Enrico Mattei. The man of the future
Talent, humility, perseverance; the story of Enrico Mattei is marked by these and other qualities, and is the story of a man born in a small village in the Marche to a family of modest means would go on to become the Chairman of Eni, a multinational protagonist of Italy’s post-war economic miracle. The qualities of strategic thinking, loyalty, an attachment to the family and a commitment to politics were also crucial in the realisation of the dream of a man who looked to the resources of the present in order to imagine the future and build a national energy company.

Childhood and the search for independence

Enrico Mattei was born on 29 April 1906 in Acqualagna, in the province of Pesaro, to Antonio and Angela Galvani. In 1919 his father was promoted from sergeant to marshal in the caribinieri, which took the family to Matelica, in the province of Macerata. After elementary school, Enrico attended a technical middle school in Vasto. The family’s economic difficulties and the strict discipline imposed by his father forced him to search immediately for independence, also economic.

Towards big dreams: from apprentice to the founder of a company

His father found him a job at the Scuriatti bed factory as painter of metal beds, then, in 1923, he was taken on as an apprentice at the Fiore tannery. Mattei’s rise at the company was rapid: first as a labourer, then as a chemical assistant and subsequently, at just twenty years old, he became head of the laboratory. The higher salary also enabled him to help his family, and, in 1926, he even managed to open a fabric shop for his mother. In 1927, after military service, he returned to Matelica and became the owner of the tannery’s main collaborator. Soon, however, they began to feel the effects of the general economic crisis and the business went into decline: in 1929 the tannery closed and Mattei moved to Milan where he set up his first factory with his sister and brother; a small laboratory of emulsifying oils for the tanning and textile industries. Thanks to the technical skills he had acquired over the years and his tenacity, in 1934 he founded the Industria Chimica Lombarda, with a factory in Via Tartini, in the industrial suburbs of Milan.

Organisational skills useful for a company and society

In 1936 Enrico Mattei married Greta Paulas, completed an accountancy qualification and enrolled at the Catholic University. In May 1943 he first met Giuseppe Spataro, a member of the Christian Democrats, who introduced him to the Milanese leaders of the new party which brought him into contact with anti-Fascist circles in Milan and, after the fall of Fascism, on 25 July 1943, he joined Marcello Boldrini, an economist at the Catholic University, the active partisan groups operating in the mountains around Matelica. When he returned to Milan he re-established contact with the local Christian Democratic Party that, on the basis of his organisational and military skills, nominated him commander of the Volunteers for Freedom Corps, the first co-ordination structure of the partisan forces in the Second World War to be recognised by both the Italian Government and the Allies. 1944 saw the creation of a military command for the north of Italy of the National Liberation Committee, of which Mattei was a representative of the Christian Democrats.

An enlightened strategy for a national energy company

In the days following the troubled end of the civil war in Italy, Mattei was appointed to liquidate and oversee the substantial privatisation of the energy assets of Agip, the Italian state-owned company, in 1926 by the Italian government in 1926 to develop the country’s own oil business. Mattei took a different route in order to achieve an objective that he considered fundamental: to guarantee the country a national energy company, able to serve the needs of households and the development of small and medium-sized enterprises at lower prices than those of the international oligopolies. He doubled the drilling of wells, enhanced mineral exploration in the Po Valley, formed the necessary alliances within the government and the country’s political parties to support him in realising a dram that, for the moment, was only in his mind. Success came in 1953 with the establishment of Eni - after long and tortuous negotiations - begun in 1947, between those committed to private initiative and those who were in favour of a strong involvement of the state in the economy.

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Energy: the economic miracle and confidence in the future

Mattei was able to affirm the strategic role of energy for economic development and inspire confidence in the possible miracle of Italian energy independence. He built a network of collaborators able to operate at an international level and this would become one of the strong points that Eni, beyond specific interests, was able to offer to Italy’s diplomatic efforts. Indeed, he was one of the first to cultivate a frontier spirit and respect for different cultures. On 27 October 1962, on a flight from Catania to Milan, his plane crashed near Bascapè, in the province of Pavia, taking the lives of Mattei, the pilot. Irnerio Bertuzzi, and the American journalist William McHale.


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