My working life started very early, like in many family-run businesses. My father owned a bar in the central square (Piazza Italia) in Nuoro, Sardinia. It was somehow an inherited art: my grandfather had opened the second cafè
in Nuoro just before the Second World War, after having had the experience of working at his cousin’s “Bar Laconi”, the first modern café opened in Nuoro (this bar is a central figure in the novel by Salvatore Satta The Day of Judgement
, where it is depicted as “Caffè Tettamanzi
My earlier memories have been marked by putting in order the small fruit-juice bottles behind the bar or putting in order the empty glass bottles that needed to be returned.
As I grew up, I had to take more of a role in the family business, often working on Sundays and in the evenings. Although I must say, I’ve hated that job in many ways, as it ate up most of the time that my school friends would spend at the beach or enjoying themselves.
I did, however, learn a few precious lessons during this time.
Above all, the importance of customers and understanding the customer service is part science, part art. I recall those long winter evenings when a single patron would be able to stay for 2-3 hours, elbow on the bar, sipping a few glasses of his favourite drink, and seeking somebody to talk with. My father always told me that his real job was being a listener, almost a psychologist. And I have had the experience several times of this being very much true.
I managed to escape this reality when I went to University, finally leaving behind a job I did not want. But then, over time, I started appreciating the things that that experience taught me.
I’m an introvert. But working in such an environment taught me how to establish positive relationships with customers, suppliers and other people. I’m still an introvert but have been able to act upon these issues.
Be an active listener. I learned at a young age that the request for a drink could often hide something more. In a jargon that I’ve been taught much later, there’s a big difference between what a customer “wants” and what they “need”. And the difference is often shown in small clues that need active listening support.
All businesses are customer-driven. You know how often it happens to have one of the slow evenings in winter, with no customers for the last hour. You start preparing to close, anticipating an earlier evening on the sofa watching a movie. You’re ready to lock the door when a group comes in. You know that they’ll stay past midnight, but you also know you are there for the customers. You can’t bind them to your internal processes and rules, which I seldom find in organisations, but a key lesson for me.
It’s all down to real engagement. In Nuoro, there is one major festivity every summer, the Festa del Redentore. This attracted many participants in a long parade in traditional costumes, with many tourists coming along. It was the most important day of the year from a business perspective. It was all down to excellent preparation; all the family was enrolled full time, including extra help and support. We all had our tasks… but then, in the flow of the day, it was just about supporting each other, being flexible, and getting things done. Exhausted at the end of the evening, we were always damn proud of the immense fatigue of the day.
You learn from the things you hate. This has been the key to learning. The things nearer to you and you often hate in some parts of your life are often the best way to learn. Even if retrospectively.
Why this story?
This new business adventure, and the impressions I have had touring the Campari headquarters these days, showed me how important our roots are. We are made of our many histories, and we often check this out of the workplace. Yet, authenticity is a crucial success factor in relationships and how we approach and recognise our strengths and weaknesses.
Being Intentional for me is also about personal consistency. Those same elements that “build” an organisation are present in some shape and form also within us as human beings. So whether you consider yourself a “me, inc.” or just a human being with necessary work life, we need to intentionally build consistency in what we do, starting with recognising what we are.
This has been the learning for me this week. And I have intentionally chosen to make this a big part of my next professional steps.
What about you? What’s your intentional learning from life?