Articles by: Lucia Pasqualini*

  • Life & People

    MY MENTORS. Patrizia di Carrobio: Passionate Curiosity

    Before transferring from China to New York I thought that everything would be much easier: no problems with the language, no big adjustments to a different culture. I was wrong. New York was tough, much tougher than I’d ever imagined. Even though when I first arrived in Beijing I could barely express myself with my very limited Chinese and I did not know how to move around the city, after a short while I got used to my new world.

    My Chinese improved, and I discovered a universal language consisting of gestures and smiles.
    In New York, on the contrary, I realized that knowing the language was not enough to communicate with people. It took me some time to settle in the city and begin to find my way.

    One person was instrumental in this process and gradually, spontaneously showed me how to approach New York by opening my mind to the infinite opportunities all around me.

    A natural curiosity for anything unknown.
    A few months after my arrival I was invited to a dinner where Patrizia was among the guests. A precious stones dealer, Patrizia started her career at Christie’s, where she became the first woman auctioneer in the jewelry department. Now she is an entrepreneur in the business.

    She was born in Canada to Italian parents, lived for many years in Brussels and, after marrying, moved to New York where she has lived for almost her entire life. Ever since leaving China, I could not stop talking about it, and that night was no exception, as Patrizia was genuinely curious about my experiences there. I look back on that night as the first time that I felt at ease since I had arrived in New York. It was a very pleasant evening. There was an instant connection between the two of us. That is how Patrizia and I became friends.

    What struck me most about Patrizia, from the very first time I met her, was her natural curiosity for unknown situations and her friendly, straight-forward attitude, traits that have fascinated and influenced me very deeply. I remember that after some time in New York, my Chinese friend Vickie Kan was visiting and had invited me to a party organized by her renowned sister Yue Sai. Given Patrizia’s curiosity about China, I thought she would have loved to get to know my Beijing friend, and I invited her to come along to the party.

    She accepted right away even though she did not know the host or what kind of guests were attending. Nonetheless she was open to diversity as only a true citizen of the world can be. I was impressed by Patrizia’s open-mindedness. I brought her into a truly Chinese world that she had never experienced before and she loved it just as much as I have always loved it. That night indelibly marked the beginning of our friendship.

    Reiscovering an Italian dimension

    For many years Patrizia has not had much contact with the Italian community of New York. She has never lived for long periods of time in Italy and her world has gravitated around a rather international community. I gradually introduced Patrizia to a more Italian dimension, and she was very pleased about getting to know it. It was as if she had suddenly felt the need to reconnect with her roots, which she has never completely pulled up; she spends all her summers in Sicily. At the same time, Patrizia spontaneously became my point of reference and guided me through the many situations I was faced with in New York. Thanks to her I broadened my perspective and adopted a much more open-minded philosophy toward life. She inspired me to grow by helping me look inside myself and recognize my mistakes.

    Elegant simplicity
    Patrizia is a highly sophisticated yet at the same time unpretentious woman, a contrast I love. Despite being a “lady of the diamonds,” she rarely wears precious stones herself. She only wears a very peculiar, nearly unnoticeable square diamond on her little finger to contrast the colored Swatch watch on her wrist. Diamonds and precious stones should not only be considered a form of investment. Rather they should help us feel better and more beautiful. Every object, regardless of its value, can have the same effect. That’s her theory.

    Every day she walks from the Upper East Side where she lives down to her office in Midtown. She is always very elegant in her simplicity, sporting one of her numerous, variously colored pairs of Toms’ shoes and toting her usual light backpack. When it rains you will find her wearing a baseball cap and a Uniqlo’s coat. Under these layers she is always impeccably dressed. Her style defines her true essence.

    Supporting young talents
    Patrizia loves to organize events and concerts at her place. Her home is a harbor, a place of interesting and incredible encounters. Music is at the center of her life and the frequent presence of marvelous pianist and friend Mark Markham makes her evenings even more special. She gets pure satisfaction in assisting young artists and talented people who need advice and support. She is a generous mentor for everybody in need. Despite traveling a lot for work, she is extremely efficient and plans everything weeks in advance.

