Chasing the Puck

An ice hockey lover’s professional journey across the globe

Ferrari Japan’s Managing Director Reno De Paoli has carried his love for ice hockey from his hometown of Penticton in British Columbia, Canada, across the globe to Tokyo.

“I learned to skate when I was about three years old,” he said. “It was the typical small town story, where ice hockey is one of the main things everyone does.”

With its roots in Italy, De Paoli’s immediate family comprises an Italian mother and a second-generation Canadian Italian father. This mix of cultural backgrounds is a force that has supported his business abilities, De Paoli believes.

“I think this has really helped me with the business culture at Ferrari in Japan,” he said. “From the Canadian side, it’s this steady calmness that I have been able to leverage towards a more pragmatic approach with the business challenges here, while understanding how to navigate with the emotional side of being an Italian company.”

De Paoli pursued a bachelor’s degree in commerce at the University of British Columbia, taking an exchange year to study at the University of Arizona. He was then chosen to take part in the AIESEC program, a global platform for young people to explore and develop their leadership potential. He chose to do his internship in Warsaw, Poland.

Just because we are in a smaller market, it doesn’t mean our products or services can’t penetrate other markets abroad

“I wanted to go somewhere completely new and one consideration was that I wanted to play ice hockey,” he laughed.

This led to him travelling in Europe and, while working at L’Oreal in London, he was approached for a role at Ferrari. With his Italian background and childhood love of Formula 1, this was the perfect fit. De Paoli was soon tasked with developing the Middle East and Africa markets out of their Dubai office, before he moved to Shanghai, China and, eventually, Tokyo.

Moving from city to city, De Paoli noted the differences with the small town in which he had been brought up, and the Canadian mindset.

“Most of us Canadians grew up in small towns and communities. Major scale commerce wasn’t really part of our fabric, and neither were luxury goods,” he explained. “Maybe our ambitions in setting up local businesses were met with too much modesty, and we hesitated to aggressively expand and capture markets outside of Canada. It’s a competitive world out there, and that’s an adjustment. Not to mention that the politics of corporate culture in the rest of the world is quite opposite to the Canadian spirit!”

However, he said this mindset is beginning to change. “More people are realizing that, just because we are in a smaller market, it doesn’t mean our products or services can’t penetrate other markets abroad.”

De Paoli’s main objective in coming to Japan was the mammoth task of restructuring Ferrari Japan, with the aim of creating a more streamlined and dynamic team. “When I came here, it felt like it was a very domestic team in terms of the profile of the people and the working style.

“The layers of communication in Japan are extremely challenging to deal with. Getting to the heart of an issue takes time, in order to understand why there is a reaction to something. That, in itself, has been challenging.”

The importance of maintaining the Ferrari brand image was at the forefront of De Paoli’s mind when he had to make difficult decisions to strengthen the team, dealing with each team member himself without the aid of a local human resources department.

“We need people to demonstrate and emulate the brand, and I wasn’t fully satisfied about that feeling when I arrived here,” he said.

De Paoli also restructured their Ferrari Financial Services company by going into partnership with a local financial services firm, enabling the company to reduce its operational risk in a highly regulated industry, while maintaining the brand name and high levels of customer service. “When you set up a successful company only to restructure it soon after, the effect on the Japanese psyche . . . it was just unheard of. This kind of change management in Japanese culture is extremely difficult.”

The luxury automotive sector is refocusing on Japan, meaning increased competition. De Paoli’s next task, while also managing the South Korean market, will be to promote the brand to younger customers.

In the meantime, De Paoli continues to play hockey to balance the stresses of work.

“I was always a hockey player — Warsaw, Amsterdam, London, Dubai, Shanghai — it’s that touch of home for me.”

Photo: Luel Magazine

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