24 March 2023

Interview with Marcella Panucci, Alumna Luiss 2022. Her career at Confindustria and the challenges of working in the Public Administration sector.

For her determination, passion, commitment, and human and managerial skills in the roles of responsibility she has held, as well as her ability to combine her passion for study with that for the world of business and Public Administration, you were nominated Luiss Alumna of the Year. How do you cultivate talent?

To cultivate talent, it is important to never stop learning and to maintain your curiosity. The desire to continue discovering is crucial. We all have strengths and weaknesses, so it is important to acknowledge them in order to enhance strengths and mitigate weaknesses. Also, having competent collaborators to support you is crucial. Creativity, study, and self-awareness are the main ‘ingredients’ of the recipe.


The award is a recognition from Luiss for your academic performance. What does Luiss mean to you?

To me, Luiss is my home. I have always felt a strong connection to my University, also thanks to the collaborations that I had the opportunity to carry out first as Managing Director of Confindustria, then as Chief of Cabinet of the Minister of Public Administration, and still today in my role as Chief of Cabinet of the Minister for Universities and Research. Luiss taught me to compete through collaborations, expand my horizons, and embrace challenges and even setbacks. It is an identity; a way of being in which I fully recognize myself. I am grateful for the academic and personal development it has provided me. I hope to give back to the University what it has given me.


Can you describe the moment when you learned of your nomination as Alumna Luiss in 2022? How did you feel?

It was a very special moment for me. I found out about my nomination while at the University, from President Vincenzo Boccia and Vice-President Paola Severino. I was filled with emotion. On the evening of the award ceremony, I was even more overwhelmed, so much so that I was speechless. It was an incredible recognition, especially coming from an institution that I am very fond of.


How would you sum up your experience of 25 years in Confindustria, including 8 years as General Manager, facing many challenges such as welfare, digitalization, and more?

I would describe it as a fascinating 25-year journey, during which the world has undergone significant changes. I joined Confindustria in ‘95 and left in 2020, which means I witnessed the beginning of the Second Republic in Italy as well as two major crises: the financial crisis of 2008, the sovereign debt crisis of 2011, and the pandemic. Through these experiences, I gained first-hand knowledge of the impact on the country’s businesses and economy. The world has changed dramatically, from China’s accession to the WTO in the late 1990s and the rise of globalization to more recent years when there has been a reassessment of global channels. Businesses have undergone significant changes. Our business system still mainly consists of small and medium-sized companies, but it is a robust system. The significant changes we have experienced, especially the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have demonstrated the Italian industrial system’s adaptability and resilience. Despite facing difficulties and crises, the system has responded very well. This should prompt us to consider the nature of Italian companies. We are currently in a period of global rebalancing, including economic rebalancing. In this rebalancing phase, I believe that businesses and industry, in particular, must take a leading role.


What are and what should be the top priority actions for the business system?

As the Ministry of Universities and Research, we have a unique perspective on what we need to invest in for the coming decades. I am thinking about basic and applied research, universities, and preparing people for the major changes ahead. I believe that competition in the future will be driven by innovation. Countries and companies that fail to invest in research and innovation will fall behind. With the PNRR providing significant funding for research and innovation, it is crucial to ensure that these resources are used to build a strong foundation for companies to innovate effectively in the future. As a recommendation to companies, I encourage them not to shy away from pursuing innovative trends, even if they seem challenging. At the European level, there is a current debate around the focus of the next research programs. As part of the Italian industrial system, we have the potential to be ambitious and make significant contributions to these programs.


When it comes to your career, how do you balance the interests of the public and private sectors?

Working in an interest representation association is similar to working in a government institution, in the sense that you have a diverse group of people with varying interests that you need to reconcile. It can be challenging, but it teaches you valuable skills that are applicable to different roles. I believe that the public and private sectors need to communicate with each other because they both have a common goal: pursuing the general interest. Even in Confindustria, focusing on specific interests without considering the general interest would be counterproductive. When you are in a position of the government, the general interest is even more articulated and complex. If you disregard this complexity, you will not be able to do the country’s good. Finding balanced solutions is necessary for any role, and sometimes you may need to make tough choices that prioritize the general interest while minimizing negative consequences.


What are the challenges and main tasks in the role of Chief of Cabinet?

The Chief of Cabinet oversees the Minister’s direct collaboration offices, including the technical secretariat, legislative office, press office, and diplomatic advisor. They help to develop and implement policies and ensure that the Minister’s political direction is communicated effectively to all areas of the ministry. As Chief of Cabinet, I draw on my expertise and experience to create effective policies, oversee their implementation, and monitor their impact. This approach has been embraced by the Minister for Universities and Research, Anna Maria Bernini, who has even established a team dedicated to analyzing the economic and data aspects of policy implementation and making any necessary adjustments. The difference from the previous post of Chief of Cabinet at the Ministry for Public Administration, from a purely technical point of view, is that it is a department with a portfolio. Having economic and financial autonomy also makes a difference in terms of structures. In terms of issues, the Ministry played a key role in developing the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) by contributing to public labor reform and simplification. This was a significant challenge. The Ministry for Universities and Research also has a European and international impact and vision, with many policies implemented at the European level and in collaboration with institutions in other countries. This is an equally challenging commitment for the Head of Cabinet today.


Speaking of National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR); after decades in which we have struggled to spend European resources, we have a huge opportunity before us. What is the value of the Plan?

The PNRR is a plan that outlines how things are done, with clear timelines and checkpoints to ensure accountability. It imposes a precise timeline and obliges us to pay attention to qualitative aspects. The continuous engagement with the European Commission has been very challenging, very positive, and instructive. While some of the more complex projects may require adjustments over time, this is to be expected given the five-year timeline and the ever-changing nature of reality. Reality changes and adjustments are necessary, based on experience, in order to achieve the set objectives.


To conclude, going back to the starting point; why is a strong and connected Luiss Alumni network so important?

The alumni network is vital for supporting the university and the internationalization process. When a Luiss graduate travels to a foreign city, having access to an Alumni Chapter is a welcoming experience that provides a unique perspective. This is a common practice among international universities and is a fundamental pillar in building the identity of graduates at our University.


If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your fresher self?

Making mistakes is something I recommend because you can learn a lot from them.


Written by Redazione Connect.