The salon series was held at the Italian Ambassador’s residence.
With the G-7 Summit preparing to be held a week later in Sicily, members of the Harvard Business School Club of Washington, D.C. held an exclusive reception and seated dinner at the Residence of the Italian Ambassador, with Italy’s dashing and dynamic Ambassador Armando Varricchio playing host to the “HBS Chairman’s Circle Salon,” which included a VIP group of HBS alums and friends.
After walking past a phalanx of shiny Lamborghinis lined in front of the stunning Villa Firenze, the 50-acre diplomatic compound the Government of Italy has owned since 1947, guests enjoyed Italian wines, Campari-infused cocktails and conversation in the living room, before settling into a candlelight dinner and enlightening conversation with Varricchio on the 43rd G7 summit, led by HBS of DC President and CEO Antonio Alves.
“Given the unique characteristic of DC hosting one of the highest number of embassies worldwide, and the many C-level executives who are patron members of the HBS Club; three years ago, I decided to create the HBS Chairman Circle Salon Series,” Alves said. “It’s an exclusive event with the objective of promoting a distinctive networking opportunity among leaders from different industries, and disseminating content from the multiple countries represented in Washington by a very senior group of diplomats.”
Ambassador Varricchio, host of the alumni group’s latest salon, knows perhaps more about the G7 than any other diplomatic envoy in Washington. “He shared with us his professional diplomatic experience of being a Sherpa of numerous G-20 and G-7 meetings and dealing with some of the world’s highest level decision makers,” Alves added.
Held on May 26-27 in the scenic Italian town of Taormina, adjacent to Sicily, this year was the first time since 1987 that a G7 summit was held in Italy and not hosted by former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi. Three years ago, the G7 declared that a meaningful discussion was not possible with Russia in the context of the G8, and ever since meetings have been held with seven of the world’s leading industrial nations.
This year also marked the first time in history that two G7 female leaders were principals of the G7 summit, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May.
It was also the first G7 summit for Prime Minister May, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and President Donald Trump. Other attendees included representatives of the European Union and the President of the European Union, who’s been a participant at all meetings and decision-making since 1981.
“The great credit of the G7 goes to these leaders when they’re able to elaborate somewhat difficult positions, in what we’d call ‘a halfway summit,’” Varricchio said. “When leaders actually agree to something – they don’t have to work on taxes or tax brackets – this allows them to have a real discussion, and believe me, there’s no other international party that allows this.”
He served as Diplomatic Advisor and Sherpa G7/G8 to the President of the European Commission, and prior to his current assignment in Washington, he served as Diplomatic Advisor and G7/G20 Sherpa for Italy’s Prime Minister from 2013 to 2016.
“While working for the EU, trade was our most important issue because trade is European policy,” Varricchio recalled. “The international community tries to focus on what’s really binding us all, and working for different prime ministers over the years I have always tried to focus on real priorities, the issues that are important to Europe are just as much so to the United States.”
While serving in Rome Varricchio was appointed to key positions within the Italian Government, including Head of the Europe and Asia Desk in the Prime Minister’s Office, Chief of Staff to the Minister for European Affairs, Deputy Diplomatic Advisor to the President of the Republic and Deputy Secretary General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome.
“You have to prepare a dinner in order to be a good chef,” Varricchio said. “You have to be able to focus on real priorities and understand different interests, different positions, and at the same time be able to understand the ultimate important issue going beyond what is part of tactical negotiations.”
For the most part, countries participating in this year’s G7 shared the same values and interests. “You have leaders who come to know each other well,” he said. “This year with the interest of three new leaders – the President of the United States, the newly elected President of France, and the Prime Minister of Britain – they developed this kind of relationship in which they started to understand each other well, to listen to and appreciate each other. This was absolutely important.”
This appreciation often divides into different parts, he added, such as “the politics of foreign policy” and the support of specific global issues such as the threat of terrorism, climate change, energy and trade. Other extremely sensitive issues were also at the forefront, such as terrorism, climate change, relations with China and Russia, the crisis in North Korea and sectarianism in the Middle East.
“Addressing all of these issues is absolutely important because we have to ensure that the world economy continues to grow steadily and consistently,” Varricchio said. “And then we have a new topic that I’m sure will remain top on the agenda for many years to come, and that is the topic of human mobility. It is sure to be one of the greatest challenges of all time.”
Given these shared interests, the G7 has the greatest potential of any of the global summits to promote and enforce sound governance, he added.
“What’s important with leaders of great democracies is to reinforce and to strengthen global governance,” Varricchio said. “We desperately need to have governance because we cannot leave major issues un-addressed. There has to be a place where leaders come to share interests, try to listen to each other and exchange their views. No company has flourished unless there is a seamless governance. In the same way that governance ensures that a company will suceed, the same goes for international relations. There must be a possibility to enforce governance, and G7 has the biggest potential to do just that.”
Ambassador Varicchio is a seasoned diplomat. Born in Venice in 1961, he graduated with Honors from the University of Padua in 1985, where he met his wife Micaela Barbagallo, to whom they have two sons, Federico and Umberto.
He joined Italy’s Foreign Service in 1986 and has since held multiple positions abroad and in Rome, including serving at the Italian Embassy in Budapest, the European Union in Brussels and as Italy’s Head of Economic, Trade and Scientific Affairs Section from 2002 to 2006 in Washington. Previously the Ambassador of Italy to Serbia, he presented his credentials to President Obama in March 2016. He was recently awarded the Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.
Notable attendees of the HBS Chairman’s Salon included Lamborghini Motors COO Alessandro Farmeschi and Lamborghini Sterling General Sales Manager Amir Hadzimehmedovic, Washington Post Pulitzer Prize Winning National Correspondent Mary Jordan, Egypt’s Minister of Economy Youssef Aldesouky, Wells Fargo Managing Director Michael Aquilino, Kirkland & Ellis Partners Christopher Bartolomucci and Paul Clement, Cafritz Foundation Chairman Calvin Cafritz and his wife the philanthropist Jane Cafritz, Deputy Chief Naval Officer Philip Cullom, Oculus Group CFO Barry Dennis, Kiddar Capital CEO Todd Hitt, Neighborhood Retail Group CEO Bethany Kazaba, Pen/Faulkner Vice President Willee Lewis, Washington Redskins Director of Business Strategy Mathew Serf, Assistant US Trade Representative for Europe Dan Mullaney, Wentworth Group CEO Earl Stafford, Trump Transition Team Director of Policy Implementation Ado Machida, restaurateirs Fabio and Maria Trabbiocchi, Kittyhawk Strategies CEO Abe Mansour, GTT CEO, Rick Calder, American Consultants CEO Raj Patil and Giuseppe Sarcina, Washington Correspondent for Corriere della Sera.