Magazine

Italy--Seen through a Glass Darkly


While in many ways correct, your report on "Italy" (European Edition Cover Story, May 28) was deprived of full credibility by a few cliches (e.g., state research and development spending is low, therefore innovation is low); a bias in business references (such as "Olivetti...is a mere holding company for Telecom Italia" or "Fiat...is now virtually a unit of General Motors Corp."); and some coarse exaggerations (such as "Italy has long operated with one foot outside the realm of a normal democracy").

The melodramatic, hopeless tone of the article was, of course, a perfect fit, as we Italians are adept at self-deprecation. But some of the high notes, such as "graduates with top...scientific skills are scarce" attest to a lack of sophistication in your sample. I found the high C from the chest to be the findings you attribute to Lausanne's IMD, which reportedly ranked the Italian education system 45th out of 49 because it does not meet "the needs of a competitive economy."

My xenomania and hunger for self-scourging were almost satisfied--but then unfortunately you made it clear that, in your view, a superior education system is one that teaches how to use a computer! I can confirm that being "a network manager" or a Web master are not to be considered top-level qualifications in Italy: They can be obtained by any BS or equivalent degree holder after a successful part-time, one-year corporate course. Cisco, IBM, and Microsoft, to name a few, offer excellent ones.

Paolo Magrassi

Casteggio, Italy

Your journalists speak about Italian entrepreneurs as if they were angels operating in an hostile environment. As you state in "Italians want rules they can follow" (Editorials, May 28, European Edition), it usually is not enough to have a good idea in Italy to succeed. More likely you need to know the right people. Some Italian entrepreneurs use their political connections to avoid taxes and benefit personally, instead of investing in research and training to make their companies more profitable. Perhaps this year it was the simple citizens who did their jobs every day--notwithstanding their arrogant employers and politicians--who really supported the nation.

Generalizations never are the right way to understand the real world. Maybe a lot of politicians and entrepreneurs attempted to do their jobs in the best way they could, but that doesn't really explain the Italian condition. Liberalization in Italy's telecom market is, among European Union countries, perhaps second only to Britain. Would you suggest that we liberalize our markets like the electricity deregulation in California? I think your piece was too ideological in equating entrepreneurs and free market with "good" and workers and regulated markets with "bad."

Roberto Bernetti

Ancona, Italy While many countries and people in Asia will object to the U.S. strategy, more will welcome it as a mechanism to counterbalance China's threat ("Asia: The new U.S. Strategy," Asian Edition Cover Story, May 28). The more successful China becomes through economic growth, the more dangerous it will become, because it will invest more money into military buildup than in improving its people's standard of living and helping other countries. Because of China's recent economic boom, most people in the world forget about its political system. Let's stop praising the surviving communist monster and concentrate more on helping China become a real democratic and free country.

Yea Shin Lin

Taipei

Finally India is getting its due in U.S. print media (though not on TV). Your recent article rightly asserts the importance of Indo-U.S. alliance to counter China's influence in Southeast Asia. [India is not] a mere geographical expression, a theme park of spirituality, an artificially created nation, a sum of contradictions, a continent of Circe, an area of darkness, a land of wounded civilization, and a nation of snake charmers and fakirs. Both the U.S. and India need to work afresh on a new alliance for political stability in the world.

Anil Shrivastava

Rochester, Mich. "Halfway there?" (Asian Business, May 28) is largely based on an interview with John Doherty, a former employee of Charoen Pokphand Group (TelecomAsia), who resigned with grievances. Although we requested an opportunity to respond to the issues raised, BusinessWeek did not return the courtesy.

While the article says that CP has moved in the right direction, it assumes to have knowledge about Chairman Dhanin Chearavanont's "modus operandi" without elaborating on how this was arrived at. It is equally bewildering to note your concern about the downside potential for some of CP's new ventures in China such as fast foods, Super Brand Mall project, and a B2B platform by saying they are outside CP's "core competency" at the same time noting CP's strength has traditionally been in food and trading for the past 80 years.

Finally, saying that Chairman Dhanin takes "little input" from staff is inaccurate. The chairman is dependent on several top professional advisers and executives, a fact your writer must have overlooked while covering the story.

Pornswi Luphaiboon

Office of Public Relations

Charoen Pokphand Group

Bangkok

Editor's note: The CP story was based on interviews and discussions with more than two dozen sources, including several CP employees whose names were suggested to us. BusinessWeek specifically discussed the question of Telecom Asia with CP Chairman Dhanin Chearavanont during a lengthy follow-up interview.


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