Cristina Scocchia: Brewing Success and Championing Female Empowerment at illycaffè

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Interview: MK

In an exclusive interview with InTrieste, Cristina Scocchia, the CEO of illycaffè, shares her remarkable journey to the top of one of Italy’s most iconic companies. Despite the challenges faced by women in corporate leadership roles in Italy, Scocchia’s ascent highlights the possibility of breaking through the glass ceiling.

Scocchia reflects on the challenges she encountered, highlighting the stark gender disparity in corporate leadership in Italy, where only 3% of CEOs are women. Undeterred by these statistics, Scocchia credits her success to her tenure at Procter & Gamble, an organization she praises for its commitment to nurturing talent irrespective of gender, race, or ethnicity. This foundation provided her with invaluable managerial skills and paved the way for her subsequent leadership roles at L’Oréal Italy and Kiko before assuming the CEO position at illycaffè.

Throughout her career trajectory, Scocchia has maintained a steadfast belief in the universality of leadership qualities, emphasizing that effective leadership transcends gender stereotypes. She underscores the importance of character, experience, values, and principles in leadership, advocating for equal opportunities for all individuals to showcase their capabilities.

MK: How difficult was it to get to the top of such an important company as Illy?

Scocchia: It was difficult. I have to say, in Italy, it is still very challenging for women to make it to the top of the company. We only have 3% of female CEOs. And if we look outside of the corporate world, for example, at the hospitals, we have only 15% of women in charge, despite the vast majority of doctors being female. It is still challenging for women to break the glass ceiling in Italy. I think I had the chance to do it because I was working for more than 16 years at Procter & Gamble, a beautiful company that really values, invests in and grows talent regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. They gave me the opportunity to grow as a manager, and then when I came back to Italy after 13 years abroad, I returned as the head of L’Oréal Italy. This was the first step for me because once you make it to the top, you have other opportunities despite being a woman. After L’Oréal’s successful experience, I had a great experience at Kiko, and after that, for the past two years, I have been the CEO of illycaffè.

MK: How has your journey to the top been different and how can it empower other women to do the same?

Scocchia: I’ve always believed that female leadership is not different from male leadership. I don’t think that leadership is linked to gender. I like to think that leadership is based on your character, experience, your values, and principles. I’ve seen females who are very collaborative and empathetic, but I’ve also seen very assertive women. In the same way, I have met men who are very assertive but also men who are very open and collaborative. I think, in the end, leadership depends on you, on your character, not the gender you have. This is also the message that I would like to send out to your readers. At the end of the day, everyone deserves a chance to prove if they can add value, and this is what I would like for women to have. I’ve always thought that women have the same skills that men do. We just lack the opportunities to show them and to prove ourselves. Once we’re given a chance, no doubt, we can be as successful as men are. Not because we are bringing to the board of directors or the company sweetness, kindness; we may be kind or sweet, but this is not our goal. We bring value, exactly like a man does.

MK: Trieste is at the center of global attention thanks to big companies like illy. What message does the company convey?

Scocchia: We were born in Trieste 90 years ago. Since then, we have become a global company, and now we are present in over 140 countries all over the world. Italy is the first country, followed by the US, still very big and sizable. We have subsidiaries everywhere from Brazil to the US, from European countries all the way to China. We are a global company, but our heart and our roots are here in Trieste. This is the DNA of the company and it will remain so. The beauty of it is that we were able to put together our DNA and heritage with our future, and the company’s future is global; otherwise, you do not win in the long term. What we are trying to do is to nurture our DNA, our roots, and our heritage, all the while becoming more of a global company.

MK: Speaking of your heritage, you were born in a small town in Liguria and then moved to bustling Milan. How has your upbringing influenced the way you are right now?

Scocchia: I was born in a small town close to Sanremo and then came to Milan for the first time for university. I moved to Rome for three years to work at Procter & Gamble, and then I spent 13 years abroad and those years completely changed the way in which I think and behave now. Working with different cultures and with different people was an eye-opening experience for me, as a manager and as a human being. I felt that it was the most enriching experience of my life. When I came back to Milan in 2014, it was wonderful because I was coming back to my country; I loved to be back as I feel Italian. But I am an Italian who had the chance to live abroad to develop a global vision that impacted my way of thinking and living.

MK: What did you miss most about Italy when abroad? Coffee, perhaps?

Scocchia: No (laughs, -ed.). We had good coffee in Geneva. I wanted to come back to be able to help my country in moving forward in some fields that are important to me, one of which is female empowerment. When I succeeded in achieving my objective of becoming the CEO of illycaffè, I wanted to send out a message that if I made it, everyone can make it. I wanted, in some way, shape, or form, to become a role model for Italian women and girls.

Scocchia’s journey from a small Ligurian town to the upper echelons of corporate Italy symbolizes the transformative power of perseverance and a cosmopolitan mindset. As she continues to steer illycaffè towards new horizons, Scocchia remains steadfast in her dedication to serving as a role model for Italian women, inspiring them to pursue their aspirations unabashedly. In essence, Scocchia’s narrative encapsulates a compelling narrative of personal triumph intertwined with a broader commitment to societal progress, encapsulating the ethos of leadership rooted in integrity, inclusivity, and a steadfast belief in the potential of individuals to effect positive change.

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Maria Kochetkova
Editor-in-Chief of InTrieste, Maria writes about culture, politics and all things Trieste in-between capo-in-b and gelato breaks. Email her at editorial@intrieste.com

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