She doesn’t stay still for a minute, she works all day, she has a thousand ideas in her head and many projects to realize. In all of this, she hasn’t lost her calm, her desire to run and face the smallest to the most complicated daily challenges. She is Elena Veschi, entrepreneur at the helm of Umbraplast (up to last April she was also national board member of the Confindustria), one of the most dynamic economic realities in the Upper Tiber Valley. She likes to travel, as she has always done, she speaks to us about what we could do to make the Tiber River Valley grow (and Italy a little bit too…); if you ask her who she admires she tells you the Mayor of Bagnoregio, which are not a well-known names. What does she do when she is free? Full-time mom! We met her and this is what she told us.
by Marco Polchi
I would like to begin this interview speaking about your university experience: how important is it for a young entrepreneur to study and get an education?
«I feel that it is very important, higher and higher education is necessary, if possible, international education, to be able to compete in a world that is more and more global. A good working knowledge of languages together with economic and scientific studies is a necessary combination in order to be able to start a business today. University education then opens your mind to new stimulus and to understand new possible development opportunities».
Do you think that schools and universities are far from the working reality?
«They are distant but they are getting closer; the way is really long but we are starting to understand how they are complementary. We should adopt the German method, which allows for a right balance between school and workplaces. Many companies, even in the Upper Tiber Valley, aren’t able to find the right profiles to meet their needs, so a good synergy between the two worlds would result in lower unemployment; and also teacher’s mentality should be a little bit revolutionized».
You have spent a period of time in England: did that influence your mentality?
«My time there was really short and it was many years ago, but since I was a girl, I have always travelled a lot and this has notably affected my mentality which I believe under certain aspects is very open. I am a sponge, I gather what I see and I store it in my mind; I am a person who always needs new stimulus and new challenges ».
What can we learn from foreign countries?
«We have to learn to be less beaurocratical and more functional, to take away useless and costly wagons, to spend public money better, investing them in infrastructures, which are still lacking in many parts of Italy, to have a more adequate taxation in order to prevent many entreprenuers from going abroad, losing occupation and related Italian industries».
And what, instead, can we teach?
«We can teach our model of small-medium sized companies which is unique in the world, our capacity to resolve problems because every day we fight against various inefficiencies, our mental flexibility, the taste for beauty and refined things: we live in a country which is an open-air museum, with an incredible climate and various unique panoramas… The more we travel, the more we realize that Italy is really the “Belpaese” (beautiful country), it needs to be appreciated more and it deserves much better! ».
At the end of the 90’s you began in Umbraplast: what impact did it have on you?
«At the beginning it was not idyllic, it was all a bit tight and there were different problems to solve… We made some changes, in companies nothing is static or stable, everything changes and in a short amount of time you have to be ready to change route».
Now you are leading this solid and innovative company, but what are the difficulties that you have to face every day?
«There isn’t a day without something that needs to be solved; normal difficulties, typical of manufacturing companies, which are part of the entrepreneurial activities which are easier to solve and the external difficulties due to the waste of time caused by beaurocracy. These are the most complex, because they don’t depend on you.. ».
Have you ever suffered any rude behaviour just for the fact that you are a woman?
«Yes, I have put up with some rudeness, initially you need to waste some time to convince your interlocutor that you have “some mental capacity” and win their trust… Now all of this has gotten better, even though in certain countries, they still prefer to do business with men».
What do italian companies need, and in particular those in the Tiber River Valley, to be really competitive and grow?
«Sadly, nobody has the recipe, not even me! It is a mix of entrepreneurial and political strengths, first of all however, we need a stable economic and monetary system and the same norms in the various member states. At the moment, we don’t have much in common… The entrepreneurs from the Upper Tiber River Valley are particularly dynamic and transversal; by nature we don’t complain much and we are not used to asking but rather doing. We do however, need to have more infrastructures and better connections, both road-wise and high speed trains».
Brunello Cucinelli has recently said that he would like to create a project for the area of the trasimeno lake, which would last for the next 50 -100 years: he believes it could also be done in the Upper Tiber River Valley.
«Having said that, Brunello is a genius and we have a lot to learn from him, maybe we could study some synergies with the area of the lake, too, since going through Niccone, we are really close; I’m convinced that the Tiber Valley has to be given more value, studying art itineraries in common with the Tuscan areas; the regional borders now have to be unified for common purposes and we cannot have “condominium politics” ».
If yes, how?
«In my opinion, tourists have to be enticed with some appealing proposals. We are lucky to live in a land bordering those who have seen Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, and Luca Pacioli be born. Raffello moved to Città di Castello for a few years and then we have Alberto Burri. We need to study excellent marketing strategies towards foreign markets as well, to make our territory shine and to create a new Renaissance: organize events and open museums, castles, palaces and villas on every working and non-working day; use economical resources because this is an investment, not a cost».
Mom and enterprenuer; how do you reconcile the two things?
«I try to do my best to reconcile the two things, but it isn’t easy: I believe that for mothers who work, everything is more difficult, especially during the first years of life because everything is on their shoulders; women have a strength that sometimes they are not even aware of themselves. They are extra-ordinary! ».
How do you like to spend your free time?
«Free time? Sadly, now, I don’t have much of it, and I dedicate all my time off-work to my daughter who is just a little over two years old, and in any case, it is an immense joy to stay with her».
The last trip you have taken…
«Among the last non-working trips, I remember the one with the baby in Lisbon: it was her first time on an airplane, she still couldn’t work right and she chatted the whole time!!».
…and what would you like to do at all costs?
«I would like to go to Iran».
Could you tell me a person that has really impressed you in 2015?
«Francesco Bigotti, Mayor of Civita di Bagnoregio, the “city that dies”. Thanks to his strong will, seeing that he has to fight against the continuous avalanches and it inhabited by few people, Civita has become known in the news and to the media welcoming about 640000 tourists during this year, (more than the Reggia di Caserta)… well, I think that he has done an excellent job! ».