A meeting of minds

Luca di Montezemolo Stanford University

Luca di Montezemolo’s tour of Silicon Valley and Stanford University had a dual effect. Firstly, it confirmed that Ferrari, with its magical blend of technology and dream, remains a true myth, even for young people living in the world of tomorrow. In addition, it allowed the Ferrari Chairman to absorb the uniquely creative atmosphere that pervades that area of California, something he could take back to Maranello

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

The brief: to meet those who create the future, with the desire to understand a universal, beloved brand, and then to connect it with an ever-changing world, and then to hear what it is that they have to say. This is the spirit in which Luca di Montezemolo immersed himself during a visit to Silicon Valley, that small slice of California, situated south of San Francisco, where the greatest information technology companies were born and started to boom just a few streets away from one other. The experience worked both ways: Silicon Valley was duly seduced by Montezemolo’s passion for Ferrari, confirming that the Prancing Horse, the glorious worldwide symbol of Italy, one that was already much loved in this part of the world, has a soul made up of exceptional men and women, perfectly represented by Montezemolo. Companies like Cisco, Apple and Google have changed daily life through their innovations, reaching the summits of the world’s economy and creating wealth and jobs. And these computer “elves”, who live on the web in the virtual world, were thrilled to see the FF that the Chairman used as he moved from one place to another.
His trip included a meeting with Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, the man who took over the reins of the Cupertino colossus after the death of Steve Jobs, Apple’s creator. Montezemolo then spoke to 600 Stanford University students packed into the auditorium of the university that, more than any other, has accompanied the technological revolution over the past few decades.

To get to know more about the spirit of the young men and women who are preparing for the revolutionary world of tomorrow, Montezemolo, who studied at Columbia University, chaired a round table with 40 Business Administration students, following a course that, every year, turns out the future leaders of the global economy. Finally, he met the top management of Google, another enterprise created by two young men in the mid-1990s at Stanford, one that has been an unchallenged web multinational for years. Here he also discovered the car that Google is trying out.

‘The plain of the Po is not California. And yet here as there, you feel the same passion for what they are doing, they work surrounded by trees and grass in an environment created on a perfect human scale.’

Famously, it can actually drive itself without the assistance of the person at the wheel. The mission starts off from the Apple HQ at its famous “1 Infinite Loop” address. The iPods, iPads and other Apple “creatures” that have colonised the planet are created here, in ultra-modern steel and crystal buildings that look more like a college campus than a traditional factory. Maranello is 10,000 kilometres away. The plain of the Po is not California. And yet here as there, you feel the same passion for what they are doing, they work surrounded by trees and grass in an environment created on a perfect human scale, with cycle parks at every corner, a cosy company restaurant, bars with tables in the open and lawns as green as golf courses, where young people from all over the world stroll in their coloured polo shirts. The formula seems to be clear: feeling good in the most natural way possible, one without any formalities or hierarchies, enables you to do your best while carrying out work that requires talent, courage and being more than ready to accept whatever is new. This is where the Ferrari Chairman meets Cook, the Apple number one. The two are left alone in a long talk in the “bitten apple” meeting room before a huge central table flooded with light. ‘I was astonished by his simplicity, his friendliness and total absence of the pretentiousness typical of many European top managers,’ Montezemolo said. ‘And especially by his passion for his work.’ The two men talked face to face for two hours, though the content of their conversation remained confidential. And all this on the eve of a big day for Apple: ‘The next day,’ Montezemolo explained, ‘the company was to announce the extraordinary results [+98 per cent] for the firstfour months of the year. But Cook answered everything, about Steve Jobs, about his company, products, design, organisation, about the training and growth of the workforce, the markets, the management of the brand and the retail and communication strategies.’
At Apple, as at Ferrari, the sense of belonging remains strong. ‘Eddy [Cue], Cook’s right-hand man,’ the Chairman continued, ‘pointed out the elements we have in common with Apple: those of exclusivity, attention to detail, pride, technological research. And Tim wanted to find out about our cars and our history. I asked him what he admired most about Jobs: after giving my question a little thought, he replied, “The ability to look round the corner and be very demanding, to expect a lot from his collaborators.” Steve only had two hobbies, his work and his family.’

