Corrado Passera is known in Italy as the man who pulled off the most unlikely of turnarounds--the revitalization of Poste Italiane. The long-troubled postal service is due to break even this year, four years after Passera agreed to take on its truculent unions, bloated costs, demoralized workers, and $1 billion in annual losses.
The key to the former McKinsey & Co. consultant and Wharton School graduate's success: He convinced unions and workers to sign on to 100 projects aimed at slashing costs and boosting revenues. He also began measuring employees on performance--a move that helped encourage an exodus of some 25,000. To spur growth, he launched a financial services unit in May, 2000, that now generates 40% of the postal service's $6.97 billion in annual revenues. Enlisting the postal system's 14,000 branches as bank branches, BancaPosta has garnered $621 million in deposits in 24 months. And it's Italy's No. 3 seller of life insurance.
Now Passera, 47, will have a chance to apply his experience on a grander scale. On Mar. 28, Italy's No. 1 bank, IntesaBci (IBCIF ), named him CEO. The Milan-based bank, with $290 billion in assets, needs Passera's help: Profits fell 45% in 2001, to $854 million, after the bank set aside $3.1 billion in bad loan provisions, mainly for Latin America and Enron.
Passera seems the right man for IntesaBci, where the challenge will be to unify conflicting corporate cultures from a series of mergers. The bank was formed by the fusion of Cariplo and Ambroveneto in 1998 and Banca Commercial Italiana in 2001. Passera, who was CEO at Banco Ambrosiano Veneto before taking over the post office, has set a target of making Intesa Italy's best-performing bank. That means taking on ex-McKinsey colleague Alessandro Profumo, CEO of Unicredito Italiano, Italy's most profitable bank.
That won't leave Passera much time to pursue his favorite pastimes--reading and cruising Lake Como in his motorboat. But it should guarantee his place among a new generation of managers who are determined to drag Italy into the 21st century.