INTERVIEW by Cristina Morozzi
Originally hailing from Verbania, located on the Northern Italian lake Lago Maggiore, Tommaso Cardana recently became president of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Southeast (IACCSE) in Miami, Florida, where he has lived over the past 16 years after founding Tomson Hospitality, a company that provides hospitality services to prestigious establishments including the luxurious Seven Seas Explorer cruise ship.
He received his education in Italy, after which he obtained his master’s degree in Venezuela, and his rapid career as an entrepreneur and his rising through the ranks in the IACCSE make him a go-to expert on international markets and a valuable ally to Italian entrepreneurs.
The upcoming 2022 edition of Design Miami, where the IACCSE will be presenting a major exhibition on Italian design icons, is an opportunity to learn more about Tommaso Cardena and his role in promoting Italian excellence.
Cristina Morozzi (CM)
What did you study in college in Milan?
Tommaso Cardana (TC)
I studied at Bocconi University and received my degree in Business Administration with a specialization in the management of small and midsize businesses.
Was your decision to pursue your master’s in hotel services in Venezuela related to your desire to travel and learn about other cultures or to there being specialized schools there?
It wasn’t one or the other. While I was in Venezuela doing a master’s degree in business administration, I came in contact with an Italian company, Piazza, which manufactured professional steel products for kitchens and was looking to develop their Latin American market. I started working for Piazza in Venezuela in late 1999. In September 2000, I moved to Miami for a 3-month internship with the IACCSE, and after the internship ended, I was offered a position as project coordinator. After 13 months there and after an experience in a consulting firm working to internationalize Italian companies, I went back to Piazza to manage their Latina American, North American and Caribbean markets and the cruise ship markets.
Was your founding hotel services company Tomson Hospitality in Miami based on the fact that there were important market opportunities in Florida, or on the desire to boost Italian exports to Florida ?
Following my work in the hotel industry and after internal reorganizations within Piazza, I founded Tomson Hospitality Boutique and became the exclusive Piazza importer. I later added other brands and other product categories. When I started with Tomson Hospitality, there were no companies dedicated to luxury hotel projects and I decided to go into this niche market. It turned out to be a successful choice, as over the years the luxury market in the hotel and cruise industry has grown significantly, and my specialization has given me a bigger competitive edge even compared to much larger companies or companies with a greater presence in the US market.
Is your becoming president of IACCSE your crowning achievement as a long-standing member of the organization, or recognition of your in-depth knowledge of the Italian production system?
My presidency at IACCSE is definitely the crowning achievement of the years I’ve spent within the organization. I started out as an intern, then moved on to become project coordinator, and now I’ve become president. I also believe it is due to a recognition of my knowledge of the chamber of commerce system abroad and which I developed both during my work within the IACCSE as well as in the years prior to being elected president and as a member of the board of directors. I also think it is a recognition of my entrepreneurial skills and knowledge of the Italian market and of the opportunities and difficulties that Italian companies face when entering a challenging and competitive market like the US market.
What does your role as president of the IACCSE entail?
I have the honor of representing a community of approximately 300 companies throughout the southeastern US, meaning not only in Florida but also in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Puerto Rico. The IACCSE has an excellent staff that has enabled it to achieve fantastic results in the last few years, and the role of president is that of providing staff with direction for development and to meet weekly to take advantage of opportunities and take action on any issues that come up.
The president of the organization is also the go-to person for a board of 11 business leaders and managers who volunteer their time and know-how for the good of the organization and the Italian community. My role wouldn’t be possible without the support of a great staff – and the IACCSE staff is excellent – as well as a board of directors dedicated to the good of the organization. Another important role of the chamber is to assist companies that want to enter the US market. Companies have really made the most of this mentoring in recent years, and I personally am very happy to offer Italian entrepreneurs my experience gained over my 20 years in the US market.
The IACCSE is part of Sistema Italia, along with Italian representatives there and other associations. So the role of the IACCSE and the president is also to support and collaborate with realities such as the Italian Consulate and the Italian Trade Agency (ICE) to make Sistema Italia a winning team.
For Design Miami 2022, is the IASSCE organizing an exhibition of Italian design icons? What companies will be participating, and what are the selection criteria? Are the products historical or contemporary? And can you name some of the most important pieces?
How would you assess the situation for Italian design, both in business and creative terms?
Seen from afar, Italian design has a great reputation, but I’m not in a position to make an assessment of the situation world wide. I can only express my point of view based on my personal experience. Over recent years, the design word has acquired a much broader meaning, covering different topics and applications, from design to industrial design to the application of style and ideas in different ways and areas. Design has become more generalized, which isn’t meant as a criticism, as it’s made design more accessible. In recent years, technology has greatly influenced design and will continue to do so, and sustainability is becoming increasingly important.
What I can say is that Italy is certainly a benchmark for design, but we need to improve everything that comes after the creation of the product. All Italian designs have great stories to tell, from the ideas and creative influences behind them to the technologies, materials and studies needed to make them. And these stories need to be told to the world. But many times people just assume that because a product was designed and made in Italy it has to sell itself. This is perhaps one of the most common errors I’ve seen over the years. Even if a product is a quality, exquisitely designed product, it still needs to be properly marketed, and in the United States they are masters of marketing. It’s important to tell people the stories of and the value behind these products, from the ideas and inspirations that led to their creation to the processes and technologies needed to produce them.
Especially over the last few years in which social media is playing an increasingly important role, what you say and how you say it are very important. I think it’s essential to convey the excellence behind Italian manufacturing and technology. Everyone knows about Italian creativity and works of art, while few know that Italy was the third country in the world to have the technology to send a satellite into space. Another benefit of communicating these values of creativity, manufacturing and technology is that it also helps to counteract the marketing phenomenon of ‘Italian sounding’, which creates negative effects for the Italian food industry and for design, with non-Italian companies using names and definitions that are evocative of Italian ones to make their products more appealing.
Another aspect I think is really key for exporting companies is to put their customers first, and not just in terms of how their customers will use a product, but in terms of the customer’s pre- and post-sale experience. The most successful companies over recent years are the ones that put customers first in their development and growth strategy.
Cristina Morozzi, journalist, curator and design critic