Cook couldn’t wait to see for himself the black FF Montezemolo arrived in. He sat in the driving seat and pressed the red ignition button to hear the roar of the engine. Next stop Stanford. The worldwide popularity and love of Ferrari was tangible here too: it was enough to see the admiring faces of 600 students squeezed into the university auditorium listening to Montezemolo’s lecture.
Of course, the aim of his mission was not to promote the brand: Ferrari is to be found in 60 countries of the world and the US is its leading market. There is certainly no need for publicity here. Rather, his aim was to connect the Ferrari brand with the changing world, here in the cradle of modernity, where the finest brains and the most innovative ideas come rushing to make their contributions to the changes in our lives and the preparation of our future. ‘I’m not here to sell cars, but to communicate a dream,’ he began. The Chairman of Ferrari had been asked to give his lecture in the context of a conference called View From The Top. The speakers before him had been CEOs of international companies and personalities from the world of economics and politics such as Condoleezza Rice. Facing him was a new generation of young people, those to whom Jobs, already in the last stages of his illness, said be “crazy and hungry” and to “never live other people’s lives”.

‘Montezemolo exhorted the students: ‘Be creative, follow your goals, use technology, dominate innovation, but don’t be dependent on machines, you have to be in the driving seat of your lives. Never lose the curiosity for what is around you.’

To applause, Montezemolo too exhorted the students to ‘follow their own passions’, before adding: ‘Be creative, follow your goals, use technology, dominate innovation, but don’t be dependent on machines, you have to be in the driving seat of your lives. Never lose the curiosity for what is around you.’ The biggest applause came when he compared the mythical cars from Maranello with German vehicles: ‘I respect other brands. I acknowledge German cars are very well made indeed, they’re often perfect, but they are like fridges, they’re cold. Inside ours is the hot fire of the passion of those who build them with maniacal care for each tiny detail, but also of those who own and drive them, living constant thrills.’ The next meeting was with the MBA students, where Montezemolo made a promise: ‘In addition to wishing you all the best for success in life, I want to tell each one of you that if you ever want to visit Maranello or if you are thinking of working with us, you’ll always find our door open.’ A warm farewell before the students too went to see the Ferraris parked in the shade outside. ‘When I thought about these universities and the open, friendly relationship between students and professors, and realised the generosity of all the individuals and firms who help to fund knowledge, research and the future,’ he mused afterwards, ‘I immediately began to speculate on how much potential a country so rich in excellence as Italy would have…’
Last stop Google, a company looking at transport as it prepares for the future. Here, the Ferrari Chairman gets into a car that drives itself, the result of research by a pair of young men, both barely 30 years old, which is the way of things here. The car, still a prototype, operates with the help of
a radar on the roof connected to a computer that gives orders to the different mechanical units.
Montezemolo, having obtained some detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the Google universe, now so much more than a mere searchengine, said jokingly: ‘You’re only at the beginning of this project, but when it is applied in 20 years’ time it will leave even more room for cars like Ferrari, which you will buy simply because you want to experience the joy of driving them.’
The conclusion to take from this fascinating trip is that only virtuous systems working together can win tomorrow’s challenges. Companies must live in symbiosis with universities and research centres; each specialist must be able to take the results achieved by his skills to their conclusion.
The courage to innovate and look ahead must be the daily bread of someone who wants to play the difficult game of contemporary life. All this happens in Silicon Valley and the results are there for all to see. In its own universe, in a little Italian town called Maranello, part of the great tradition of motoring in the Modena and Bologna area, in a headquarters that looks precisely like a Stanford University-style campus, Ferrari has been racing towards the future for the past 65 years.
A reassuring parallel that makes you realise something else very clearly: woe betide you if you stop, even for just an instant. The world in which we live is actually going so fast that it is only by keeping ahead of it in its wild rush that you can transform its mad pace into an opportunity.

Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine 18 issue September 2012

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