How destructive will be Political interference?

The problems of an organization have been only partially addressed. Back in 1992, they had one objective to get Eni (Company) out of the swamp of politics and corruption. Now the executives’ job is to transform the company into something more than a mere multinational. They can build a great and global company that is able to behave with the agility, creativity and entrepreneurship that characterize small, aggressive companies.

You have to understand that in its recent history, Eni was told what to do by the government, and its mission was to serve the state. The state wanted an uninterrupted flow of oil, for instance, or it needed jobs created in a particularly poor region of Italy. Eni answered those calls. The company’s name had a significant emotional connotation in Italy. It wasn’t just another company that people didn’t really care about. It represented Italy’s postwar reconstruction and modernization. Eni sent a message to the world that Italy was independent and strong, and that no other country would ever control them.

So the Italian people felt as if they owned Eni, and it followed that the government could direct all affairs. It worked like this: Eni had a very complex institutional framework in which ministries and parliamentary committees gave us directives. Everyone wanted a say, everyone had connections within Eni. They had managers around the world, but they thought that their problems were Italian problems and the solutions had to be looked at in terms of how they would affect Italy.

As a result, people in the company spent most of their time interpreting the missives of politicians. The politicians wrote documents eight inches thick. And people would pore over them, asking what did really mean when they said this or that? Everyone had his or her own interpretation of what the government wanted Eni to do. You can’t imagine the complexity this caused in an organization with 135,000 people and hundreds of companies. But did anyone consider this interpreting a waste of time? No, Not only was it the normal approach to business, it was highly regarded. So you had a company that was very inward looking. It was really a mess. We had no unique position in the world market, nor did we have a unified strategy.

Today Eni is a company that answers to its shareholders. They have a strategy and a team in place to execute it. But remember, for 40 years Eni was an important institution within the Italian power system. Some of the attitude that goes along with that legacy remains. We have already undertaken a major cultural revolution, and have seen excellent results. But the process of cultural change is a continual one, and we still need to aim aggressively at developing a more entrepreneurial attitude within Eni.

E the top executive (CEO – Barnabe)) never lost hope. He knew there was value in the company that could be brought out, He knew Eni had the potential to be great and the motivation to fight. The CEO was sick of the political interference; it was destroying the company and it was going to destroy Italy. There was such injustice.

CEO’s basic motivation was moral. Eighty five percent of the people were paying for the wrong doings of 15% of the people, who were responsible for the corruption and misuse of politics. They were suffering because that 15% was stealing their professional pride. Their image of good, honest, hard working people was being stolen from them. The CEO had to right that inequity.

But there were times of terrible stress. Perhaps the worst was when the CEO was charged with taking a bribe. That really destroyed him. It was on television that night, he and his children were watching and they were astonished. He felt like he was at the beginning of a nervous breakdown. He felt so violent – such an act of aggression against him that you cannot imagine. One of the things he has been most careful about in life is integrity and here was this person on TV saying Bernabe took a $5 million bribe.