Galilei Circle of Friends – Interview with Alessia Pastori
Lawyer and China & CIS Desk leader of EY Tax&Law area in Italy since March 2018, a woman, mother and business lawyer, Alessia Pastori leads a multicultural and multidisciplinary team of professionals to ensure her clients a wide range of integrated, always innovative and highly professional services. She is specialized in M&A, corporate, and commercial law with significant experience in international law and cross-border transactions with a focus on China and CIS countries. What follows is the interview we had with her this week for our column “Galilei Circle of Friends”.
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH CHINA
How did your experience with China begin? Was it by chance, for business or simply by pleasure?
My meeting with China was unplanned and totally random, but it was love at first sight with the Country. I lived in Beijing for a few years from 2002, as my first husband was a diplomatic official assigned to the Italian Embassy on his first mission. I met my ex-husband at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where I worked for a few years dealing with mixed couples and child abduction. Then I moved to Beijing. I had read Anna San Felice’s book which collects 16 stories of diplomats’ wives in inconvenient locations (Beijing was also considered an inconvenient location in those years) demolishing every cliché about diplomats’ wives.
The book is called “Nella buona e nella cattiva sorte”. Of the author, it is stated, “she practiced law in the ‘intervals’ between locations of her husband’s foreign destinations.”
For me, the intervals were not enough, and in 2006 I moved back to Milan
How has your relationship with China evolved over time? Did you have the opportunity to deepen the study of your culture and visit the country?
After I permanently went back to Milan in 2006, I kept going to China every year, mostly to Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, but also Shenzhen. I caught all the transformations, the contradictions, the improvements, the desire for openness. And finally the closure of these last three years.
BUSINESS – The experience at the China Desk EY Italy
Tell us about your experience at the EY Italy China Desk. What is your role and what are the main results you have achieved over the years?
I joined EY in 2018 with a team of Chinese lawyers and professionals believing that legal expertise alone, while essential to consolidate a business relationship or investment, was not enough to succeed in the market.
This applies both to Italian companies interested in the Chinese market and to Chinese companies with investment or green field projects in Italy. EY’s approach to the market is an integrated one, very close to business. Only in this way is it possible to guide companies in a complex market like the Chinese one and vice versa Chinese companies in Italy.
December 2022 marked the 17th edition of the China Awards, the awards that Italy China Council Foundation – ICCF and Class Editori have been giving since 2005 to companies and personalities that have best seized the opportunities offered by the interchange between Italy and China.
EY China Desk received the Silk Road Award, given to Italian companies that have particularly distinguished themselves for the long and signiﬁcant path of growth and development over the years with respect to the Chinese market.
The recognition of this award represents the credibility of the integrated approach in dealing with the Chinese market.
What are the projects you are focusing on and your future goals?
The goal is to reestablish genuine relationships of real business by focusing on the concrete possibilities of synergy between the two countries. With an extensive presence in China, we want to properly monitor the situation and changes in the country to facilitate the emergence of business collaborations.
During the last two years, we kept studying and we worked hard to address the challenges and complexities of the moment without being affected by the often negative and misleading news about the country. This attitude drew us to important achievements and we now look to the future with confidence and ambition.
Alessia and her team in Milano during a business lunch
How has the pandemic affected your business and what strategies have you implemented to respond to the crisis?
China closed its borders for three years because of the pandemic.
So much has changed, but we took advantage of this period to continue to study the market and work hard to address the challenges and complexities of the moment and be ready once the country was reopened.
We formed new alliances to meet the needs of clients unable to travel to China, we equipped ourselves with technology and talent to expand the digital and human skill set.
Now that that moment has arrived, we look forward to traveling again, meeting colleagues and clients in person and shaking their hands.
Indeed, despite the challenging times, we have observed constant interest in such a promising market as the Chinese one. We are ready to start again alongside our clients
How did you manage a Sino-Italian team from a managerial point of view?
I am a lawyer and China & CIS Desk leader of EY Tax&Law area in Italy since March 2018, a woman, mother and business lawyer, I lead a multicultural and multidisciplinary team of professionals to ensure our clients a wide range of integrated, always innovative and highly professional services.
