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General facts

Population: 61.3 million

Capital: Rome

Official Language: Italian

Currency: Euro

Religions: Roman Catholic

Key industries

Tourism

Being in the top 5 most visited countries in the world, Italy has a large tourism industry. In 2017, tourists were estimated to have put €41.3 billion into the Italian economy. Cultural attractions were the biggest earner at €15.5 billion. It is also estimated that in 2018, tourism provided 1.5 million jobs in Italy.

Agriculture and food production

In 2017, leading exports from Italy to the US included wine and beer ($1.875 billion), cheese ($307.2 million) and coffee ($101.4 million). Italy is also a large producer of rice and wheat.

In the UK, it is estimated that sales of Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano, both of which are produced in Italy, generate a turnover of 85 million euros. Italian wine also has a total turnover of approximately 827 million euros on the British market.

Automotive

Italy has one of the largest automotive car markets in the EU along with Germany, France and the UK. The automotive sector in Italy is estimated to turn over €93 billion overall and there are approximately 3,000 companies within the industry. Some key automotive companies include Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Ferrari.

Fashion

With famous companies such as Versace, Prada and Gucci, the fashion industry in Italy is very important. According to a federation for Italian fashion and textile companies, Confindustria Moda, there are approximately 67,000 businesses within this federation which generate €88 billion in annual turnover and employ a total of 580, 000 employees.

Approach to business (things to keep in mind)

  • Establishing a relationship is very important when doing business in Italy. Italians like to work with people they know through mutual connections.
  • Hierarchy is also important; you are expected to treat people who are older or of a higher status than you with respect. This applies throughout your education at school and university, and into the workplace.
  • Decisions may not happen quickly; a large emphasis is placed on discussing a matter before a decision is made.
  • Appearance is very important in Italy so whether it’s your meeting outfit or business card, make sure it’s smart.
  • Keep in mind that August is not a good month for business meetings as often people are away due to national holidays and celebrations.
  • Business hours are generally between 8am and 7pm with a two-hour lunch break.

Dos and Don’ts in a business meeting

Do…

  • …bring a business card as you will most likely be expected to exchange cards during the meeting. This should be translated into Italian.
  • …accept an invitation to lunch or dinner, it is considered rude if you refuse.
  • …maintain eye contact throughout the meeting as it shows you are interested. If you don’t you could be perceived as unfriendly or disinterested.
  • …shake hands, this is considered as the correct greeting for business meetings. Make sure you greet every person at the meeting and make eye contact when doing so.

Don’t…

  • …be surprised if the meeting does not start on time. Whilst you should be always punctual, it is normal for meetings to start and finish late.
  • …give gifts unless you are given one first.
  • …be afraid to get to get to know your Italian contacts, make conversation and remember that building relationships is key!
  • …use first names until told to do so. You should use Signor/Signora or their title followed by the surname.
  • …be surprised if someone disagrees with you or talks over you during a conversation, constructive conflict is normal when discussing ideas.

Key company facts

Gucci

Listed as the most profitable Italian fashion company since Alessandro Michele took over as the creative director in 2015.

  • Turnover in 2017: € 6.2 billion
  • Number of employees: 947

FCA Italy S.p.A. (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

Italian automotive manufacturer, in the top ten of the word’s largest automotive manufacturers.

  • Turnover in 2017 : $125.6 billion
  • Number of employees : 250,000

Exor

Although based in the Netherlands, this is the biggest holding company owned by an Italian family that invests in companies within Italy’s key industries such as Ferrari and Fiat.

  • Turnover in 2017: $161.7 billion
  • Number of employees: 307,637

Barilla

Founded in Parma, this is the biggest pasta producer in the world. It accounts for 40-45% of the Italian market and 25% of the US market.

  • Turnover in 2018: €3.48 billion
  • Number of employees: 8,358

Conversation topics

  • Football: This is the national sport in Italy so you could ask ‘Qual è la tua squadra di calcio preferita?’ (what is your favourite football team). Some famous names include Paolo Malidini or Roberto Mancini.
  • Italian culture: Italians are very proud of their culture so you could ask them what their favourite film or book is. ‘Qual è il tuo film favorito?‘ or ‘Qual è il tuo libro favorito?‘. Famous Italian writers include Dante and Boccaccio who have written the most notable works in Italian literature.
  • Questions about politics or religion may not be well received therefore try to avoid this.