The merit that company bosses usually claim is that of having created economic value for shareholders. I have always considered this a reductive approach (bosses would also have other meritorious duties, such as contributing to the happiness of people and to safeguarding the world) but is one which has authoritative origins. It seems that the most accurate formulation of this questionable principle can be found in an article by Milton Friedman (“The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits”) which appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 1970.
The future Nobel Prize winner in Economic Sciences argued that the ultimate goal of each company is precisely the creation of economic value for shareholders through maximization of profit. In this way, Friedman set out what was to become known as the Shareholder Theory. A decade later it was another American, Robert Edward Freeman, who changed tack, explaining – in his book “Strategic Management: A Stakeholder approach” – that there exists a corporate social responsibility which goes beyond profit. It is a question, he said, of also integrating ethical values into the activity of the company, relating explicitly with all the economic agents interested and in any way involved in its operating on the market (the stakeholders): employees, customers, suppliers, collaborators, groups, institutions. Freeman's idea was at least as successful as Friedman's, and the fact that they both coexisted in economics textbooks and among boards of directors means that capitalism still admits doubts about its nature.
The Corporate Social Responsibility Report is the mirror of capitalism that reflects on itself and on its role. It is the mirror of the tastes, inclinations and culture of those who lead businesses. It speaks to us of the world of which the company is part and of the relationships established between the former and the latter, because even the company is a social animal.
Leafing through the 140 pages that follow, I rediscovered the imprint of that way of being and thinking that I learned to appreciate many years ago in Padua, when I met the founder of Engineering and his small group of friends and collaborators who then set out on the path that was to transform a spin-off of Cerved into an IT company that today employs 10 thousand people and has a turnover of more than one billion euros.
In the Corporate Social Responsibility Report you are about to read, one of the words you come across most often is "training". A word that is repeated more often than its twin word "innovation", a term that is very fashionable in corporate rhetoric and which, moreover, in the case of Engineering is always properly used, being the asset that the business produces. This leapfrogging is already an important clue to the scale of values used here. Training translates into 14,631 days/person of courses provided to employees; an IT & Management school with 200 teachers e 6 thousand students, an e-learning competence center, scholarships, masters and incentives so that talent, competence and growth emerge from study. The value that is also civic of this investment – 8 million euros last year – is very high in a country where education and training are confined to the end credits of all programs, including government programs.
For Engineering, the school named after Enrico Della Valle represents a powerful element for diffusion of corporate culture and knowledge, and its value – stressed in the Report – has always gone beyond the fundamental educational function. Accustomed to widespread talk of youth unemployment and Italy's record in terms of the number of young people who do not study and do not seek work, I was particularly struck by the lines (few, as usual) that the Report dedicates to the project of training 400 young Neets and then starting them out in less than 18 months in the world of work. It is a remnant of a State that disguises itself as a company and who knows how the statistics (and the State) would change if the practice were to spread.
The Engineering business does not envisage any manufacturing process, but only the provision of IT consulting services and services related to the management and storage of customer data. It is thus a post-modern business, where reliability has to do not with materials and their manipulation but with the solidity of intangible assets such as the rationality of processes, efficiency, privacy and security. Assets sold by a company that has envisaged the removal of doors from its offices. It must not have been easy to select the activities that could be mentioned in the Report, since almost all the products created by Engineering have a public impact. Its application solutions for healthcare are used by 100 thousand doctors, nurses and employees of local health services, as well as by millions of patients. Those for mobility in Brazil allow the citizens of São Paulo to know if their bus is late, and in Spain those of Malaga to make sure that there are free parking spaces (and who knows if one day these Engineering packages will not also be able to improve the life of we poor Romans, perennially waiting for a tram that does not arrive).
Engineering is responsible for the ICT technologies that safeguard artistic heritage, the software that keep the polluting emissions of ships under control, the monitoring systems that help prevent avalanches, the digital solutions against hate speech online, and the new generation of software for tax policies and the fight against tax evasion. These are tools for good politics and good administration, designed for a society that one imagines is eager to improve itself. This trust in collective responsibility and therefore in the State – more than the many good and excellent practices listed in the following pages – seems to me to be the hallmark of the Engineering company, and the merit of those who lead it.
Paolo Pagliaro is a journalist, television writer and director of Agenzia 9 Colonne