How to bring Innovation from the Classroom to Global Executives? Reverse Mentoring at Pirelli, Milan.

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“Voice of the Customer” panel of Hult Alumni at Pirelli, Milan, Italy

Wow! There is a new mail in my inbox saying “Re: Available to join me for a session at Pirelli in Milan October 10?”. Sender: Mike Grandinetti.

Three weeks later, I arrived with my hand luggage at Milan Bergamo airport, equipped with two power banks, my MacBook and lots of enthusiasm. I was super excited to be part of Prof. Mike’s Innovation workshop with Pirelli and to see how he brings innovation from the classroom to top managers and corporate structures. Pirelli is one of Italians heritage luxury brands, founded in 1872. The multinational tire company is not only famous for the Pirelli calendar. With more than 37 000 employees, and a presence in over 160 countries, they produce more than 60 million tires a year and their R&D is one of the top in the industry. I was a bit nervous if my preparation about the brand and company could really add value to these world class managers.

Welcome, to Pirelli!

9.30 am, I arrived at the Piero Pirelli Academy and met the other alumni at the coffee corner, where we were welcomed with an Italian espresso. Mille Grazie — Italian hospitality is just awesome!

Among the alumni, I was the only London home-campus student, but I knew Lisette, Claudia, Matteo, Francesco and Johan from my rotation to Boston and San Francisco. Pauline is a recent student and had been flown in for the workshop from Boston. Lida had graduated a few years before us in San Francisco. Five different nationalities and together we lived in 20+ countries — what an international come-together! #GlobalGeneration #Hultians

One thing all of us had in common: we all had one of Prof. Mike’s innovation-related courses. What makes it unique? It brings innovation into the classroom. In this case, we brought the classroom into the real world!

We conducted a class. We conducted a workshop. What was amazing, in a way was that at this time we were the teachers. In front of us 40 Pirelli executives, equipped with pencils and notebooks to write down every word we said and idea concept we proposed.

There was this extra level of connection in the room:

The way Prof. Mike asked questions created an environment of inspiration and engagement, where change seemed to be tangible.

After the break, an elder manager stood up and everyone was silent when he started speaking: “It is not easy for such a heritage brand to drive change. But we want to thank these young people. We really see that this is the way to the future! And we have to react.” For a few seconds, there was a bit of magic we’ve created as a group: Prof. Mike, the Pirelli executives and us, the Hult alumni. It becomes clear how hard change is when we talk about resistance to change and these words meant a lot.

Reverse Mentoring: Young Generations sharing their Perspectives

Prof. Mike explained to us why the outcome of a young generation sharing their perspectives is so valuable. Behind this is a very big trend called reverse mentoring. At the beginning, managers may ask themselves what young professionals are going to tell them and why this can’t be done by young people from within the company. But as a matter of fact, a very honest and different perspective more likely comes from outside and neutral people. In our workshop, we as Hult alumni also represented a very global perspective.

Our day at Pirelli ended with more fabulous coffee, cake, great conversations(!) — from international Sales Directors, HR and Engineers to the Head of Motorsports and the Marketing Manager of Pirelli’s start-up, P-zero velo, which recently launched their first bicycle tire product line. Afterwards, Prof. Mike invited us for real Italian food: PIZZA! It was so good, that we totally forget to capture it. That means a lot for Marketing students and Digital Natives. 😉

Culture drives Innovation! Hult inspires Change.

The next day, on my way back to the airport, I was still full of excitement! This very intense day has been all about the things I enjoyed so much during my Hult time: to be surrounded by diverse people, who yet share the same energetic attitude in an environment where culture is an inspiration instead of a barrier and this culture mixed up with innovation is a driver for change — in business and societies.

At Hult, you’ll connect with people that are sharing the same passion and enable you to bring your dreams on the road(map) and to life! It all starts with the students and ends with various events and keynotes, the campus team and the professors! At which business school is it common for your professor to take you to his customer? There should definitely be more of them! Thank you, Prof. Mike!!!

Prof. Mike wrote an article about take-aways from this workshop: read it here!

I love to share these experiences and connect with people who share my passion for innovation & design. My work is driven by the purpose to create solution rooted in people’s actual needs, able to drive change across industries and societies. There are so many secrets waiting for us to be solved!

Book recommendations

If you are interested in innovation, strategy and entrepreneurship, here are inspirations Prof. Mike shared with the Pirelli Executives:

Originally published at

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Strategist & Maker I Venture Design, Products & Social Impact.

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