Titanic Morning Future
Guiding Books 18 October Oct 2019 0721 18 October 2019

Enterprising young men aboard the Titanic

Luigi Ballerini tells us the story of the ocean liner from the point of view of some Italian young men who worked on board. An exemplary history of leadership, work and expertise

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Cooks and chefs, waiters and room boys. They are a team, put together by Luigi Gatti, an enterprising young man from Montalto Pavese, where he was born thirty-seven years earlier. When: April 1912. Where: the Titanic, which will sink a few days later.

Luigi Ballerini, in Un sogno sull’oceano -A Dream on the Ocean - (San Paolo, 2019) tells us the story of Gatti and his coworkers. And it is a story that interweaves emigration and work, enterprise and integration, a story of intelligence and of challenge.

The A la Carte restaurant run by Gatti on the Titanic

Gatti started working in restaurant industry at a very young age. From Lombardy he had moved to London, first as a dishwasher, then running two restaurants in the Ritz chain. His success leads him first to the catering of the Olympic Games, and finally on the ocean liner that will drag 1500 lives to the ocean floor, including his own.

What does Gatti’s story tell us today? A psychotherapist, writer, author among the most appreciated in the world of children's literature, Ballerini explains:

A drawing of the Titanic

“Gatti is an Italian immigrant, he works hard to reach a position. Once he has, Gatti does not stop and enjoy his success, but literally gives back to others what he had. And how does he do that? He hires other young Italians, very well-prepared, very good workers, eager to build a future. But to build it together, with a team. In addition to being an extraordinary story in itself, Fabrizio Gatti's story is an exemplary story for many reasons.”

The Titanic story has been written and rewritten a thousand times...
But you can write a story with a different point of view. I never thought I'd tell a Titanic story until I encountered the story of Luigi Gatti. He offered me the opportunity to tell that story from a different point of view. An Italian, alone with his cardboard suitcase, Gatti arrives in London and finds a job as a dishwasher. He grows up, becoming so powerful and rich that he owns London's two most renowned restaurants...

He becomes a celebrity...
Just like today's chefs. And the Americans want him as a restaurant manager on the Titanic. Let us think of one fact to understand how important this was: the ticket for the inaugural crossing cost an equivalent in 89 thousand euros. Even among travelers there were differences and, for super VIP travelers there was a super exclusive restaurant for a fee. It was Gatti's restaurant. Gatti was so powerful and renowned that to accept the assignment he dictated two conditions. First condition: he would decide the menu. And the menu was really special, it included Italian products (Gragnano pasta, gorgonzola cheese, local oils) and thirty wheels of Parmesan cheese, insured with American Express...

And the second condition dictated by Gatti?
Gatti had to choose the staff himself.

This story should be studied in leadership courses...
Exactly. Gatti chose mainly Italians and some Spaniards. I came across the story of Ugo Banfi, 24, for whom Gatti literally made fake documents to have him on board. Remember that to work as a manager in a restaurant you must have turned 25. Gatti then goes to the Italian consulate in London and gives him a false birth certificate.

In the early 20th century, many young Italians moved, emigrated, traveled. They did not travel to travel. They were not moving carelessly. They moved competently and with agency. They knew two, three, five, seven languages. They had studied them, taking their chances, learning while they were working. Those young people were resourceful. We can and must learn from them

Why did he want a 24-year-old boy at the head of a situation which carried so much responsibility?

Because this twenty-four year old spoke seven languages. The initiative of these guys, on paper little more than illiterates, in reality equipped with what today we would call soft skills, is a story that must be told...

Telling the story of the Titanic from the kitchens, that is, starting from the jobs...
A job that meant undertaking and the ability to create a future. In 1912 we moved, we travelled, got busy. The story of another young man, Italo, is interesting. Italo had heard that in London they were carrying out a job interview to hire waiters on a new ship, so he went. He left Italy to go to London - without communication tools, simply because the rumor was circulating that there was a chance of work meant believing it. Really believing it.

Luigi Ballerini

A question arises: did Gatti choose those young people just because they were his compatriots?
No, he wanted them because they were good and, in his opinion, they wanted to become even better. There was an idea of growth, of schooling, of career behind his choice. He knew they wanted to learn, and he wanted them to learn.

How does the story end?
Gatti was given the chance to save himself, by climbing on a lifeboat. He did not climb. A man who started out as a dishwasher, who became a great restaurant entrepreneur, chooses not to go up. He had to stay with his boys. Together to the end. If we wanted to draw a moral, today from this story, I would say that we should reflect on how these boys moved, emigrated, traveled. They did not travel just to travel. They weren't moving carelessly. They moved competently and with agency. They knew two, three, five, seven languages. They had studied them, taking their chances, learning while they were working. Those young people were resourceful. We can and must learn from them.

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