I knew a bit about Attenzi. I knew it was an international success. I knew my friend Vincenzo was a fan. When he had effectively forced me to take a tour of his new restaurant kitchen a couple of years back I noted that it was predominantly Attenzi equipment, and he’d put the same stuff into all three of his restaurants. I knew they also made kit for the home kitchen although I’d never bought any.

When I first asked Attenzi’s chairman, William Strait, what he thought was wrong with the company, he replied cryptically that he was mainly bugged by the fact that nothing seemed to be wrong, but then what better time to fix it? He had energy about him, in the American rather than European way.

Marcus Wallinger, the Austrian COO, had more useful insight. Attenzi is a great 1990s company he said, still growing profitably under the head of steam it achieved back then. But the world is moving on fast and, despite the change of ownership in 2005 when private equity firm Lorenz Capital bought out the family trust, despite new initiatives aplenty, Attenzi seemed to have an inertia. It didn’t seem prepared to confront new market realities let alone capitalize on them.

Vincenzo simply considers Attenzi equipment to be good. It’s reliable. It’s easy to work with. It’s good value for money in the long run. He also indicated, when I told him I’d been offered the job and had taken it, that he would phone me daily to share his thoughts and expects nothing short of personal service from the CEO himself. Me. I immediately categorized his comment as the innate service obsession of a successful restaurateur. It was only later that I attributed Vincenzo the status of management guru.

Marcus hadn’t put himself forward for the job. “Tell me the problem and I’ll fix it, but I don’t know what the problem is. That doesn’t make for a great CEO!”

Ironically, William said I got it because I hadn’t pretended to know either – again, perhaps not the most useful morsel of information.

The feedback from the partners at Lorenz Capital and their recruitment specialist gave me a bit more to work with; over and above the qualification criteria, I had, apparently, shown attractive traits of constructed empathy. I say apparently because I wasn’t at all familiar with the term. I now know they use the term to describe the ability and inclination to make a mental map of social groups and relationships that then informs the way you determine the best way forward – a left-brained sort of empathy if you like, and closely related to treating others as you would have them treat you.

You learn something every day.

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