WATCH MY VIDEO: Business is love, Transfield MD Luca Belgiorno-Nettis says
Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, the managing director of Transfield Holdings and former chairman of the Sydney Biennale, has a very different slant on being in business. He calls it “love”.
“Business is the essence of life. Without trading and dealing with people we wouldn’t have inventiveness, we wouldn’t have the interaction that we have. The beauty that we have is from trading,” he says. “Business is not just about you, it’s about everyone else. You are dealing with other people: your business partners, your suppliers, your clients — that’s love, in a way.”
He says of Transfield (which became the largest construction and engineering firm in the Southern Hemisphere): “Cities are also built on intimate connections and love, which is how we all get on as communities. Buildings and structures contribute to that happiness.”
It might all sound a bit softcore if one didn’t know that Luca is a highly respected business leader, and son of the famous Franco, an Italian immigrant who in 1956 along with colleague Carlo Salteri started Transfield.
One of Transfield’s recent projects was the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. Franco also helped to found the Biennale of Sydney in 1973 and was one of its greatest benefactors.
As Luca points out, it’s probably the artistic family he came from that gives him inspiration. His mother brought the arts, history and “wonderful Italian culture” to his life, his father built the business on passion, joie de vivre, love of building and creating.
“He didn’t see much difference between an artist and an engineer,” says Luca, “because he felt that each were trying to manifest their ideas.
“Dad taught me the capacity for hard work and the ability to enjoy life, including business life. He was determined to make a go of it because he came from lowly circumstances. Italy post-war was a very difficult place.”
Given Franco’s family moved into the business, will his own children follow? “I don’t know yet; it’s still early days. Dad used to described working in the family business as a castle and a jail. Yes, you had all the benefits of a castle but you were stuck there.”
But Luca says he rarely felt stuck; his love of dealing with people made him flourish.
As a Renaissance man he is an unusual player in the tough corporate world. Does he have to put on his armour to survive? He says it shocks him to hear people still saying that business has to be ruthless. “We’ve got businesses which we’ve built up and we haven’t had to be ruthless.”
Given his love of mediation, philanthropy and the process of true democracy, Luca admits he is still upset that he couldn’t reconcile with his brother, Marco Belgiorno-Zegna. Belgiorno-Zegna sued him and his father for his part of the business, and now pursues other interests.
“We had such a wonderfully productive history of the business and to see it finish that way is sad,” says Luca.
The experience was disappointing. As was the time that several artists rejected Transfield Foundation as a leading benefactor of the Sydney Biennale last year. It led to his resignation as chairman. “It was a rude awakening,” he says.
Luca says he has found purpose. “At the end of it, it’s love. If we’re not connecting and feeling as if we are contributing somehow, then where is the happiness?
“When you are happy and fulfilled at work, love what you do, and feel passionate, inspired and creative, then you are happier at home with family and friends.”
But the self-confessed former workaholic says: “It’s finding the balance that’s the key.”
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