The Way Ahead Interview - A conversation with Paolo Scaroni, Chief Executive Officer of Eni.
Mr. Scaroni, you are CEO of Eni, one of the largest integrated oil and gas companies, and previously you held the same position with Enel, a prominent actor in the European power market. You seem to like the energy sector, or is it the latter that will not let you go?
I am thrilled to be part of an industry that is playing an increasingly central role at all levels of our society, from the political arena—I think of the debates European policymakers have been engaged in during this past winter following the fluctuations in the supply of Russian gas—to the everyday life of each household, and I am proud to be leading one of the world’s key players of our industry. No, I am definitely not held hostage by the energy sector; quite the opposite in fact. I feel lucky and privileged.
Your career has been very diverse. As a fresh economics graduate, your first job was in the oil business. Later, you joined a consulting company. A high-technology material company followed. What do you carry with you of these early experiences and of those that followed, and how have they helped you shape your perspectives, ideas, and values?
I was 22 when I graduated in economics. My first job was with the Italian subsidiary of Chevron, as retail representative for 55 gas stations. The job proved to be an invaluable learning and training opportunity, encompassing some of the key elements of any business, irrespective of its nature: customer relations, procurement management, and, above all, the income statement. I still remember I had one per gas station, which was quite remarkable considering that we were at the beginning of the 1970s.
However, even if I was lucky enough to be quickly promoted to retail representative for all 3,000 of Chevron’s gas stations in Italy, I never stopped looking for new opportunities, and that is how I successfully applied for an MBA degree at Columbia Business School in New York City. I resigned from my job, sold my car, and with my savings I embarked on the new adventure. When I got back, I joined McKinsey as a consultant. Later, I sent my curriculum vitae to Saint Gobain Italy, whose existence I was aware of only because its headquarters were located in Milan just around the corner from my previous employer, Chevron. It proved to be a pivotal move in my career. So, while luck and chance may always play a part in one’s life, I guess the underlying message is: Do not sit still; be proactive, welcome challenges, and hunt for opportunities.