He wears blue, blue suits, but his second home on the sixth floor at Viale Jenner 19 is all decorated in orange. He’s a man of finance, and he loves mathematics and numbers: his lucky numbers are 3 and 7. He’s a history buff, fascinated by great military commanders, he loves architecture and he directs one of the world’s greatest creative agencies. It’s not Steve Jobs who inspires him, but the great empire-builders: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon.
Not explorers of new markets, but people who inspired civilisations, because “innovation can only come out of the unfolding of history”.
He receives us in his office, which perfectly reflects his personality: minimal lines, simple forms, attention to detail, and plenty of colour for spaces that give off positive vibes. And the legendary Mickey Mouse cup from which he sips his tea. The final touch is a dog, a westie (made out of denim), stopping the glass doors to the panoramic terrace. It’s the only item he did not choose himself. Giorgio Brenna, 52, Leo Burnett CEO.
I can tell right away that the man in front of me is a direct man, a precise and a curious man. I decide to fire him a question right away: describe yourself in one word. He answers without hesitation: “successful”.
I go on to ask about the details of his typical working day. “I try not to overload myself with appointments or to get anxious about things – but somehow I never quite manage!” He laughs. I ask how he manages to reconcile his private life and work: “They’re not in conflict. If you’re lucky – and good at what you do – you don’t need to reconcile the two, because you like what you do so much that you don’t want to stop, and so your work becomes part of your life. I have tried to do something I like so much that I never have to stop to live my own life.” Loving what you do seems to be the secret to productivity. And if you’re not lucky enough to have it, the solution is to invest in your productive time so that you get results faster. But that’s not all. To enjoy your work you need to work in a place where you feel at ease, where you feel that there is a positive energy, where you feel good. Without forgetting the importance of human resources. There’s no puritan work ethic here, and no oppression. It’s time we did away with the ritual of punching in and working rigid hours.
“People don’t produce ideas when they’re sad”.
I have to admit that, sitting on his black leather sofa with six splendid olive trees behind me, with background music playing and a touch of energising orange on the walls, I feel as though I could go out and conquer the world.
Does his working environment reflect his personality? “It’s what I make it. I really should have been an architect: I give very precise instructions to the people who design spaces for me, and I participate in the choice of every single item.” The space we are in is carefully designed down to the tiniest details, and it’s obvious. “My office is my home. I live here.” And in fact the space includes a waiting room which is actually a living room, a kitchen, guest offices and his own office, which is like a separate suite in itself, with a study corner, a living room and a room for more official meetings.
“I wanted to create a comfortable, home-like atmosphere where I could work happily and receive guests appropriately. A space must be capable of creating alchemies between people, of conveying positive sensations. I love discussing things with people in different sectors, and I believe in the value of cultural and professional contamination; profiles must be cross-contaminated, it’s another way of generating value. For yourself, and for the company you work for.”
I ask him what his favourite city is, imagining he will say: New York. But he replies unexpectedly that he has two favourite cities. “The first is Milan, where I studied and where I have been working for a long time. Its energy and enthusiasm reflect my character. And the other is San Francisco, where America is not very American, it’s extremely international. It’s made up of narrow streets, hills and houses, not just skyscrapers. The city has fantastic views over the bay and a very high quality of life and of work. In San Francisco people still have the frontier spirit, the spirit that makes you go a little bit further forward every time, not strictly in the geographic sense but metaphorically. In technology and in the financial ecosystem, for example, there is a different spirit there, establishing just the right conditions for innovation. And then, there’s no other city where you can go jogging by the ocean and work for the world’s biggest multinationals on the same day.”
Rinuncerebbe volentieri al telefono, al tablet e al computer perché potrebbe vivere meglio senza. Ma guai a privarlo dei suoi occhiali e della sua penna stilografica, di questi proprio non riesce a farne a meno. E così di orologi, binocoli, oggetti meccanici, macchine. Un uomo carico di passione e di energia, così come tradiscono le sue parole quando ci racconta del suo spirito avventuroso: “Appena posso mi piace fare sport faticoso all’aria aperta, non mi piace andare in palestra. E leggere. Tantissimo. Sempre”. Legge serial thriller – Connelly, Cliff Clusser, John Grisham – biografie, i fumetti di Tex e Diabolik e le riviste della settimana che si porta a casa dall’ufficio.
Gli chiedo il valore che il cibo ha nella sua vita: “Sono perennemente in giro e quindi il mio desiderio più forte è di stare a casa e mangiare a casa. Amo i piatti della tradizione, semplici e li apprezzo più di quelli del ristorante. Me lo porto dietro da quando correvo in bici da ragazzo”. Aggiungiamo “ciclista professionista” alla check list delle sue innumerevoli attività.
He would be perfectly happy to give up his telephone, tablet and computer, and could do perfectly well without them. But he really would not give up his glasses or his pen. Or his clocks, binoculars, mechanical objects and cars. He is a man of great passion and energy, as his words reveal when he talks about his spirit of adventure: “Whenever I can I like to get outdoors and get some exercise; I don’t like going to the gym. And I like to read. A lot. All the time”. He reads serial thrillers – Connelly, Cliff Clusser, John Grisham – biographies, Tex and Diabolik cartoons, and the weekly magazines he takes home from the office.
I ask him about the value of food in his life: “I’m always out and about, so I really enjoy staying home and eating in. I love traditional, simple dishes, and I enjoy them more than restaurant food. I’ve always been like this, since I was a young man racing on my bike.” And so we add “professional cyclist” to the long list of things he has done.
Now that I know so much about him, I want to know how the industry of creativity has changed with the evolution of digital technology, and how he thinks it will change in the future. “The transition from analogue to digital technology already encloses all the challenges of the millennium: transferring a vast quantity of information onto a smaller and smaller physical medium. A revolution which has had – and continues to have – a great impact on our everyday lives. And there are a lot of aspects of technology that still remain to be explored. The proliferation of new products is nothing more than the big manufacturers’ way of guiding us toward a frontier further ahead. It has an infinite number of applications in our everyday lives, some of which are creative while others are not, and they have become a part of us. The transition to the digital economy has greatly changed the way we relate to objects and people, and it has had an impact comparable to that of the industrial revolution in sociological terms, though the change has been much faster and much wider-reaching. The communication industry, which for years seemed to be a very narrow sect of alchemists, closed off from the world, has had to change. This is because it has established the conditions for discussion, despite the initial disarray, and now everyone can give free rein to their creativity. There are many more channels and an infinite number of platforms for expressing creativity, and this is a good thing. The Millennials, moreover, have an unprecedented ability to access information and communicate, and they have big, powerful dreams, which the people at the helm of major organisations must help make come true. We must find a way to work together.”
One final question: “What was it like to work in a theatre?”
Interview by: Francesca Zuffi