The Funky Soul of Innovation

, by Allegre Gallizia
Gianmario Verona, Bocconi Alumnus, will be at the helm of the University starting on 1 November. In this interview, he talks about himself through his passion for music

Funk and rock beats are with Gianmario Verona on a daily basis. Verona, 46, graduated from Bocconi in 1993, where he also completed a PhD in Business Administration and Management. With a chair in Market Innovation, he will be the Rector of Bocconi starting on 1 November. Music is not just a soundtrack, but a beat that makes its mark on his work, the energy with which he looks at the part of the world that he is committed to improving and innovating every day. In particular, musical masterpieces by Prince are the poetry in his life: "Songs are often in the background, but they have a wonderful ability of portraying the moment in which they were written. They are the poetic elements of our times." And so ViaSarfatti25 discusses Gianmario Verona starting from his passion for music and Prince.

➜ In Purple Rain, Prince says: "I only wanted to be some kind of friend..." Use this verse to talk about yourself and the virtue of friendship.
I attended an all-male religious institute where I was taught the virtue of friendship. It's the most valuable bond and cannot be subject to trade even if you meet new people as time goes on. Bocconi for me was a rebirth: on the first day of university, I met the person who would become the best man at my wedding. Friendship requires continuity and social networks sometimes allow you to keep relationships alive and meet again even after long separations.

➜ What is your favorite social network?
WhatsApp. Group chats allow you to easily organize outings, so I can see the people I used to see once a year more often. Essentially, it's an opportunity for interaction.

➜ Going back to Purple Rain, Prince continues: "Honey, I know, I know, I know times are changing..."
Change is stimulated by innovation, interpreted as a way of thinking, as a science, as an approach to the contemporary moment which allows society to evolve. When all this is applied to machines, it becomes technology. Innovation, though, has a cost and this is why it is sometimes opposed. In any case, true innovators are those who follow their path in spite of criticism.

➜ You teach this and much more to your students. What relationship do you have with them?
It's very stimulating. As faculty members, we experience the Peter Pan syndrome because each year we have a class group that is the same age as the year before. We get older, the class doesn't. Students today represent an interesting generation. On one hand, they are exactly what Michele Serra describes in his book Gli Sdraiati, on the other, they are very smart. It's therefore important to teach them to screen information, to choose which stimuli to be exposed to out of the chaos.

➜ Let's talk about upbringing: are values still handed down from one generation to the next?
Absolutely, and adjusting to contemporary times allows human beings to constantly improve. Great people in history have always been strongly inclined towards ethics, but the foundation of this propensity is acquired during adolescence through school and family. Having well-rooted values also allows the importance of rights to be understood and to understand that someone before us has struggled to make them become rights.

➜ In Sign o' the Times, Prince says: "Everybody still wants to fly..." What were your childhood dreams?
When I was a teenager I wanted to become a musician, but this dream was soon replaced by the desire to do research, because it would allow me to study my whole life and interact with people of high intellectual caliber. This is what I do today, and the line between duty and pleasure is not very well defined. I am lucky to be able to dedicate part of my free time to learning about the topics I work on. All this makes me happy.

➜ What is happiness?
It's an amazing thing, but I have a rational mind and I tend not to stay in that mood. I'm quite critical with myself and being happy only lasts for a moment. The only happiness that lasts over time is what I experience by reflection through my children.

➜ Do you still have other dreams?
I play the drums and the guitar but I would like to learn the piano. Music is totalizing, it relaxes me and calms me. When I have extreme feelings, I find balance through music. The desire to listen to it, the need to play it and the need for musical creativity are probably a compensating function in my daily life. Music is a form of mental freedom.

➜ Your life constantly goes back and forth between music and scientific research.
I like to think that professors are like rockers. We spend our lives writing studies, which is like making tunes, then we present this research as seminars as if we were on tour and then our studies are published, in the same way albums are released.

➜ What's the difference between music today and music during the '80s, when you were growing up?
Music is changing because new technologies are used to produce it. However, we are still in a transition stage in which it is not clear what will remain. Like what is happening with contemporary art: to understand what truly has value, time is required. To study these aspects and thus combine my passion for music with my field of research is very exciting.

➜ Another dream that innovation has realized?
My childhood superheroes have become real through movies: Spiderman, the Fantastic Four and all the Marvel characters. I'll never forget Batman and thinking of that brings me back to Prince, who wrote the soundtrack for the 1989 film.

➜ Between the real and the supernatural, let's talk about the immensity of the universe, citing Prince. In The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, he says: "And if the stars ever fell one by one from the sky..."
Being just one little researcher, I can't express myself regarding immensity, I admit.

➜ Lastly, you're also a Bocconi graduate. What do you remember about your experience as a student?
Historically, Bocconi has a tradition of expert faculty members in research and teaching. During my university track, I had the opportunity to meet extraordinary faculty. I remember two in particular: Professor Mario Monti, with whom I completed an exam that at the time was called Political Economics 1, and Salvio Vicari, who I asked to be my thesis advisor for a thesis in Corporate Strategy on the topic of developing new products. In addition to the technical expertise of the subjects, what I have always admired about these faculty members is the passion and dedication with which they transfer information to students.