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   Vol. 18 No. 20
Thursday March 21, 2019

A Young Man Called Francesco

Francesco Parisi

Franceso Parisi I     Recently at a trade show a colleague came by to congratulate us on our having reached our 44th anniversary serving the global air cargo industry with our publications. We appreciate the kind gesture and accept with humility the good wishes of course, but as the first and only FIATA Fellow I have been given access and illumination of the greater world with all the wonderful people of FIATA, the global freight forwarder organization.
     Here, our friend Marco Sorgetti profiles a true pioneering family of transportation, Trieste-based Francesco Parisi.

     When Parisi went into business in 1807 Napoleon was alive and signed a peace treaty with Russia; Ludwig von Beethoven debuted his Symphony Number 4 and Robert Fulton launched his first steamboat on the Hudson River in New York.
     Today in 2019, the quiet and unassuming Francesco Parisi (third generation) is a constant force for good as former President of FIATA and active builder of global transportation.

     Francesco Stanislao Parisi is at the helm of a complex galaxy of companies owned by the historical Casa di Commercio Francesco Parisi (registered as Francesco Parisi Sas) which was established in Trieste on January 1st 1807.

Empire Of The World

     Those were the days of the Austro Hungarian Empire, the Emperor still looking back at his origins with Charlemagne and the Sacred Roman Empire (800 AD – 1806 AD). The Parisi were a silk trade family originally from the area of Rovereto, near the lake of Garda in Eastern Italy.      One of the enterprising Parisi brothers, Francesco landed in Trieste to open his trade in a period that Napoleon had contributed to making exciting, if we can use that word to describe it. The company he established with 30 thousand florins in Trieste survived Napoleon and thrived in the territories of the empire through the tumultuous times that followed the fall of Napoleon, the rise of new powers (Italy was unified by the Savoy in 1861) and the fall of the Austro Hungarian Empire in 1919, triggered by the unfavourable end of WWI in 1918.
      The company also survived WWII and the forced nationalizations that were imposed by the winners across Eastern Europe. Despite the considerable unrest of this century, the Parisi were however able to take advantage of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and expand their trade in Italy, Germany, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Israel, Egypt and more recently New York, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong and many other areas in the Far East.

Francesco Today

     Francesco, now 66, is not a man who boasts his company’s achievements and some may underestimate the level of his actual success. He is today the Chairman of a number of successful port-related activities in Trieste, he served long terms of office in Fedespedi of Milan and CLECAT in Brussels; as prominent member of the Italian freight forwarders’ federation, he was successfully nominated in FIATA’s Presidency in 2009. He became President of FIATA on 19th of October 2013 in Singapore. During his terms of office until 2015, FIATA went through one of the most complex transitions in its history and started a profound debate, which Francesco launched among its constituents, following the rejection of the proposal to move FIATA’s Head Office to Brussels in 2014. I am proud of having assisted Francesco in this intricate period of his life, but I doubt a man with this pedigree actually needs any further assistance other than provided by his own intuition.
Tomaso Parisi and Francesco Parisi      Let us go back one step, as we must also pay tribute to somebody who has been together with Francesco for the best part of his life and has given him two sons, who are now prominently employed in the family business: Tomaso and Matteo. The mother of the two young and enterprising Parisis is Marina Grimani, a lady who is one of a kind.
     Early in my employment in FIATA I was asked to organise my second Presidency meeting in Venice. Francesco, who was then Senior Vice President, understood that I was coming from rather far in trying to pull the event together. He generously offered to help, which meant a helping hand from the entire family, Marina, his wife, first in line. He unassumingly said “Marina is from Venice”: I had no idea what that actually meant.
     Anywhere in the world, preparing for the FIATA Presidency meeting is always a real job: there is content, study, research, deadlines and a great deal of logistics. With its completely original transportation system, Venice is very challenging from an organisational point of view, it manages to surprise even the most hardened traveller, but thanks to Francesco and Marina the city opened its wide wings to us like it would have never been possible otherwise.
     When I say “otherwise” I mean it. You may wish to know that Marina is indeed from Venice as Francesco said, her family having in fact contributed to the Most Serene Republic’s fortunes for several hundred years; she is one of the descendants of the Grimani family (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grimani_family) who gave the Most Serene Republic three of the Venetian Doges (Antonio Grimani in office 1521-1523), Marino Grimani (in office 1595 – 1606) and Pietro Grimani, in office 1741 – 1752), as well as a palace, amongst other treasures, which is now a museum.

