. Tenacia (tenacity): Alex Zanardi (1966) was a Formula One driver; a crash in 2001 resulted in amputation of both his legs. He won gold medals at the London Paralympics in the individual h4 time trial and the individual h4 road race. “On your bike!” now has a new dimension.
3. Tempismo (timing): “Let’s not pretend that things will change if we keep doing the same things.” Matteo Renzi (1975) is no Albert Einstein, the man who wrote those words, but his timing was impeccable. As the old political system started to crumble, the mayor of Florence announced he’d rather like to be prime minister, shocking his own Democratic Party. Of Mr Berlusconi he said: “He’s only five years younger than my grandma.”
4 Tecnica (technology): Don’t leave it all to the Germans. Nerio Alessandri (1961) was a 20-something industrial designer when he decided that wellness was big business. He founded Technogym, which today exports to 100 countries, and became the exclusive supplier for athletes’ training centres at the last four Olympic games.
5 Tolleranza (tolerance): Ilaria Capua (1966), based in Padua, is an expert on avian influenza. She shocked the veterinary world when she decided to share avian-flu virus strains, samples and genetic sequences, a crucial step towards a worldwide surveillance and control strategy for the disease. She campaigns tirelessly for Italian women: just 47% have a job outside their homes (in the European Union only Greece and Malta are behind).
6. Tenerezza (tenderness): “The Consequences of Love”—and of hard work—led a Naples-born screenwriter to direct Sean Penn in “This Must Be the Place” and draw the ultimate portrait of an Italian political icon, Giulio Andreotti (“Il Divo”). Paolo Sorrentino (1970) shows what Italians can do if they add application to artistry.
7. Territorio (land): Italian cuisine is all over the world. But foreigners have made more money from it than Italians. In 2007 Oscar Farinetti (1954) converted a closed vermouth factory in Turin into the first location of Eataly. Now it’s huge in Rome, Tokyo and New York. Mario Batali, a chef, describes it as “a grocery store with tasting rooms”. Italian soft power at its best.
8. Testa (attitude): Paola Antonelli (1963), from Sardinia, is head of architecture and design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She says: “I can’t stand people who are always complaining about Italy.”
Italy is approaching a series of t-junctions. Time to decide which way to go.
Beppe Severgnini: columnist, Corriere della Sera, and author of “Italiani di Domani” (Rizzoli)