"This was the key point: Euromobiliare's value was its people,
the ability and the stubborness of its brokers, the skills of its research analysts, the capacity and obstinancy to follow the extraordinary financial operations of the companies, the willingness of many to stay up until three in the morning each time a transaction had to be closed."
In mid-June 1972 a 27-year-old researcher sat in the office of an investment banker just a little older than herself. She was looking for a job. Her name was Rita Gastaldi and she had never thought she was destined for something. In a certain sense she was there almost by chance. Four years before she had been one of the few women to graduate from Bocconi university, because she realised that after her diploma in accounting the only way to get into university was to study economics. She had chosen accounting because according to her parents, her father was a railway company manager in Turin and her mother a housewife, that was an appropriate diploma for a girl born at the end of the war.
The interview took place in Via Andegari, in the heart of the old Milan described by Manzoni, in a space that had once belonged to Feltrinelli. For Gastaldi this was at least the second attempt to leave university research and enter the world of finance. Previously she had been to Comit, in Piazza della Scala, where they had politely explained how things worked in 1972: “We don’t employ women graduates,” she was told by the personnel office, “we could only offer you a position as typist or secretary.” But the young banker Guido Roberto Vitale instead listened to her and then interrupted her with a sudden question: “Can you be in the office starting Monday morning?” She managed to postpone her debut until the first of July, but from that day she would remain in the company – or rather, in its following evolutions – for about forty years. “We do not discriminate here,” is what Vitale said to her a couple of years later on her first promotion: that was the only time he hinted at the fact that half a century ago it was quite uncommon for a woman to work in the world of Milanese finance, but not in his company.
Vitale too had an uncommon background, which had led to his unconventional ideas and attitudes compared to the Italian context of the time. Born in a Jewish family from Piedmont before the war, he inevitably experienced a dangerous itinerant childhood with schooling in Italian, English and French. After a degree in economics, he was one of the first of his generation to specialise in the United States, at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Management. In Edilcentro in Via Andegari, where he was CEO, he tried to bring the lessons learnt during his American experience to the heart of an Italy in turmoil.
In the mid-1970s the Milan Stock Exchange capitalized less than a fifth of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, less than a third of Paris and practically a tenth of the London Stock Exchange. The capital market seemed to be in a dark shadowy corner, no more than an oddity for eccentric or unscrupulous characters.
From the start Guido Roberto Vitale’s mission was to contribute to the modernization of this world. He was convinced that the natural solution for every healthy company should be its listing, based on financial statements and transparent business models. He would pay employees with shares, even the newly employed, when this was an almost unknown practice in Italy. He also introduced a company pension fund, at a time when only very few and very high-end large groups had one.
Vitale oversaw every detail because he had a broader vision: he wanted to further strengthen and centralize the role of capital markets in Italy, he sought to increase the value of family assets in the interests of bank account holders and their savings and the productive system, not one at the expense of the other. He wanted to put merit, technical expertise, and financial data at the center, in his company as well as in his relations with clients and investors in general. He would never have directed a company towards the stock exchange – not even if that company was ready to pay him astronomical commissions – if he suspected that it was a way of extracting resources from the investors without solid chances of development. In other words, Vitale wanted to show that it was in the country’s interests to follow a different path to the one that predominated at the time. He was convinced that this approach was possible in the daily life of his company: even in a closed system that thrived mostly on the network of relations and contacts with the political world. Independence was his method. The most innovative tools of the time – from listings to takeover bids, the use of bond markets and much more – were to put this vision into practice. “In this, Vitale and the company he had modelled were a sort of white pimpernel of Italian economy”.
Born with a strong sense of its own identity, Euromobiliare continued to be marked by that genetic code. For the partnership it became a golden opportunity to take a step further in the direction of an ever better protected independence. The same role was, on Perilli’s suggestion, given precisely to Guido Roberto Vitale.
The means for reaching the objective was a new international agreement: the large U.S. private equity fund J.C. Flowers comes into play, The project plan was that the American investor would enter with 50.5%, while the remaining 49.5% would be bought by the company partners who by so doing would take a first decisive step towards their true objective: to become their own masters.
This operation saw Andrea Vismara enter the capital and the company, his job was to develop investment banking activities. Later he would become EQUITA's CEO.
What was your goal at the beginning?
"Those were difficult years, with the global financial crisis and then the euro crisis that hit Italy. But we had a very good platform, unique in Italy. Euromobiliare was not just an advisory boutique, as there are many. The supervised part of the business - the financial market, the trading floor, the research, the contacts with institutional investors, even abroad - gave us an edge. I invested plenty of my time to setup a plan for the investment banking division that at the time seemed overly ambitious, not to say aggressive. Since then revenues in this area have grown from 3 to 41 million euros between 2008 and 2022.
When I joined, there were three of us in this area. Today we are almost sixty, thanks to an intense on-boarding activity of new senior figures, including the 2020 acquisition of K-Finance, which was very important for us to strengthen our relationships with entrepreneurs and develop our M&A mid-market activities."
Euromobiliare and then EQUITA have always kept a relatively low public profile. Recently this aspect has somewhat changed. Why?
"Because our diversification strategy and our model require it. In the past, the Group never had a specific need for exposure. But when you start to work alongside entrepreneurs, large listed groups, financial institutions, the traditional activities of investment banking and alternative asset management require strong brand recognition. Moreover, the focus on sustainability and the deep knowledge we have in this field is another thing that has required more vsibility to build trust with our clients."
Vismara, when EQUITA offers financial services, it reflects the best of the Italian investment banking industry: talent, professionalism, dedication, unparalleled ability to solve problems quickly, reliability, and loyalty to clients. Can your Italian-based model and your still limited size become a limitation?
"I don't think so. First because in the last fifty years, we have never stopped our growth despite difficult market frameworks. In brokerage, for instance, we continue to see our business strengthening year after year, a result of our leadership position in some historical areas such as the equity brokerage, combined with the continuous commitment to diversification of services, such as in the bond and derivatives segments. In investment banking and alternative asset management, on the other hand, there is still plenty of room: we can continue to complement our offerings and strengthen our market shares by investing in new initiatives."
If you would like to read the reportage on EQUITA's 50 years written by Federico Fubini, or if you want to learn more about the Group and Fondazione EQUITA initiatives, download the digital version of our pocket book.
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