Italian innovator Giampaolo Bonaldi started up his own holiday homes business before his MBA at Sydney’s Australian Graduate School of Management.
Transforming a traditional accommodation service into a more personal, tailored experience, the ambitious entrepreneur gave his guests a real taste of Tuscany, Italy.
Giampaolo originally trained as an electrical engineer. Yet despite a passion for technology, the spirited entrepreneur preferred connecting with people over writing code or designing circuits.
Over the next 10 years, Giampaolo would thrive in a variety of people-focused roles in industries ranging from biomedicine to semiconductors, before moving on to start his own business.
Rather than settle for a life sipping red wine in the Tuscan countryside, Giampaolo grew wary of the need to stay in touch with the wider business world.
Determined not to be swept away by the unrelenting winds of technological change, the adventurous Italian re-located to Australia to study at b-school.
Since graduating in 2015, Giampaolo has pursued freelance innovation consulting, which he says puts him at the intersection of tech, creativity and business.
What are your career plans?
I thrive when given the chance to help organizations unlock their full potential and meet their customers’ needs.
For me, innovation is not about technology but about capturing human behavior.
Innovation agencies, with a strong component of brand strategy and service design, are my ideal space.
How do you explain your passion for design and innovation?
I’ve always had an inclination for design and a curiosity for new things. When I was six my mom stopped me from jumping off the balcony of our apartment wearing a parachute my friend and I had stitched together using shopping bags, tape and some string. It was the first prototype of the equipment we had designed to go to the moon!
What impact do you foresee that technology will have on our lives in the coming decades?
We are already cyborgs thanks to smartphones and wearables.
Most of today’s job will be automated in the next couple of decades. This generation is probably the last that will have to learn how to drive cars.
Education is likely to be longer than the shelf life of the knowledge, training and degree that’s gained. Education today is a lifelong marathon.
How did the idea for your holiday homes business come about?
I come from an area in Tuscany ideal for hospitality; it’s strategically positioned close to the sea and the mountains and not far from Pisa, Florence and the Chianti area.
My partner and I started listing a couple of properties on some international websites and it turned out that we were good at welcoming and hosting people.
We soon reached the point where we were working at capacity and, of course, we had to decide what to do next: to invest in more properties and scale the business or do something different.
How did you differentiate your business in the competitive Italian tourism sector?
Our guests were not interested in being tourists on a luxury holiday. They wanted a unique experience that they were happy to repeat and share with their friends.
They wanted to feel like Italians: to learn how to cook Italian food and how to source ingredients; to visit farmers producing traditional local food and sit at their table for a glass of wine and a bite of cheese; to run away from overcrowded beaches during August, at least for one day.
We made sure that happened.
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own business?
Ask yourself: what are you willing to struggle for? Life is not all roses and unicorns! It’s a mile-high climb to the top.
Everybody wants to make something great, but few are willing to suffer through 60-hour work weeks, repeated failures, loathsome paperwork and dramatic uncertainty.
But if you sense an invitation to a “true calling” — something you can’t not do — then follow your feeling, not your rational mind.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
The world was and is changing irreversibly. In a context of unprecedented levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, I needed to refresh my perspective on business.
I had the feeling that my educational background and my professional experience were no longer sufficient for a world of social media and big data.
Why did you choose to study at AGSM in particular?
The ranking, the quality of the program, the location and the small size of the cohort.
For me, life is about people, connections and relationships. The deeper they are, the more they add value to life. Something like that would have been impossible in a huge cohort in US.
How have you profited from your MBA experience?
The MBA is a journey: a full-time immersion in a deep learning experience, amplified by new international friends, talented professors and exposure to exciting challenges.
By placing my focus on innovation, strategic foresight and business design, I acquired the structured approach to innovation, which is necessary for my career shift.