Francesco Parisi, Turgut Erkeskin, Antonella Straulino, Marina Parisi and Hans Guenther Kersten

     Far from being improvisers, the Parisi know what needs to be done. This is how I ended up living as Marina’s and Francesco’s guest for a few days in a historical palace on the Canal Grande. It had happened that I made friends with Marina at the FIATA Congress in Dubai in 1999, when she introduced herself as Francesco’s wife, but at that time I sincerely ignored her very uncommon lineage. We were instantly attracted to each other as friends and that was sufficient: we did not know that eventually I would have become the director of FIATA by the time when her husband would ascend to the highest position in the organization. Life can be surprising indeed.
     Extracting a few words from an article which was published by the local newspaper “Il Piccolo”, we apprehend that “in the offices of Viale Miramare, time seems to take a pause for reflection. The open space layout, with large windows designed at the dawn of the twentieth century, remained the same [since then], and between an image taken in the thirties and a snapshot of today’s offices the only change in sight is made by computers taking the place of the office machines. The ancient furniture of the “Old Principal”, in a wing of the first floor, allows you to take a look at how things were a couple of centuries ago, when the Parisi wove a network of commercial transactions that from Trieste expanded around the world.”
     I can precisely relate to this feeling. Entering Francesco’s office in Trieste is both like going back in time and establishing connections with today’s and tomorrow’s trade, holding on to an unwritten bond which occupies these evocative spaces. In replying to the journalist who asked Francesco to reveal the secret that had allowed the Shipping House Franceso Parisi to “remain so organically compact from 1807 to today,” he said:
     “Well, that is for us the corporate culture which goes beyond personal choices, it is stronger than the will of the individual: even though my father had never done anything to push me to enter the family business, this is where I am now.”
     The article continues with a long and detailed historical account of the many successive generations which firmly held the steering wheel of the family enterprise. It starts as follows: “a young man called Francesco Parisi, 28 years old, arrived from Rovereto, where his father had long started a silk spinning and weaving business. It was an important factory, honoured, in 1765, by a visit of Emperor Joseph II.” After the death of the paterfamilias the three sons Girolamo, Giuseppe and Francesco were in the position of having to decide on their business. It was decided that Girolamo would remain in Rovereto, Giuseppe would conduct the business in Vienna, while Francesco would try his luck in Trieste.
     One generation after another the Parisi managed to stay ahead of epochal changes and thrive with new business, e.g. the rise of the steamship in the maritime industry kicked in the company as a speed machine and gave it new opportunities in all directions, not only in the direction where the wind was blowing.
     In Francesco’s historical archives there is a catalogue of several items of private and public correspondence, which reaches two full pages by merely listing the names of the Parisi having produced such correspondence and the years when this happened since 1807. My feeling is to consider this trove as a kind of private museum of trade and shipping across three centuries.
     There are not many of these vestiges anywhere else in the world, going back to a period prior to any of the laws and conventions governing our business: Parisi is one of the oldest logistics enterprises still in existence and it does hold treasures preserved under the same family ownership for 211 years.

Parisi Multimodal

     The extreme summary of what Parisi stands for today is a group of companies that employs 800 staff in thirteen countries embracing three continents and three main business areas: freight forwarding, marine agency and port and logistics infrastructure management. It is a lean management for a business that has learnt through the course of time how to make do with the bare essential in order to produce excellence.
     So my friendly advice to the readers who will attend the FIATA Executive Board Meeting next week in Zurich or the World Congress in Johannesburg later this year is to look for Matteo or Tomaso Parisi, or even Francesco. I am sure a conversation with any of them can be quite rewarding: even if it were not strictly connected to business, it could be a dive in the history and culture of logistics.
Marco Sorgetti

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