My 83 years old father died due to Covid19 just before Christmas. Why write about it here? Because, just a few days before entering the ICU, he was still working.
He was one of those men who would wear a tie even if he wasn’t expecting clients, working from home.
He was the man who taught me that “work is what sets humankind apart from other species”. I’d like to honour his memory as an example of the thousands of working seniors that get a very little mention on the media; normal men and women that love what they do and work with passion until they can, coping with the times changing, learning new skills instead of craving a retirement that would make them lose their purpose.
Last year, I asked him: “why don’t you stop working?” He answered: why should I leave my clients? I’ll continue until I can. Don’t you want me to end up sitting on a bench in a park, like the old people do?”
No surprise, both his father and grandfather had been working until they were 80 years old as food and wine merchants.
Senior, Seniority, Senate. What do they have in common? They all come from senex (old person) and Senatus Romanus means “Assembly of old men”. Imagine what a combo would be a “senior” mentor to a “junior” millennial in today’s business world.
We tend to judge people by their ability to use an app, we are busy jumping on the next new skill, forgetting the priceless experience that older generations can give to the world. Going through his workpapers on his desk, I have been trying to understand the profound changes his generation experienced:
Through his 83 years he went from seeing allied soldiers giving him chocolate and chewing gum – at the end of WW2 in southern Italy – to learning how to FaceTime us from a hospital deathbed in 2020.
He was named after his uncle Ferdinando, who died in combat in WW1.
He learned to respect clients with his father Vito (pictured above in front of his shop) and travelled with him across the region supplying food and wine to shops and restaurants.
After graduating from University in Law, moved to Rome where he married my mum, the love of his life to whom he was married 50 years.
He started working as an insurance agent in the 60s, I imagine his energy, starting from scratch, selling a fresh new product: car insurance (in the 70s had just become mandatory by law).
Then came the 90s “digital transformation”, I remember his face while helping him transition from his vintage Olivetti typewriter (still in his office today) to a brand new 486 PC.
A few years after that, online car insurance was booming, with prices that were impossible to compete with.
How could he cope with those prices, I thought. But the seeds he had planted for 30 years were fruitful. Most of his clients never left him.
Even when he changed the insurance company he worked for, I remember that many of his clients didn’t even know whom they were insured with.
They trusted him, he was their “Assicuratore”.
If they had a car accident or their car got stolen, they didn’t call the insurance hotline, they called him.
If they wanted to buy a new car, he was the one advising them which engine to get to pay less insurance. He was on commission and would have earned more money with more expensive insurance, but that would have been unfair, in his opinion.
In a time of chatbot and endless call-waiting with customer service, he was still providing a real service, an added value that helped him to keep a loyal customer-base that went to the second generation. Who said that an old-school approach cannot be future-proof?
Ciao papà, I’ll treasure those learning’s for the next generation.