An Interview with
CEO AND MANAGING DIRECTOR
SCIACCA INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS S.R.L.S.
Walter Sciacca - CEO and Managing Director
SCIACCA INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS S.r.l.s.
Sciacca International Projects, based in Milan (Italy) is an international company specialised in highly-innovative giga-projects, in racetrack construction and motorsport-related real estate development, with the ability to generate high financial returns.
Its partners and customers/clients are governments, worldwide investment funds, multinational construction companies, project developers with high economic and technological impact, as well as individual entrepreneurs wishing to finance or pursue activities for private or commercial use.
The field of action ranges from projects reserved for an exclusive elite individuals to others aimed at a wider audience. The common denominator, in addition to the economic return for clients/customers and the affirmation of the ability to innovate, is the exponential improvement in the quality of the users' experiences with, at the same time, the possibility of creating a new economic sector.
The sporting installation, the racetrack, in the Sciacca model, takes on the value of business opportunity and from here, the transformation from a sporting installation to real estate operations.
A radical change in preparation is needed to be able to successfully carry out operations.
With more than 30 years in business, Sciacca is now considered one of the five main experts in the world regarding the construction and management of racetracks and development of motorsport-related real estate.
3 November 2021
Tell us about your background, and what are you most passionate about?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had two passions: IT and motorsport. I studied IT and have practiced motorsports at a professional level, in particular motorbike speed racing on race circuits, then I switched to cars but as a hobby.
I was studying and working in the automotive sector at the same time and after finishing my studies I decided to pursue motorsport.
It all stems from a passion for motorsport and IT, to which we have added organisational and management skills. When I was 19, I moved to Rome and started to work for a leading company in the motorsport sector.
At 25, I formed my first company for the organisation of circuit events, computerising all the organisational steps and therefore being the first company in the world to use such a system. I changed the way of event organisation and management.
The aim is to innovate and create a new trend without following those that already exist. The client ends up being a friend. The team is like a family. The mission is innovation with emotional intelligence.
As with Apple, Microsoft and others, it all started in a garage, inside a small racetrack in the south of Italy where I turned the garage into an office.
This is my first company, which today would be described as a start-up, and it grew exponentially and already achieved a six-figure turnover in its second year.
In 15 years, I’ve organised around 1500 events in numerous Italian circuits, in other European countries and even in other continents, winning over the most important brands that assign their events to us.
The name Walter Sciacca became a brand, a reference point, an unrivalled leader in the sector.
Hundreds of press articles have been written about me, as acknowledgement and achievement.
Subsequently, I decided to shift my field of work from events to management consulting. In fact, I was called in directly by a number of international racetracks as a consultant, initially for the organisation of their events and later as a consultant to improve racetrack management by setting up a new business model to increase turnover, profits, the quality of events and races and therefore prestige at national and international level.
One of the many consultancies turned into an important assignment, as I was appointed CEO and Managing Director of the Enzo and Dino Ferrari Circuit in Imola, one of the most important and historic racetracks in the world.
My mission is “in time”. I was entrusted with the difficult task of restoring the fortunes of a historic racetrack which was heading for financial decline.
I became the architect of the sporting and economic revival of the structure, managing to triple the turnover in my first year of management and laying the foundations for the return of the Formula 1 World Championship, an event that took place last year after 14 years of absence.
In just two years I achieved all the objectives set for me and therefore left a year earlier than planned in my contract in order to be able to devote myself to the countless consultancy requests I had received in the meantime.
In the last 10 years, I’ve been committed to managerial consultancies and the construction of new racetracks, as well as the maintenance of existing ones. Recently, I formed my eighth company, Sciacca International Projects, based in Milan.
Describe a time you had to make a tough decision (e.g. budget cuts, organizational restructuring, market withdrawal, etc.). What did you do and what was the result?
I’ve always tried to be ahead of the times, so I set up companies with a specific mission, after which it was necessary to focus on another market segment or to create a new one or to understand in which direction the market would go.
All of this had to be thought about, conceived, designed and planned several years before doing it, so as not to be unprepared when a change of segment or something new had to be proposed.
So the main difficulty was having to make a decision 5 years before, hoping that it would turn out well and today, the decisions made followed by the corresponding actions at the given time almost always turned out to be correct.
I say almost always because there have been two precise cases that have forced me to change what I had already planned.
I’m talking about the economic crisis which arrived in Europe in 2008 in the wake of what happened in the US and the 2020 Covid-2019 pandemic that is still ongoing.
In these two cases I’ve had to make difficult decisions.
In the first case, when many were unfortunately forced to close their businesses, I decided to invest.
The clients, who were all multinationals with well-known brands in the automotive sector, had decided to cancel all programmed events.
I presented them a new business model, minimally limiting their investment, and deciding not only to be a supplier, but to also become a partner, therefore directly investing.
I decided to find the necessary resources from companies outside the sector but interested in event users.
The users generally didn’t pay to participate and I proposed to ask for a small contribution, a type of entrance ticket to the event but with a highly affordable price for everyone.
