Marisa was born in 1935 in Ceva, a small village in the Province of Cuneo. She graduated from the University in Turin with a degree Economics.
Her adventure in the world of new technologies began with a job in the Electronics Division of Olivetti. In 1959 Franco Tato welcomed her as a new graduate and offered her a job in Milan in the computer world, at the time an unexplored universe and for daredevils.
It was the first gamble she took and the first of a long series of challenges that, as an enterprising woman, she decided to accept. In 1963 Olivetti merged with Bull and as early as 1964 the winds of crisis were blowing, culminating in the electronics division being sold to General Electric. For Marisa Bellisario this was the beginning of her first foray into the international world.
In 1965 she traveled for the first time to New York and soon thereafter obtained full recognition of her managerial skills.
Decisiveness, capabilities and expertise, coupled with the experience gained at the international level, make her the undisputed protagonist of Honeywell. It was such a brilliant career that, in January 1979, she was appointed as Chairman of Olivetti Corporation of America, a position that she held until 1981, when she returned to Italy to take the reins of Italtel.
In those years, Italtel was passing through a phase of acute recession: it was a colossal company housing over 30,000 employees and 30 electromechanical companies which were either obsolete and/or facing serious loss. As CEO, Marisa was obliged to make courageous difficult and farsighted choices.
It was a difficult task as the Unions were against her, skeptical about her restructuring plan, while the press wrote that a woman had been chosen to make the end of the conglomerate softer. The only who appeared to trust and give her support was the former Minister of State Holdings Gianni De Michelis.
She did not fail however, and she made no mistakes: Marisa succeeded in the miracle of transforming a conglomerate of diverse and numerous plants into a modern, dynamic and innovative electronic company.
She replaced 180 out of over 300 executives, she started innovative projects that provoked interest in the United States marketplace, and in three years she succeeded in the impossible mission of turning the budget of Italtel profitable, with a turnover of 1.3 trillion lire.
She was a clear cut managerial success story which was written into the manuals of economics as an example of restructuring a public company. Her capabilities and accomplishments garnered the award for manager of the year in 1986.
A recognition that did not make it any easier for Marisa who continued to have to fight in the corporate world against ingrained prejudices. By example, the merger and acquisition deal between Italtel and Telettra, the FIAT Company in that industry was to have resulted in Telit, a large Italian telecommunications company.
However, the deal was cancelled because Fiat did not want to give her the primary role of CEO because she was a woman. This shortsightedness caused a halt to the growth of the Italian telecommunications sector that with Telit could have gained a prominent role in the international scene.
It was truly unfortunate and culminated in being an exemplary obstacle to what was and represented the career of Marisa Bellisario. A career built alone, rejecting compromises and power games, easy accommodations and fake solutions. Grown and strengthened in an environment that was rich of persons like Adriano Olivetti, Bruno Visentini, Carlo De Benedetti, Romano Prodi and Cesare Romiti, Marisa Bellisario demonstrated how a woman, by the angelic look but with an iron fist, can be the authentic interpreter of a winning destiny.
Hers is the first career, in our country, in the world of telecommunications and information technology, which she saw as the “future of nations” and the first with an international scope, highlighted by her incredible insight and foresight when she wrote about “having discovered twenty years earlier than economists and experts that a company must be international“.
“I am alone and I start from zero: it is my calling” she once wrote, referring to one of her new managerial adventures. This message which she launched is that every woman, if determined and courageous, daring and able to pursue her ambitions, can achieve any goal in life and at work.
In her autobiographical book she expresses regret for not having done more for women: “I have not lived as a protagonist for feminism in its warmest years” she said. In fact, when she began at Italtel, women who were graduates accounted for only 5%, but within a few years, thanks to her, the percentage rose to 27.
During her career, she also chose to be part of the National Commission for Equality between men and women, established in 1984 by the then Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and chaired by Elena Marinucci.
She chose for herself the Presidency of the Section for new technologies, leaving a document that calls for study, research, and innovation because, as she said, “technology is the best ally that women have ever had”.
Above all, Marisa Bellisario proves in her actions, as with work, sacrifice and self-confidence that you can get anywhere you want. Candid and realistic as she was, she did not promise an easy path; and in that regard, she wrote “For a woman to make career is more difficult but it is more fun”. In her model of living and working there is no place for differences based on gender, but only for values and in this way she manages to sublimate the idea of equality.
The President of the Republic Francesco Cossiga is noted as saying that “… her commitment is for the history of women a symbol of the affirmation of equality between man and woman“.
The career and accomplishments of Marisa would certainly have continued to reach heights unthinkable for a woman were it not for her having been struck a fatal disease. She passed away on a sultry afternoon on August 4, 1988, and ended, prematurely, the story of a lifetime, of a leader, of a woman, and of an entrepreneur, still today the true role model within a society of difficult imitations.
Marisa, in fact, was not only a “tough but fair” manager as defined by the international press. She is the woman who revolutionized the image of managing directors in gray with her explosive mix of firmness and sensitivity, an air of coquetry and sense of management. Her face, her bold hairstyles, her trendy clothes, the covers of newspapers around the world, make her as popular as a diva.
Confident and proud of her femininity, she was and still is appreciated, respected and esteemed both by CEOs of the largest international companies, politicians, presidents and kings, unions up in arms, workers and white-collars.
In her life a privileged place remains for her affections: her husband Lionello Cantoni and all of the dogs and cats -her true passion- which find refuge in her beloved villa on the hills of Turin.
Marisa Bellisario left a mark on everyone, and especially on women. For them, she represents a new and different example, which example paves the way for all of us.