A visit to China nine years ago opened a new world for an Italian businessman and his company
The first time Dardanio Manuli went to China, many of his friends and colleagues thought he was mad. It was the autumn of 2003, soon after the pandemic SARS killed more than 900 people worldwide, a third of them on the Chinese mainland.
Not only did the Milan businessman return home alive and well, but it turned out to be a trip that would have a marked impact on his life. It gave him a starting point to explore markets outside Europe, putting his business on a firmer footing that has helped it weather the current European recession.
Dardanio Manuli, chairman and chief executive officer of Manuli Rubber Industries. [Photo/China Daily]
Manuli, 47, is the chairman and chief executive officer of Manuli Rubber Industries, a family business that makes hydraulic products used in construction and mining.
His company's sales reached 320 million euros ($408 million) last year, higher than in 2008, before the financial crisis.
The trip changed his perception of the world, he says. Before it, his understanding of China was scant. What he did know was that it was far away, and he expected to find a backward country in which "everything would be difficult".
Once he arrived, he was struck by how modern and sophisticated the country was, including the airports, railways and highways, and he was even more impressed with the business people he met. Many were in their 20s, and they already had the authority to make executive decisions, he says.
"They were very, very well prepared. They had a good understanding of the macro economy, the industry, and a good command of English."
Even more surprising for him, he says, was that, in contrast to Europe, many of these business people were women.
In Italy, he says, someone in their 60s could still be regarded as young, and the fate of those in their 20s, 30s and even older is to line up for work opportunities and the chance to exercise power.
Shortly after the trip, in 2005, the company made its first financial investment in China, buying land in the eastern coastal city of Suzhou for a manufacturing plant.