Today I happened upon an article about Alberto Cribiore. His resume would take up pages -- it is enough to note that the long list of his achievements and roles concludes with, "he is the Italian that is most in view in international finance," currently covering the position of interim non-executive president of Merrill Lynch in charge of identifying a successor to Stanley O'Neal.
In the U.S. since the mid-70s, he talks about how Italian managers are appreciated abroad for their "soft skills" -- skills that are increasingly important in the globalization process with its decentralized organizational models. These skills are of a psychological instead of quantitative nature, such as the ability to adapt to other cultural and economic contexts and to build networks of personal relationships. Italians develop these skill because they have had to learn how to get around inefficiency and bureaucracy and other very real obstacles to get anything done. Their Anglo-American colleagues haven't had quite as many opportunities to fine-tune these skills.
The article concludes that the new generation of Italian executives in the U.S. are rapidly rising in the ranks, also because of their Italian "soft skills".
To paraphase a Japanese saying, "When in Rome, understand the behavior of the Romans and thus become an even more complete American (British, Australian, German or whatever)." Maybe we all have something to learn from the Italians and their noteworthy skills in building networks and adapting to other cultural contexts.