Established in 1983, the Italian-South African Chamber of Trade and Industries has always been a meeting place of great Italian business minds. When the Chamber first began however it was only a few CEO’s of Italian companies discussing how to face the difficult and rapidly changing political and economic conditions of South Africa. Today however the Chamber is home to 200 members, serves a diverse range of companies and sectors. Ever since the beginning though, with a rich history of challenges and triumphs, the Chamber has constantly improved and kept up with the times to get to where it is today.
Despite some initial successes, the early years were difficult in the context of a very challenging and unpredictable economic and political landscape in South Africa. The first turning point was reached in the latter part of 1986 when Silverio Boccetti, CEO of Telsaf-Telettra took over from the first chairperson Paolo Tosi of Olivetti Africa, with a mandate to pursue a new philosophy and add a different edge to the Chamber. This new approach inspired future activities and was to give the Chamber a very high profile through a series of events involving important guest speakers, so as to put a shine on the public perception of the Chamber. What’s more, the Chamber was central to initiating the first steps towards establishing the “Made In Italy” brand in South Africa at an exhibition held at the Rand Easter Show in 1983. A pavilion was hired to put up a show of Italian products open to exhibitors from Italy and to local Italian importers or manufacturers.
After several years of steady progress, alongside South Africa’s historic transition to democracy, the second important turning point, was put into motion by two completely unrelated events: the recruitment of a new Secretary General and the election of a new Chairperson. The new Secretary General was Giancarlo Barsotti, retired CEO of Fiat South Africa and co-founder of security company Sandton Sentry. Soon after, the General Assembly voted Andrea Bollo to be the new Chairman. He was then re-elected for the next ten years, imprinting a vital legacy onto the institution. Under Bollo the Chamber’s reputation as the bridge for trade and investment between Italy and South Africa was firmly established. Then in 1999, the Chamber held the Business Excellence Awards for the first time. This annual event which recognises and celebrates outstanding business achievements within the Italian-South African business community has been replicated by other Italian Chambers around the world.
From 2000 to 2004 Aldo Castellari was elected chairman and was succeeded in 2004 by Giovanni Ravazzotti, founder of Italtile. His vision, energy and foresight saw the Chamber go from strength to strength. In 2007 a new Secretary General, Mariagrazia Biancospino, was appointed. Biancospino led the Chamber’s push towards becoming an organization which offers a bouquet of services including scouting, research and B2B matchmaking. From 2008 to 2010 Nicolina Di Santolo was appointed Chairperson, so becoming the first woman leading the Italian Chamber of Trade and Industries in its 27-year-old history. In 2010 Di Santolo was succeeded by Andrea Moz. He guided the Chamber through a time of positive change where trade missions from Italy were becoming popular and collaboration between both countries was increasing, especially due to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Moz was succeeded by Antonio Cimato of Efficient Engineering. Cimato brought forward successful strategies of the previous years, contributing to the expansion of services offered by the Chamber and saw the Chamber boast an increase of its members to 200. Trade missions in South Africa, networking, event organisation, servicing it’s members, facilitating the visits of South African delegates to Italy and market research are just a few of the services which Cimato as chairperson and the staff at the Chamber focused on. In March 2017 Cimato was succeeded by Italtile CEO, Sergio Galli who served at the head of the Chamber until March 2020 at which point Alitalia Area Manager Paolo Guidi took over as Chairperson of the organization. Guidi's tenure oversaw the most uncertain period of the Covid-19 pandemic which had a particularly heavy impact on the tourism sector. As a result of this impact, Alitalia underwent a restructuring that saw Guidi leaving South Africa in March of 2021. Today the Chamber is led by Virgilio Da Molo (President) who previously served on the board for four years (between 2016 and 2020) and Pamina Bohrer as Secretary General. They are overseeing the next era of the Chamber that will see the Chamber have as much of a presence in cyberspace as it does in the real world. However the innovation to create sector specific working groups and focus on growing the Chambers’ network of communication ultimately speak to the continuation of a lifelong vision of the Chamber to be a business hub for the Italian South African community and a bridge for business between Italy and South Africa.