    Over the years I have come to know when she’ll be in New York and how to arrange our meetings. When she was in town we often walked together down Madison Avenue and had breakfast at the little coffee shop Bel Ami close to the Italian Consulate. During our morning sessions we would share our thoughts and discuss our projects. It came naturally for me to want to share my experiences with her and involve her in my job, such as the time when we planned the auction for the Gala of Scuola d’Italia. Her approach is professional, and she is detail and goal oriented in the personal realm as well.

    Life may serve us difficulties and obstacles but it is up to us to face them. She has always faced her life with courage and grace, turning pages and reinventing herself as a writer and a new person. Her example has inspired me tremendously. When I read her book “Conoscere i gioielli” (Knowing Jewels), I knew immediately it would make the perfect addition to Grazia D’Annunzio’s fantastic presentation series AdDressing style at Casa Zerilli-Marimò, so I introduced Patrizia to the Casa’s director, Stefano Albertini, and after few months Stefano asked Grazia to present Patrizia’s book. Surprisingly, Grazia had already read it, and said that she would love to meet Patrizia! It was an incredible coincidence and the beginning of a new, beautiful friendship.

    I had a lot of fun with Patrizia, and my experience in New York would not be the same without her. We shared projects and friends and our lives intersected for four years, almost becoming one. Year after year, our group of friends and missions- in-common grew. I remember very vividly when she called me one night to tell me that she had seen the designer Antonio Pio Saracino. I met him once at her home. She was enthusiastic about his beautiful project “The Guardians”, two contemporary statues to be placed in Bryant Park, one of which was inspired by Michelangelo’s David. The idea had come about as part of the Year of Italian Culture in the United States.

    Nevertheless, Antonio needed to find a sponsor and Patrizia urged me to help him. I was skeptical about what I could do, but I assured her that I would try my best to help him. I started to talk about the project to anyone I thought might be interested in it, but it was not an easy task. Then I met Stefano Lucchini, former head of communication for the Italian oil company Eni. I talked to him about the statue and, in one of life’s odd coincidences, it turned out he knew the designer. Saracino had already worked for Eni. Fate? I don’t know, but had Patrizia not urged me to take action, I would never have mentioned Antonio’s project to Stefano. That was one of Patrizia’s many great lessons: be curious and believe in yourself.

    My friends are now Patrizia’s friends, and they continue to see each other. Patrizia continues to be the link between our two worlds and I am happy that she is now so deeply involved and committed to the Italian Community. I am proud that after the passing of the beloved Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, Patrizia decided to make a contribution to her and take the lead in one of the most important Italian cultural centers in New York—the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò of NYU.

    Patrizia’s passionate curiosity has been and continues to be an extraordinary source
    of inspiration to me. She opened my eyes and my mind immensely and I will remain forever grateful to her.

    Grazie Patrizia, ti voglio bene!

    * Former Vice Consul in New York

  • Op-Eds

    My Mentors 4: Claudio del Vecchio. The Power of Modesty

    During my years in New York, I discovered I have a great passion for people’s stories; every story possesses its own intrinsic lessons. The variety and the richness of these stories make the United States a unique place. Some of my most precious memories of those years are linked to the people I have met. You never really know whom you will meet in New York or how an event will turn out. This is a lesson that I learned quickly. That is how I became more attentive and curious. There are some stories that shaped both my personal and professional growth.

    I had met Claudio Del Vecchio several times on official and formal occasions. He was always 
    extremely polite and kept a low profile. We never had a real conversation at these events, one of many for both of us. Yet, I remember one event particularly well. On July 2012, the Group of Italian Representatives (GEI) presented him with the friendship award.

    I remember very vividly the speech that Claudio gave on that occasion. He humbly approached the podium and very modestly talked about his story and his beloved job.