This type of operation was considered inappropriate because we had already proposed it in the past, but the circumstances made the multinational board change their mind.
It was a huge success.
In fact, the events were sponsored by others, the advertising in the magazines was in compensation for services provided by us, which did not generate real costs for us, and our client brands could have the event for a small investment as in the past.
From 2008 to 2013, the turnover and profits from our companies increased year after year, as if the economic crisis didn’t exist.
I can confess that, in reality, the worldwide economic crisis was an advantage for us.
In 2008, I had predicted that in 2014 there would be a drop, but this time due to users and not because of our multinational customers.
Therefore, I decided that by 2013 we would have had to close all our companies dedicated to motorsport events to dedicate ourselves to consultancy.
So we immediately created a business division for consultancy, it was 2008, and in 2012 I set up a new company dedicated only to consultancy.
So in 2014 we were ahead of the game because they had already done a number of consultancies and we were planning a lot more, so closing our events businesses a year before the 2014 downturn really came, late 2013 proved to be successful.
None of our collaborators lost their jobs, and we also created different opportunities for them in other companies.
Concerning Covid-19, when everything closed during lockdown, this time I also decided to invest, and therefore gambled with the fact that we would have more time to develop new, innovative projects, and that was the case.
At this very moment, I’m presenting the various projects born during lockdown to the investors and I’m highly satisfied with the feedback given.
How would others define your communication style? Do you prefer to be close to your employees or maintain a healthy distance, and why?
I like to use the word 'collaborators' rather than employees or staff because I have always thought that the real value of a company is its human resources, even before the economic and financial ones.
The nicest compliment I’ve received from my collaborators is that they think of me as a role model, not just in my professional life but in my personal life, too.
Let me explain: I’ve always put psychological aspects before communication, negotiation, commercial and problem solving techniques, because the company is made up of people, men and women, who have a life outside of work with their own problems and satisfactions. This aspect cannot be and mustn’t be disregarded.
It’s often said that personal problems should be left outside of a company, but not everyone has this attitude, so this factor needs to be taken into account and without being invasive, always try to make yourself there for your collaborators, both personally and professionally.
I can recall one episode in particular, many years ago, one of my collaborators came to work and you could see straight away that her expression wasn’t the usual one. I asked her if something had happened and she replied that people can disappoint you a lot, and obviously it hurts when it happens.
I thought straight away that it could have something to do with someone in her family, her partner or a friend.
In a work environment, I called her into my office so she wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with other people, and in just a few words I told her: I can see you’ve been crying a lot, don’t answer me if you don’t want to. Take the rest of the day off, you’ll be paid as if you’d been here all day, try and distract yourself and deal with what’s happened, and if possible try to clear or resolve the situation.
She said that there were more important things that she had to do at work, and I told her that nothing was more important than her private life.
She started crying and told me that she’d had an argument with her boyfriend, she explained the situation to me, I gave her my opinion and how to try and solve the situation.
But first she had to defuse the negative emotions otherwise she would not be able to handle the situation.
We talked for an hour about this aspect. Then I said she could leave.
The next day when she came to work, she had an almost embarrassed smile on her face, she approached me and said: “Thank you so much. In fact, looking at the situation from a different angle and without emotional involvement, the reason for the argument was really very childish and has been dealt with."
That day, her productivity was 300% higher than on a normal day. On average, all of my collaborators put in 120% effort without being asked to, and that for me gives great satisfaction because they feel like a key part of the business. They’re actually essential, and not just key parts.
So, to answer your question: I like feeling close to my collaborators, my management is horizontal, not vertical or pyramidal, I like to make everyone aware of company plans, I like to encourage and reward when circumstances require it.
I’ve always said: “if things go well, it’s a credit to everyone, but if things were to go badly, then I’m the one to blame! It doesn’t matter who’s made the mistake, I’ll always be the one to blame.”
More generally, public relations are fundamental at all levels, you need to be able to create authentic rapports with real interests, you need to be empathetic, you need to be able to understand others, the psychological aspects are important. In a conflict or negotiation, the one who manages to defuse his or her emotions 'wins'.
You always need to look at things from other angles, and always ask yourself what you would do if you were in the other person’s shoes.
You mustn’t stop keeping up-to-date, participating in training courses, conferences and whatever else is useful for continued growth because you never stop learning.
How has the industry been changing in recent years? What do you think are the biggest challenges your industry will face in the next 5 years?
For a long time, I’ve already imagined the countries that would have a great decline and also those that would have a stable market. However, they would not have been affected by the crisis or by economic problems for various, often different reasons, and so after the analysis I have just described, I realised that it was the right time to propose a real change of course for the future over the next 10/20 years.
“Traditional” racetracks will have to change their business models.
I’ve always tried to have an inspired vision when creating business trends instead of following them, and this has led me to create innovative development and business models.
In fact, I developed the change in paradigm that allowed the racetrack concept to evolve in a structure that increasingly meets the needs of an elite audience, rather than the solution to achieve a profitability benefit where you have loss-making budgets. The sporting installation, in the new model that has been developed, becomes a business opportunity, with a focus on efficiency.
