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Studying Italian Excellence: Global Network Week at SDA Bocconi

Rachel Szarka ’24 shares insights she gleaned from a week in Italy studying the art management and lifestyle industries.

Milan, Italy’s fashion and business heart, served as my learning arena during a transformative week at SDA Bocconi School of Management. This accelerated course experience is part of Global Network Week (GNW), designed to equip MBA students with entrepreneurial thinking, contextual intelligence, and creative strategies—the pillars that have catapulted Italian companies into global icons. The curriculum was a blend of academic rigor from Bocconi’s esteemed faculty, industry insights from guest speakers, and immersive site visits, each unraveling layers of Italian mastery.

exterior of SDA Bocconi
Merging Creativity with Business in Art Management

Our week kicked off with the topic of arts management—a sector where Italy’s long history of cultural richness and business acumen coalesce. We dissected varying organizational models that drive the art world—each exemplifying a unique balance between historical conservation and commercial pragmatism. The key lies in striking a balance between artistic integrity and financial sustainability. From traditional galleries to interactive digital platforms, the models are as diverse as the artworks they represent.

I was particularly interested in the approaches to marketing in this industry, In a session led by Professor Andrea Rurale, the nuances of marketing artisanal products surfaced. Dubbed “hedonic marketing,” this approach prioritizes the creator’s vision over conventional market demands. Insights from Alberto Cavalli, director of Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte, further illuminated the intricate blend of craftsmanship and artistry, underscoring the irrational passions driving art collectors.

three friends outside a duomo in Italy
With fellow SOM students Alexandra Baker-Brown ’24 and Caroline Guiot ’24

Our discussions did not shy away from the digital disruptions shaking the art world, including the burgeoning realm of NFTs. Complementing these dialogues, we visited Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, delving into Italy’s artistic heritage and confronting the challenges of digitalization.

Students posing with professor at villa in Italy
With fellow Global Network Week participants and SDA Bocconi lecturer Andrea Rurale (foreground) at Villa Necchi Campiglio
The Italian Lifestyle Industries

The latter half of our week navigated us through Italian lifestyle industries, with a particular focus on the beauty industry. In a volatile industry, the recipe for longevity lies in an alchemy of adaptive innovation and entrenched tradition. We dissected the crucial elements—trend vigilance, brand identity fortification, and emotive product design—that are the hallmarks of these enduring brands.

The bedrock of globally dominant beauty brands, as we observed at Intercos Group, rests on the symbiosis of brand strength and product excellence. Intercos, a trailblazer in cosmetic contract manufacturing, revealed their global strategies encompassing innovation, production, and trend foresight. A deep understanding of both customer and consumer culture was a major theme of our visit. An enlightening tour offered a glimpse into the cultural trends set to shape 2024’s beauty landscape.

students at Kiko Milano headquarters

Further insights unfolded during our visit to Kiko Milano. Discussions centered on their astute use of in-store installations to simultaneously spotlight permanent and temporary collections. We delved into Kiko Milano's merchandising tactics and promotional strategies, culminating in a strategic product positioning presentation to their leadership.

My week exploring Italian art management and lifestyle industries at Bocconi was a transformative experience. I gained a deeper appreciation for the fusion of creativity and management, witnessed the resilience of Italian business models, and interacted with industry leaders. Italian excellence serves as a testament to the staying power of balancing innovation with tradition, and I'm excited to apply these lessons to my future endeavors.

This program broadened my perspective on global management, inspiring me to adopt the resilience and agility emblematic of Italian art and lifestyle sectors. Beyond academic enrichment, I am now equipped with a set of frameworks ready to be applied across diverse professional contexts and a new network of classmates from around the world. In a global business environment characterized by constant flux, the lessons from this week at Bocconi stand as guiding beacons, advocating for a nuanced, adaptable approach to excellence.