A chat with Autogrill's CEO

CEOGianmario Tondato Da Ruos in an interview with Prof. Giorgio Brunetti, Professor Emeritus of Business Strategy and Policy at the Bocconi University of Milan.

The heavy financial crisis that hit the world and the continuously changing social context have led to a re-thinking of the concept of doing business. People are becoming increasingly aware that business and society must be considered together. Where does Autogrill fit into all this?
Our approach is prompt action leading to facts and then turning those facts into methodical practices. Such an approach cannot be the responsibility of just one company function: the entire company is involved and all the stakeholders are committed to sharing it and putting it into practice. I believe that it is highly important to start from the new investment projects, because these can bring about significant benefits for both society and the environment.

May we say that the Group is changing its underlying objective from value creation to shared value creation, as indicated by Michael Porter? How is this bridge built in Autogrill, from corporate value creation to social progress?
First of all we must create the necessary conditions so that this bridge may develop as a Group practice. We would like to be “the rest stop people”, providing services to people in transit, qualified services to improve travellers’ well-being and their use of time. A stop to recover one’s strength and regain energy before continuing on. The actions that we have implemented and that we are currently putting into practice fall within the concept of “value proposal for consumers”, that is, a proposal that meets a need combining the needs of society and the environment.
To us, it is important that consumer expectations and wishes are correctly interpreted by Autogrill people when delivering the service, intended as customer care, making a consumer perceive that s/he is being treated as a unique person and every action is specifically targeted to satisfy his/her specific needs.

In the Food & Beverage and Travel Retail sectors personnel certainly makes the difference along with the partners with which the Group works. You’re operating the world over and you’re currently facing the challenges of globalization. What guidelinesare you implementing inorder to ensure proper laborconditions, which are keyto providing good customerservice?
People represent a key component in the strategy targeting sustainability. What we offer is a service rendered by people to other people, a service that needs to take the global context into account, as well as the different cultures with which we come into contact. For this reason, I believe it is of the essence to have company values oriented towards the respect of the people and of the environment. If we want to deliver different services in line with the culture of the country in which we operate – and still reflect the Company’s identity – we need to have strong shared values, or better, we need to rely on fundamental values. If we want sustainability to be considered not merely as a minor episode or a passing trend, we need to define it and share it as a company value.
Only then, when these values have been explained and shared with all the stakeholders, regardless of cultural differences, will they become values that truly orient behavior.

The actions that we have implemented and that we are currently putting into practice fall within the concept of “value proposal for consumers”, that is, a proposal that meets a need combining the needs of society and the environment.

The social and environmental dimension refers to several other aspects of your strategy. To pursue a “shared value”, the value chain is a key factor, meaning the setof activities that have an impact concurrently on both competitive edge and the environment. What do you think?
We have invested in training and technology, but this is just the beginning of our journey. Many people think that, in this type of business, technology has a strong impact on the organization. However, this content will llow us to build a “value proposal” for consumers.
Technology will enable us to increase the time customers spend at Autogrill and build a personalized relationship by offering additional reasons to customers to stay even longer in Autogrill points of sale, looking beyond, thinking of the future and, therefore, not only concentrating on sales trends, but also on increasing customer contact points. With reference to the environment, the truly critical resource – after oil – is water. What happens today? Approximately 80% of the potable water consumed in the performance of our activities is used in the toilets of our points of sale. For this reason we are gradually introducing waterless technology. This represents a key decision for the future.

You specifically focused on the “value proposal” offered to customers. Do the proposals that you intend to offer in the upcoming future also fall into this category, meaning,for instance, the offer envisaged for the new emerging markets?
It is crucial to first understand in what environment, country and culture we are operating, so that the commercial offer is in line with the geographical area of reference. This specifically means that we need to know the people who work with us, to whom we need to ensure a safe environment and fair working conditions.

The truly critical resource after oil is water. Approximately 80% of the potable water consumed in the performance of our activities is used in the toilets of our points of sale. For this reason we are gradually introducing waterless technology

You are currently shifting from a design-experimental phase towards a strategic orientation that favors consolidation.
What are the next steps that the Autogrill Group intends to implement?
We have identified strategic lines aiming at improvement. These include diversity within the organization, with particular emphasis on gender diversity, so as to reflect our society.
The same holds also for the promotion of cultural diversity.
In the future we shall increasingly facilitate contacts among our employees and consumers in a global and multi-ethnic context.