From here, we have the transformation from a sporting installation – a racetrack – to a real estate operation.
A radical change in planning is needed to be able to successfully carry out operations.
There are two types of projects that will soon be directly presented to clients, and a third one is still in the project phase, in 2023 the definitive project will be ready.
The first is aimed at an elite group of customers: these are ultra-luxury villas, all of which will have a private racetrack and many other activities and services.
For many fans it will be a dream come true, whereas for those who will carry out this work, it is in fact a real estate operation as the racetrack would be considered as if it were a private golf course.
There already three types of ready-made projects of this operation. The buyers who I’m speaking to are diverse and are from all continents.
This new business model is applicable wherever there are potential buyers of Luxury Villas with Racetracks and the offer will be diversified depending on the place and the demand.
I would describe the second operation as a traditional type of racetrack and therefore able to host national and international races as well as events, but only in appearance as the facilities have been designed to host a whole series of activities that have never before been carried out on a "racetrack".
These activities will represent the true cornerstone of the operation, and actually, the spaces of the innovative structures could be rented and sold, and this would make it possible to recover the costs of building the racetrack even before it is built.
This is obviously a real estate and financial engineering operation for the preparation that I’ve put into the entire process.
The racetrack could also afford annual losses, which would be compensated by the economic income from other activities.
Moreover, the number of visitors at the “racetrack” would indirectly increase, reaching numbers that have never been seen before.
Regarding the third project in preparation, all I can say is that it could be the world’s first indoor racetrack, and I’ll add a fourth project: a completely innovative Automotive Mall, but you’ll have to wait for more details.
What personality traits make a good leader?
Great question. I would put in first place the ability to listen actively and not to respond directly but to understand, analyse and only then respond.
Emotional intelligence and empathy are not only important with your own team, but also with your clients.
Acknowledge success, delegate, encourage, motivate, act as a 'psychologist', because we must not think that others are willing to do what we ourselves, as entrepreneurs and managers, would be willing to do.
You have to question yourself and when necessary, make difficult decisions and have the strength and firmness to proceed by defusing emotion and activating rationality but always with sensitivity and respect.
Raising your voice is useless, punishing others for mistakes is another error.
You have to be able to give someone without experience the chance to work, and help them to grow professionally with the awareness that they are learning and might make mistakes and therefore you have to be ready to correct any mistakes by making the person experience them as a lesson of what not to do and explaining how it should be done and not as a punishment but as future education.
You have to indicate the objectives and ask your collaborators how they intend to achieve them without immediately imposing your way of working, sometimes you will be surprised and you will discover that the objective can be achieved in different ways, some of them faster and cheaper, so always listen without interrupting.
Then discuss and decide whether to give a guideline or let them do it on their own.
The new members that I put in the team are the ones who must freely express their ideas. I explain my vision, which sometimes isn’t understood as it’s something that will be done in 10 years' time, and then I explain to them why I came up with that idea, which needs to be turned into a project so that it is ready to work when the time comes.
It's good to see your team get excited about seeing what they didn't see before and work towards it.
I feel like I often talk about passion, and it’s true that you have to have it, but passion mustn’t blind you, it must be balanced with rationality and analysis, because there are so many professionals who have gone bankrupt in order to follow their passion.
In a nutshell, a good leader should have the following characteristics: active listening, good communication, emotional intelligence, empathy, knowing how to solve conflicts, knowing how to inspire, motive and identify with others, being able to look at things from different angles, drive their own team without the feeling that they’re ordering, just driving, managing time flexibility, modesty, curiosity, a desire to learn and improve, passion, resilience, perseverance, and above all, a vision for the future.
It’s important to continue learning, you need to travel a lot to personally see what others are developing. Never copying, but taking inspiration to do it differently and better, by anticipating what others will create in the future.
Last but not least, you need to know your weaknesses: everyone has them, but it’s important to work to try and change them into strengths or at least be able to counteract them or manage them.
What does the future hold for your company?
This is a question I’m often asked during interviews and I always find it very interesting.
Recently, I answered in this way: “All my childhood dreams have come true, now I’m working on those that are relevant to me now, and then there are future projects… those dreams are big enough for a warehouse…”
The future lies in the fragmentation and sectorisation of the target audience, in a market where the ability to evolve is the key to success.
The recipe for achieving this is based on a fundamental and by no means predictable ingredient.
It’s the vision, the ability to “see” in advance the evolution of the market you’re working in, and you have to be a true “visionary” to do that, able to keep project ideas stored in your “dream warehouse”, thought about even 5 or 10 years before and destined to become a reality in the coming years, where the only limit is to have no limits.
My company has developed projects that won’t be revealed for another 3 or 5 years, and others will be carried out in the next 10 years.
These projects will guarantee a great sense of satisfaction for the investors and their clients for a very long time, but in the meantime I'm already thinking about the next decade because, as I already mentioned, the ability to evolve is the key to success but only if you can see far ahead.