Galilei Circle of Friends - Interview with Albert Antonini Mangia

Galilei Circle of Friends – Interview with Albert Antonini Mangia

Our guest today is Albert Antonini Mangia, Marketing Director for Alibaba Group in Southern Europe and professor in International Business and Ecommerce Strategy at the Carlo Bo University. Prior to joining Alibaba Group, he was responsible for innovation in the digital area of Mediaset. He collaborates with the SDA Bocconi, IULM, the University of Roma Tre, University of Bari and LUM University, teaching courses on digital marketing, ecommerce, and digital transformation. His profile is completed by his experience as an officer in the Italian Navy and as a product manager for Jumpy, the startup of the Fininvest group.

Enjoy his successful story in our column “Galilei Circle of Friends”!

INTRODUCTION – Personal Relationship with China

How did your experience with China begin? Was it a random encounter, related to your work, or motivated by your personal interest?

My first time in China was in 2004 when I had a stopover at Beijing airport for an AirChina flight to Bangkok. I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Forbidden City. I returned in 2008 for a 10-day trip during which I visited Beijing, Hong Kong and Canton. I joined my brother-in-law on a business trip, even though I predominantly explored China as a tourist.

How has your relationship with China evolved over time? Have you had the opportunity to visit the “Middle Kingdom”? If so, in which parts of the country in particular?

Since 2016, having joined Alibaba as the Director of Marketing for Southern Europe to establish the Italian office of the multinational, I have had to travel more frequently to China. Before the pandemic, I used to travel to China for work around 5 times a year, typically for periods ranging from 10 days to two weeks. The main destination was our headquarters in Hangzhou, but for work purposes, I also had the opportunity to visit Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. As we all know, after the Covid pandemic, business travels have become less frequent.

What do you like about China? 

I admire China’s extensive and diverse cultural heritage, which spans thousands of years, and I find its history absolutely fascinating. I observe some similarities between Chinese people and Italians in various aspects, more than with other Western countries. Additionally, I take great pleasure in exploring the wide array of regional dishes in Chinese cuisine, ranging from the spicy delights of Sichuan cuisine to the subtle and intricate flavors of Cantonese dishes. The exploration of Chinese food has been a truly delightful experience for me.

BUSINESS – Experience as a Manager at Alibaba

How has China changed in recent years from a business perspective in your specific industry? What are the differences that have struck you the most, both positively and negatively?

China is at the forefront in the digital realm and has nothing to envy in terms of innovation to Silicon Valley. The Chinese digital ecosystem has enabled local entities to excel in areas such as social media, online and offline payments, e-commerce, search engines, and artificial intelligence. Furthermore, there are now over one billion actively connected individuals in China (one-fifth of the global online population), providing an unparalleled audience for those operating in this domain.

Tell us about your experience at Alibaba. What is your role, and what are the main results you have achieved over the years?

As the Southern Europe Marketing Manager for Alibaba, I had the opportunity to meet with over 10,000 exporting companies to whom we presented the opportunity to sell their products in China and globally through our online platforms. Currently, there are 500 Italian companies on our Tmall and Tmall Global platforms in China and several thousand companies globally sell they products wholesale through our marketplace

What has the experience in a large Chinese company like Alibaba taught you? What challenges have youencountered in interacting with Chinese colleagues and managers?

Interacting with Chinese colleague as manager for Alibaba’s foreign office in China has posed challenges due to cultural differences. The distinct communication style, hierarchical structures, and centralized decision-making in Chinese workplaces contrast with the more informal Italian culture. Adapting to these differences and understanding a large Chinese company like Alibaba has been essential. Other than day by day activities my role involves bridging gaps, facilitating effective communication and fostering collaboration between Italian and Chinese perspectives, contributing to the success of our initiatives locally. I still have much to learn, but hopefully every experience is an opportunity for growth and development.

What projects are you focusing on, and what are your future goals?

Since March, Alibaba has been undergoing the most significant change in the 24 years of its history. This major transformation in the new organizational structure also has significant impacts globally. It is crucial to understand how local marketing can contribute to furthering the understanding of the Alibaba Group among local businesses and how to leverage the new organizational structure for the benefit of online exporting companies.

What has been the impact of the pandemic on your managerial experience? What are the major challenges, but also the lessons you have learned?

Many changes have unfolded in the management landscape due to the pandemic, and we are still striving to find a balance. On one hand, the fact that everyone (even those less digitally literate) can now engage in video calls instead of business trips is an exceptional achievement. However, we must not forget that human connection undeniably aids in business. In my humble opinion, it’s essential to return, at least partially, to office interactions and to resume some business trips when beneficial for work. It is up to each company, along with its management, to find the best solution aligned with its goals and the industry in which it operates.

How important is the role of marketing for your company? And how useful have your previous experiences been in your work at Alibaba?

I have been working in the digital sector since 2000, closely following its evolution and gaining excellent knowledge and passion for digital marketing and e-commerce. Before joining the Alibaba Group, I served as the Head of Innovation in the digital area of Mediaset. Starting in 2005, I held various roles within the Mediaset Group, initially as the manager of tele-voting services and later overseeing the launch of the group’s first apps (TGCOM24 and Sport Mediaset). I also managed digital marketing activities for the promotion and communication of all websites and mobile applications within the group. Additionally, I collaborate with SDA Bocconi, IULM, University of Roma Tre and other universities and business schools, conducting courses on digital marketing, e-commerce and digital transformation.


Tell us about your latest book – Digital Marketing & E-commerce. What is the goal of this publication, and who is it intended for? What are the central themes of the book, and why is it interesting and useful to read?

In February 2023, the publishing house Hoepli released my book titled “Digital Marketing & Ecommerce.” The book is designed for top-level individuals in small and medium-sized enterprises (owners, executives, managers) aiming to digitize and sell online. It is also targeted at marketing professionals and students beginning their digital journey, seeking to enhance their skills. The book provides an overview of essential digital activities for those entering the online realm, offering a comprehensive view of actions necessary to operate in this field. Topics range from e-commerce websites and presence on online marketplaces to promoting one’s visibility on Google, display advertising, email marketing and indispensable aspects like social media, influencers and digital public relations for those operating on the internet. For each topic covered, the book starts with fundamental knowledge, allowing the reader to delve into theory within the working environment, preparing them to tackle challenges and identify opportunities in personal and business operations.

Interview by Marco Bonaglia 

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