Carlo Barban, Winmarkt, an Italian living in “la terra delle opportunità”

Carlo Barban (38) is not a typical Italian, he talks fast, but not loud, and he’s not using a lot of hand gestures. He first arrived in Romania in 2005, working for a consultancy company, and after a few years, he became the CEO of Winmarkt, the most outspread network of shopping centers in Romania. He moves back and forth between Italy and Romania, and the 12 years he is doing this made him a little bit more Romanian, at least from the gastronomic point of view. Carlo’s ideal menu would include “ciorba de perisoare”, “mici” and “papanasi”, and not in this particular order. He says Romanians should improve their self-marketing skills, and for him, the country’s best description is “la terra delle opportunità”. If Romania were be a shopping mall it would comprise food and fashion from all over the world, and a new definition for the entertainment area. Why this mix? The answer is simply stunning.

Carlo Barban, Winmarkt. Photo credit: personal archive

Cristina Dobreanu: How did Romania appear on your map and how did you accept to come here?

Carlo Barban: Romania appeared on my map in 2003, when I started to work for a consulting company in Italy, one of the biggest in my area, which is the North-East of Italy, and after two years of training there they proposed to me to relocate abroad. The first proposal was for Shanghai, the second was for Bucharest. As the Shanghai project didn’t go well, they postponed the opening of the office there, so they decided to propose to me to come here.

Bucharest was second on your map, you would have chosen the more exotic Shanghai.

Shanghai is another world. Bucharest is here, in Europe, close to Italy, just 2000 kilometers away. But I like challenges, so I decided to come here. So I arrived here in Bucharest in 2005 and this was my start here.

Almost 12 years ago…

Quite enough.

And since then you are travelling between Italy and Romania?

Yes, because the initial agreement was to split my time between Italy and Romania. In the beginning, it was 2 weeks here and 2 weeks there, but later on, it was 3 weeks here, and two in Italy. This happened while I worked for the consulting company. But in 2009, I decided to move here at Winmarkt.  Considering I was part of the management of the company, usually, I took one day of the week to be in Bologna, where is the headquarter.

What impressed you the most about Romania? What made you stay here?

It was the quick changes that happen here, from my point of view. Of course, I come from a midsized town in Italy, situated in North-East, between Venice and Trieste. The changes are going slower in Italy than in Romania. Here everything is young. I leave from Romania on Friday, and on Monday, when I come back, I see something new. And another thing that is strange for me to understand from the point of view of my friends, for example, is that here you have optic fiber. It is difficult to find it in Italy, for instance. Not just in Milan, but also in Florence or Rome.

What did your friends say about you moving here?

In 2005 it was the start of the economic push here in Romania. The country was strange and quite unknown for Italy. But it was just the starting point. The kick-off point, let’s say. When we arrived in 2007-2008, it was a completely different situation, I mean it had become the gold for all the European countries. It was very interesting for both my friends and I. When I arrived, it was one meter of snow and I wasn’t able to open the door of my flat. That happened on my first night here, but after it, everything was easier.

Let’s talk about food: Italians want to have antipasti, primo piatto, secondo …

We love food!

Favourite Romanian  food?

One of my favorite Romanian food is for sure ciorba de perisoare (meatball soup). Definitely. Secondly, I like sarmale. No…wait, wait. The first one is mici, for sure. Mici, ciorba, samale.

And as for the desserts?

Papanasi! But I am more orientated for palinca and tuica.

Then we have a complete menu.

Yes!

Have you ever spent one vacation here?

Not a proper vacation here in Romania, just long weekends. Constanta, Mamaia – at the seaside; Poiana Brasov, during winter. This was my experience in Romania, not that much.

As a child from a small town between Venice and Trieste, have you ever dreamed of becoming a CEO of an important real-estate company and move to another country? What were your dreams back then?

Definitely not! After the secondary school, I was a little bit confused. I was not that focused on what was important, I liked to go fishing, play the guitar, spend time with my friends… But I took my exams, and I decided to go to University. Math was my field, but Math at the University is more of a niche. I considered Law, but it was too humanistic from my point of view. I therefore decided to go to Economics. The first year was very tough, and I was very crazy compared to secondary school. And after one year I met a beautiful girl, I fell in love with her. She was very keen on studying. She was my safety anchor. So, I got back on track, concluded on time my faculty, and I realized that this was my way. Maybe I didn’t imagine I would become a CEO, but this was my way. As a human being, I am not a CEO.

But what are you? Do you consider yourself a leader?

Maybe. I don’t like to be angry with people and in this field, in this position, it is quite difficult to be like me. You have to be an actor, because you have to switch off your human mind and just be a machine. This is a CEO. A leader is someone who has the ability to mix these two skills in order to motivate people and help them.

For you Romanians are…

…not marketing people. You know why? Because Romanians are good and hard workers, they are fine people. They are exactly the opposite of what the world is thinking about Romania. But you are not used to doing marketing. This is a problem because you lose credibility, you are not so attractive as a country. If you stay here, you can see all of the Romanian life aspects. But you as a Romanian must be able to show all the positive skills and strengths outside. It is difficult to see all this if you are not in Romania.

If you could use only one sentence in Italian to describe Romania this would be…

“La terra delle opportunità” (the country of opportunities).

If Romania would be a shopping mall, what would you put on the ground floor, on the first floor, and on the second floor?

Because I want to increase a little bit the quality of what we find here, in my ground floor I would put all the food in the world, a real food court. The first floor is for fashion and I would like not to have separate corners, I would like to have a mix from all the countries in the world – you have to go there because you like it, not because it is made in Italy, or the USA or Romania. The second floor is for entertainment usually, so maybe we can put there everything you can do in a country or in a city, from the entertainment point of view, like an info corner, something like this.

So, if Romania would be a shopping mall it would have inside all the food in the world, all the fashion in the world and the entertainment…

You know why?! Because Romania, unlike Italy, is especially from the business point of view, an excellent exchange point for international cultures, one of the things I was amazed at when I arrived here. It is an excellent platform! This is why I thought to mix all the foods and the cultures of the world.

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