It was a fitting way to wrap up the first day of IBM's (IBM
) innovation-themed leadership forum, held in Rome in early April. Guests were treated to small group tours of the Vatican Museum, including Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. They sipped cocktails on a patio in the back of St. Peter's, the vast dome of the basilica outlined by the light of the moon. They dined in a marble-statue-filled hall inside the Vatican. What better place than Italy to hold a global confab on innovation, the topic di giorno among corporate leaders? It was, after all, the birthplace of the Renaissance, another period of great innovation and change.
The next day, at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, 500-odd corporate executives, government leaders, and academics listened as a diverse group of innovative leaders took the stage. Sunil B. Mittal, chief executive officer of Indian telecom company Bharti Tele-Ventures Ltd., described his radical business model, which outsources everything but marketing and customer management, charges 2 cents a minute for calls, and is adding a million customers a month. Yang Mingsheng, CEO of Agricultural Bank of China, the country's second-biggest commercial bank, spoke of building a banking powerhouse from a modest business making micro loans to peasant farmers.