Strategic design, the editorial by Franco Michienzi

When we look at a company’s strategic decisions, we tend to ask ourselves what reasoning lies behind them. Sometimes they are a mystery, one we want to believe in either for convenience or by convention

by Francesco Michienzi

I often wonder what strategy certain business leaders are following, both within and outside the nautical sector. While some clear and simple examples require no explanation – those men and women who simply love what they do – many complex scenarios are not always easy to interpret. Today I would like to concentrate on the latter, perhaps with a few examples to better explain myself.

In 2019, I attended a press conference held by a businessman who had just bought a struggling brand. His most surprising statement was that “in three years we’ll be floating the business on the stock market”. Given that they hadn’t yet built a single boat, this seemed like quite a challenge – indeed, it still does. Enthusiasm and genuine ambition are all well and good, but a bit of healthy realism would not have gone amiss. More recently, another businessman, who claims to earn € 100 million a year, is preparing to take the same leap. I sometimes wonder whether a major marketing campaign is all it takes to get the approval of Consob, the body responsible for the Italian securities market, and to meet the criteria of institutional investors.

Modern society has propagated the idea that people control their future and determine the path their life takes through their choices, and as a result, some believe that if you come up with a plan you want to pursue it should happen at all costs, even if it means conning the poor savers that believe in a sector. Putting the stock exchange to one side,
I also sometimes wonder what rationale lies behind certain industrial, boat design, communication, and even sales policy decisions. Decision-making is not at all easy, as every choice, regardless of the sector, implies taking responsibility for the consequences. That’s why many people feel trapped by the fear of making a decision, scared of the potential repercussions, and prefer instead to follow supposedly proven models to avoid running the risk of being blamed for making mistakes.

Often even people with a lot of experience find taking business decisions difficult and end up making choices that turn out to be unsuitable, or even downright wrong.

Moreover, making decisions based purely on rational reasoning risks suppressing our emotions and instinct, which are an integral part of our being, and therefore missing out on vital information about both our businesses and ourselves. There are examples of this in the boating industry: consider, for instance, the brands who went from an eminent position to being on the brink of collapse, without any plausible explanation.

No matter how difficult it may be, there is always the option to stop and change direction, or to take a new approach. Undoubtedly this also requires journalists to probe, analyze, and collect real data, or simply ask the right questions, to give people a real understanding of the situation. But perhaps we need to look to a more intimate level to find the real reason for certain decisions taken solely on the basis of a plan that most are unaware of. There are some people for whom, it seems, designing, building, and selling boats is no longer a sufficient raison d’être for their company.

The concept of style versus substance is no longer a dilemma requiring explanation; it epitomizes how far things have fallen. Often the values prioritized are turned completely on their head, including when creating a boat, and the performance, hydrodynamic efficiency, and build quality have to give way to highly debatable decorative and functional aspects. 

(Strategic design – – December 2020)