The ability to transfer knowledge and skills from one sector to another is a key entrepreneurial strength. Italian entrepreneur Serena Bonfanti has successfully applied the experiences she gained through a career in global development to support her family business. As a businesswoman used to managing complex projects she has helped Fratelli Bonfanti , which produces and sells fashion buttons, to expand and internationalise.
Implementing complex projects
After studying for an MA in peace keeping management and human rights, Serena landed a position at an international consulting company. As a project manager, she wrote tender proposals for EU and World Bank-funded development projects across the globe and followed up to ensure that these projects were correctly implemented. The job took her to the Balkans as well as other parts of the world.
“I loved the job and all the challenges that came with it,” she explains. “I really got to understand the economies of the countries I was working in, and saw that SMEs were the real engine to development.” After several years of working in this sector, Serena’s father asked if she would be interested in joining the family business. After much thought, Serena decided to take the plunge and apply her consulting experience to a new entrepreneurship adventure.
Achieving global reach
Founded by her grandfather Walter in 1945, Fratelli Bonfanti sells ‘Made in Italy’ high quality fashion buttons all over the world. The small, family-run company has achieved global reach through working with agents and distributors from Hawaii to Japan and a great deal of Serena’s time is spent ensuring that this global network runs smoothly.
“I have to deal with so many issues that by the end of the day I feel sometimes exhausted!” she says. “I’m usually dealing with customer care issues, asking about deliveries, and then preparing these deliveries. I personally check the orders that need to be shipped and I am in daily contact with our agents.” Together with her sister Chiara, who recently joined the family firm, Serena’s long-term objective is to reach the 100th anniversary of the company.
Serena’s previous career has equipped her to deal with these kinds of entrepreneurial pressures. “As a project manager I had a budget to respect, people to hire and services to deliver,” she explains. “Each project was run like a micro-enterprise. You needed to be able to work under tight schedules and manage in stressful situations, especially in foreign countries where the working culture might be different.”
Self-motivation – the key to success
Serena found that as a project manager working for an international consulting company, she was always taken seriously and respected. People she dealt with recognised that she was representing the project. As an entrepreneur however, she has occasionally had to deal with people who have not been convinced that she is the decision maker. “This can be incredibly frustrating,” she says. “I can also remember one instance in a law firm office, when my male colleagues were referred to by their professional titles, but I was not. I politely corrected them because I needed to highlight the fact that I was having the same professional title.”
Despite these experiences, Serena says that young entrepreneurs should be focused and not lose heart. “You need to be able to build up your enthusiasm every single day because as an entrepreneur, there is no one there to build it up for you,” she says. To pass on her expertise to others, Serena is also a board member of Apid Imprenditorialità Donna, a Turin-based association that supports women entrepreneurs.