I am specialized in M&A, corporate, and commercial law with significant experience in international law and cross-border transactions with a focus on China and CIS countries.
Empathic and emotionally intelligent leader, building and leading best-in-class people teams across the international space, strategic planning, change management and transformation, Diversity and Inclusion lead. I am proud to represent the EY Cultural D&I Network “Minds from the Globe” as partner sponsor with the ambition to create a diverse work environment that best reflects our multicultural society through a space for listening and sharing where each person’s background provides an opportunity for discussion and growth.
Through my experience after 15 years in Italian top tier Law Firms and the periods spent in China and abroad, I have come to understand how diversity in business is a strength, and cross-cultural training is a key to translating life experience into effective and welcoming behavior within the organization. This is especially true for a business like EY, which operates in a global and multicultural context, where we work with colleagues, companies and clients worldwide.
What are the main challenges you have encountered in your experience as a successful manager? What are the positive surprises?
My path has always been positive, of confrontation, deepening, personal and professional enrichment.
I am proud to lead a resilient group of people who have adapted to a new reality in Italy-China relations, who started 2018 with different premises and – after the first setback due to the pandemic – have rolled up their sleeves to serve their clients under uncertainty. We forged new alliances to meet the needs of customers unable to travel to China, we equipped ourselves with technology and talent to expand the digital and human skill set.
Alessia and one of her Chinese colleagues
OPPORTUNITIES – Why do bilateral collaboration and investments between China and Italy still make sense?
Between January and August 2022, Chinese non-financial investment in Italy increased by about $70 million, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, and interchange by an additional 13 percent, after the record level reached in 2021, two significant figures considering the difficulties of the international environment.
On the other hand, exports seem to have recovered to pre-COVID-19 levels. Italian luxury in China, in particular, seems to have caught up with pre-pandemic sales volume.
China’s market is too large to be ignored by large Italian companies.
The future of economic relations between Italy and China depends on several factors, some internal to the two countries, others external, often interdependent. Beijing seems to be reacting strategically with strength to containment policies on the one hand through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)-which aims to consolidate economic relations, but not only, with as many countries as possible-and, on the other hand, with internal policies such as the Made in China 2025 program, which aims to make China more autonomous and globally competitive in terms of technologies in advanced sectors, and more focused on strengthening the domestic market.
Why does it still make sense to focus on the Chinese market for an Italian company and what are the opportunities?
China is a multifaceted country, a union of age-old tradition and accelerated modernity.
To understand its dynamics and direction, one must be able to unite those with knowledge, experience or connections with those who can usefully benefit from them. This country cannot be tackled stand alone.
Let’s get people with specific expertise around the table. With the goal of creating shared value, while addressing a vertical issue such as the opportunities for Made in Italy in China, we always try to share our experiences and knowledge with clients, colleagues and all those who deal with China to provide the useful tools to understand the changes in this country and overcome stereotypes and clichés.
From the opposite point of view, in your opinion why should Chinese companies instead continue to focus on the Italian market?
On the topic of why investors have to come, I would simply say that Italy has many investment opportunities for everyone and with particular reference to China, Chinese investment in our companies is also a facilitator for entry into the Chinese market
What role can the city of Milan play in this sense?
Milan is our flagship and it is the show case of our excellences (see furniture fair and fashion week). From Milano Chinese visitors can then travel around Italy and possibly invests in other excellences of out country.
How has China changed from your early years from a business point of view? What are the differences that have most impressed you positively and negatively in recent years?
China has always been subject to criticism and prejudice. Over the years, however, it has been able to evolve very quickly, adapt to international expectations and become a global power.
For example, what has often held back Italian companies from entering a complex market like China is the commonplace fear of having their intellectual property violated. In reality, over the past decade China has been steadily aligning itself with European standards by offering a significant and effective level of protection for owners of trademarks, patents.
Financially speaking, one can only envy the value that is placed on Trademark and Patent filings in China’s territory: in 2021 alone, $44 billion was disbursed by banks to Chinese companies against the establishment of pledges and guarantees on registered securities.
Commonplaces, which by the way do not only affect China, but any foreign country, should not intimidate or discourage. Foreign business is vital to growth!
Interview by Marco Bonaglia