Ten Questions – Loretta Napoleoni (Financial Times)

8th may 2012

Loretta Napoleoni is an associate lecturer at Cambridge University Judge Business School in the UK. She has been teaching seminars around the world for more than 10 years as well as advising governments and international organisations on counter-terrorism, money laundering and financial crises. She previously worked as an economist at several banks and organisations in Europe and the US.

Dr Napoleoni grew up in Rome, where she became an active member of the feminist movement and a political activist. She has a PhD in economics and an MPhil in international relations and also in terrorism.

In her spare time, Dr Napoleoni enjoys skiing and doing voluntary work with the Catholic church. She has written two novels and several non-fiction books, including Maonomics – Why Chinese Communists Make Better Capitalists Than We Do .

1. What is an average day at work like?

It varies a lot. I spend a lot of time travelling from one place to another where I give lectures. When I am not travelling I work alone or with my research assistants preparing lectures or writing a book. I have been writing a lot in recent years as these are indeed exceptional times. Often I do field work for my research, for example just a few weeks ago I spent a week in Greece.

2. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

Winning the Fulbright scholarship. I wanted to leave Italy and study in the US so badly. I had this dream since I was 10, but my family could not afford to send me there, so the only option was to win a scholarship. The Fulbright is by far the most prestigious in the US and winning it opened so many opportunities to win other scholarships. It was my ticket to the life of my dreams.

3. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Never take anything for granted. Life is a constant battle and to make things easy you need to choose on which side you want to be. I have always being an outsider, my true strength is to look at institutions from the outside not from the inside. In 1992, I worked as a consultant at the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development when it was in its infancy. I felt suffocated by the international civil servants way of working.

4. Who are your business influences/heroes?

Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese politician because he changed China using wisdom and humility and Franz Kafka, the German author for the amazing insight into human life.

5. What is the worst job you have ever had?

When I was at London School of Economics, I worked as a barmaid at Mecca, which at the time was the biggest night club in London. My shift was from 7pm to 2am and it was very hectic, with lots of people. At midnight, a grid came down at the bar to prevent anyone from throwing bottles at us. It was scary but very well paid.

6. What advice would you give to women in business?

Help each other. Men are so used to networking through the old boys club but women seem afraid of each other. There is too much competition among women in business and not enough solidarity. I believe that to break the glass ceiling all we need is to stick together.

7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

It is not easy because I cannot stand big egos; humility for me is the biggest quality in any type of profession. Men do not enjoy being challenged by women, especially in sectors such as finance or anti-terrorism which are male-dominated industries. My strategy is the Mrs Thatcher approach: show them that you are smarter and that you know better. But I realise that is not the best solution, ideally men and women should work together as true partners.

8. What is the last book you read?

The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Valdimir Putin by Masha Gessen. I tend to read mostly non fiction and to re-read the classics in fiction. Though I am very interested in young novelists, they have to be first class writers to appeal to me.

9. What is your life philosophy?

We are here for a reason which goes well beyond making money or being happy. We have a duty as members of society to defend the values we believe in. My generation spends too much time pleasing itself and not giving enough; true joy and success comes from giving, not from taking.

10. What are your future plans?

I want to write a novel describing what is happening in western capitalism. I think only fiction can explain the incredible changes which are taking place. I also think that the future generations will better understand what we are going though reading fiction. But I am not sure my publishers will back me on this plan.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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