    His father’s legacy
    I was very touched by Claudio’s words. He recounted the story of Luxottica, a company founded by his father Leonardo in 1961 in Agordo, a small town near Belluno. He spoke of his father’s childhood, spent in an orphanage, and of his early years working on a factory floor.

    He recalled when his father worked unflaggingly in the evenings on a drum made with skin and filled with sand, inlaying aluminum parts to make glasses. In a very simple way, Claudio managed to effectively convey how his father’s sincere passion for his job led him to start a great business.

    The continuous search for better solutions led Luxottica to industrialize eyewear production, and turned eyeglasses from a solely medical device into a glamorous and fashionable object. The turning point for the company came in the eighties when Luxottica acquired Lens Crafters and SunGlass Hut. Thanks to this strategic decision, Luxottica has become one of the few international Italian companies and a worldwide leader in the eyewear industry.

    This happened precisely when Claudio was in charge of Luxottica’s US market. Together with Lens Crafters, Luxottica also acquired Casual Corner, a women’s-apparel chain in serious financial difficulties. Claudio took over the company and after some years managed to turn things around. After this experience, he decided to run a business on his own and become an entrepreneur himself, acquiring the iconic American brand Brooks Brothers in 2011.

    I barely knew the story of Luxottica, but what struck me most while listening to Claudio was the simplicity of this powerful story and his visible and incredible respect for his father, as well as his loyalty to the company. Claudio moved to the United States in 1982 and undoubtedly played a very important role in the internationalization of the company. Nevertheless, he never mentioned himself. He never personally appeared in his tale. He always used the pronoun ‘we.’ That day, I learned a very important lesson about entrepreneurship, vision, courage, humility and love. Love as a secret to true success.

    Inspirational leadership
    I was so inspired by his speech that the next time I saw Claudio, I asked him if he would be willing to speak to the students at La Scuola d’Italia. I have always been very committed to the Scuola d’Italia in New York and I had already invited other luminaries to speak to the students. 

    I know from personal experience how much one person can influence and change a young person’s life, and Claudio’s words were so inspirational to me, that I wanted the students to share in my experience. He immediately accepted my offer and even changed his schedule in order to talk to the students. When I think about that day, I like to imagine that at least one student was captivated by that illuminating conversation and managed to find his own vocation and inner passion, and just maybe he/she will follow a path to become a wise entrepreneur. As Claudio said that day, “the true secret of real success lies in following your own passions. Don’t set money as a goal in your life. If you follow your passions and work hard, money will follow.”

    Claudio has lived in the US for many years, and although he has adopted the core values of American culture, he has not forgotten his origins and feels very much part of the Italian community. He is deeply aware of the importance of being part of the community and giving back to society. Yet he always keeps a low profile, never mentioning his contributions to numerous philanthropic organizations; he is one of the most humble people I have ever met.

    He is very down-to-earth and never assumes everybody knows who he is. He may be the CEO and President of Brooks Brothers, but he behaves as though he were just another company employee. He simply loves what he does. The secret to true happiness is being aware of what really matters, and Claudio knows what matters to him. That is the essence of Claudio Del Vecchio: a very successful businessman and a modest person.

    All the power that lies in modesty
    His incredible commitment and strong work ethic made him the ideal candidate for the Cavaliere del Lavoro, the most prestigious Italian honor, bestowed upon those who have distinguished themselves through their commitment as entrepreneurs. I am very glad that the Consulate proposed his name to the President of the Republic and made the dream of any Italian entrepreneur come true for him.

    Over the years, he has proved to be an exceptional businessman, silently contributing to the international expansion of Luxottica first, then saving Brooks Brothers (a company almost on the verge of bankruptcy) and turning it into the flourishing company we know today. He really deserved this recognition!

    I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Claudio. He showed me how much power lies in modesty. He leads by example, an extraordinary, modest and powerful example.

    Grazie Claudio! 

    *Former deputy-consul in New York Lucia Pasqualini continues her collaboration with i-Italy with a series of portraits of people who have taught her important lessons.