The Expat: Silvio Zaccareo
CV: Silvio Zaccareo
Profession: Managing director, southern cone, for Lavazza Argentina
Education: Economics degree from Università di Catania
Currently reading: Terroni by Pino Aprile
Last film seen: Puss in Boots with my kids
Gadget: My BlackBerry
Do you remember visiting Argentina for the first time?
It was for work in June 2010 and I came here with my line manager. I had been living in London for several years and it was actually my first time in South America. I also went to Santiago as I’m in charge of the southern cone countries, which means Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia.
Over those next few months, until January 2011, I spent a few weeks in Montevideo, then Buenos Aires, then back in London. It was quite difficult as I have a family and all that travelling is not only time-consuming but body-consuming.
Did you have a choice, moving to Argentina?
Yes, I did. Luckily for us! The choice was between the Far East and the Far West, between Singapore and Argentina. I believe it was the most difficult decision of my professional life. But I think I made the right decision, in terms of doing the job and also in terms of the experience we’ve been living.
With regard to the position, it was the first time I had been assigned a general manager’s role, and from a personal point of view it is much easier for an Italian, and in particular an Italian from the south, to be accustomed to certain issues that you can come across in South America.
I didn’t come via southern Italy, however, my route was Italy, London, then South America. Good luck! I had to change things when I moved to London, then coming back to my typical Latin culture was a challenge.
In the beginning it was tough in Buenos Aires, as it is easier to get used to things when they work, so it is more difficult to renounce that. If I came from England, like you for example, I think it would be really difficult to jump into this world — and the different cultures.
Did you have a chance to return?
My wife and I were sent here for a few weeks to check things out so we had the chance to choose where to move to. We needed to find a nursery — one of my children was born in London while the other was born in Buenos Aires — after that everything was easier.
Did you receive any help from the company?
In the UK one doesn’t need any assistance really and maybe it’s because I’m also European. Perhaps it would have been different if I were Japanese. But here help was necessary plus it was the first time we had moved as a family. My wife was seven months’ pregnant and my eldest child was a year and a bit. We needed a hospital close to our home, for example.
Living here is not as bad as they tend to describe it, but we know to pay attention for sure. When we lived in London we knew there were neighbourhoods we shouldn’t go to, whereas being in Recoleta is not the same as being in Boulogne. But the reality is one needs to pay much more attention.
Where do you live?
In Palermo, and I commute to Boulogne by car — a wise decision as I travel against the traffic.
There are lots of things to do within the city with our kids but not much outside of it. So we do regular things like going to the theatre, chilling out with friends.
Has it been easy to meet people?
Absolutely, and much easier than in London. It is easier to get on with people as they are much warmer here regardless of the social level. You need to pay attention, just like in southern Italy, as the more open people are the more attention you may need to pay.
But as my son goes to nursery, it is much easier for the mama to get to know all the other mums.
What’s been the hardest thing to adapt to coming from London?
Public services, for example. I used to work in Uxbridge and live in Chiswick, which are both in West London, so I would take the Tube but here I need to drive as I live in Capital Federal but work in Boulogne.
I really miss the lack of bureaucracy and transparency as it was much easier to run a business as the rules are different. It is more challenging here. When you take the decision to live somewhere different, though, it’s important to take away a good experience and I’m sure there will be things we miss from here.
With regard to the business, do you have problems importing?
Who doesn’t have problems importing! But we have been negotiating with the government over this. So far we have done quite well. What’s important is to consider the kind of position you want to assume in the market. If you want to make a profit then forget about Argentina. But if you can show you want to stay here then you might have the chance to work through these issues, touch wood.
Did you already speak Spanish?
No but I started my one-to-one classes in London. I remember I went to a meeting in Glasgow, and it was one of my first visits. I have never been to a meeting where I have sat there for two hours and not understood anything at all. I couldn‘t keep asking them to repeat something and it was really quite tough. And then my next meeting was in Dublin.
When I moved here and I couldn’t make myself understood, I would speak English in my funny Italian accent. But after a few months, I realized if I started to talk in Sicilian, Argentines could understand me better. But when you don’t know a language or the culture very well, that it is tough.
What three Italian characteristics define Argentines?
Most of the time we look for the shortest way to do something. We are also used to flexibility and we are friendly, too.
What’s been the biggest surprise?
I thought Argentina would be similar but not so similar, in the way we behave in southern Italy, maybe 20 years ago.
Also how Argentines exaggerate something — they don’t just like something but they “love” it. In London they would call someone a friend but here he is a “brother”. Actually I’d prefer those exaggerations fell somewhere in the middle!
What do you think about Argentine pizza?
Maybe the Argentines should leave the room! Okay, it’s not mozzarrella, for sure. It’s not the real pizza, it‘s the real pasta… apart from the cheese, it’s about the weight of the ingredients. All you need is tomato, olive oil, real mozzarrella and that’s it.
I usually go to La Apasionada. They make a nice pizza, and although they don’t use the ingredients I would like, it’s better than many other chains in Buenos Aires.
But it brings us back to the subject of importing. If they could import the real ingredients…
If you were President, what changes would you make?
It comes back again to the issue of imports. Being so closed means that if in the future, you want to support local companies in order to attack foreign markets, then it could be an issue. Brazil, for example, is a lot more open than Argentina.
Where would you like to move next?
I’m fascinated by several countries and Brazil is one of them. I think that living in a part of the world where it takes you the first four and a half years to understand what’s going on may be a bit too much!
Finding the authentic coffee bean
Despite a small onslaught from a particular coffee house perking up delapidated buildings around the city to sell their wares in takeaway paper cups — and I have a particular former antiques store on Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo in mind with regard to takeovers I disapprove of — one attraction for visitors which is akin to breathing for many porteños, is the ritual of going to a café for an espresso with a dash of milk.
The coffee culture remains vibrant in Buenos Aires, if not around the country, despite some cafés, such as the venerable Café Richmond which, up until August 2011, used to nestle among the clothing stores on bustling Florida street, having to give a green light to sports shops and the like.
(That’s not to say that those career waiters from the Richmond didn’t give up without a fight last year. Oh no. They took over the establishment which opened its doors in 1917, sit-in style, although sadly to no avail).
Due to the prominent Italian heritage, it is of little surprise that Argentina’s coffee culture is so strong, and Silvio Zaccareo, managing director for Lavazza Argentina explains its prominenence.
He says: “In the region, and I can tell you from Alaska to Patagonia, there isn‘t any other place in the Americas where there is such an authentic espresso culture. This is the only place where you can find an authentic bar offering pastries, maybe the coffee is served with more milk than we are used to in Italy, and also an authentic capuccino. It doesn‘t, however, mean that the coffee will be good.
“In Chile the coffee culture is booming, as it is in Brazil. I would actually compare Chile’s market with the UK as coffee culture did not exist there 15 years ago — it was unusual to find a coffee bar in London but now they are everywhere. But in Italy coffee is part of our culture, and in Argentina too.
“Although I tend to drink our own brand, in terms of local coffee they could do better, because in terms of an espresso, I was expecting something more intense. I think it is down to the freshness of the beans, the machines used and how clean they are, the capability of the barista… there are a lot of issues involved in making coffee.”
Being Italian and working for a global coffee brand obviously means Zaccareo’s standards are, not surprisingly, exacting, and he doesn’t have a preference as yet.
“I haven’t found a bar that I really like in Buenos Aires, a place that I can recommend, for an espresso,” he says.