Maura Latini: "Coop belongs to everyone – that is our true strength"

Maura Latini has spent her entire career at Coop Italia, rising from supermarket clerk to president. In her interview with the GDI, she discusses the evolving retail landscape, sustainable initiatives and her vision for future leaders.
20 June, 2024 by
Maura Latini: "Coop belongs to everyone – that is our true strength"
GDI Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute

GDI: Ms. Latini, you have spent your entire professional life at Coop, from the bottom (as a Coop supermarket clerk) to the top (as President of Coop Italia). How much is this your company, “your” Coop?

Maura Latini: Coop is not a company, but an atypical subject. It is a consumer co-operative whose principle is that every member is a shareholder in the co-operative. This means that they have access to the annual accounts, can participate in the meetings and have a say in the co-operative's activities, even in business matters. From this perspective, it is naturally easy to really feel part of it. Coop is not something separate, it belongs to everyone and this collegiality is one of its true strengths that has made it unique over the last 170 years, when the first consumer co-operative was born. And it is precisely the passing of the baton from Member to Member that guarantees the updating of the needs to which the Co-operative must respond in order to fulfill its mission.

Coop Italia has earned a reputation for its strong commitment to ecological sustainability and social responsibility. Could you tell us about a particularly inspiring project or initiative that Coop Italia has carried out in this area and what impact it had on the community?

Over the decades, we have implemented many initiatives along these lines. Just remember that back in the 1980s we ran an entire campaign to prevent the spread of plastic bags in the sea. A lot has changed since then. Today, the concept of sustainability is a paradigm that goes far beyond the simple “gesture of avoidance”. In this action-orientated perspective, we have therefore been carrying out really active campaigns in our areas for several years. Bee protection, urban reforestation, courses for civil and active citizen participation. I would like to mention the latest campaign we are currently running. It's called Blue Forest and involves Coop working to "reforest" the seas. In Liguria, Tuscany and Puglia (because Coop obviously has a very extensive territory), we will be working in 2024 and 2025 to protect and repurpose Posidonia Oceanica.

What may look like an annoying algae is instead a plant that makes a significant contribution to the oxygen content of our seas and is an ideal habitat for some species of fish and other marine life. We will replant 6000 specimens of Posidonia and monitor the rooting and protection of some sections already present but threatened by certain types of fishing and anchorages. To share and influence our projects in the civil context, Blue Forest also involves the Coop Members. In this case in two ways. Anyone who wants to can find the Sanseiveria in our shops, and by buying it they contribute 1 euro to the project. Instead, young activists under the age of 35 who are part of Coop's Young Community were able to take part in a training course on marine biodiversity. 400 of them took part and 100 of them will complete the course with real excursions at sea to finalise their training as marine tour guides. A typical example of our action, in which Coop's commitment always goes hand in hand with the involvement of the areas where our cooperatives and members operate.

As a cooperative you have many stakeholders: Coop-members, customers, citizens, employees, suppliers, manufacturers, brands and policy makers. Whom do you need most – and whom do you like most?

There is not a you need more or you need less. Coop is like a living organism that cannot do without even one of its smallest and most peripheral components. We are a complex system and we have always made our greatest wealth from this complexity and diversity. Surely you cannot think that in every action all components are always equally balanced. From time to time, this or that element will have a preponderance in a given dynamic, but the whole is what makes the result possible, which often makes it complete and multifaceted. The Members are essential to the life of Coop because they are also the owners, the customers help us to look at ourselves with eyes other than those of the Members, the suppliers are a constant table of comparison and growth, as are the manufacturers and brands, and the legislators are definitely an important benchmark for our actions. Our Cooperation is born to collaborate, and in collaborating, nothing and no one can and should be left behind.

Retail seems to be a rather unique combination of tradition and technology, of values and disruptions. How do you combine the contradictions?

Contradiction can usually lead to two consequences: Conflict or error. In our decades of work, we have undoubtedly experienced both, but in hindsight they were always a treasure in both cases. From conflict, we have often created a synthesis and learnt to welcome visions other than our own. We have learnt from mistakes to improve and develop ourselves further, so that we have gone beyond our own limits. Dealing with contradictions essentially means growing and accepting the mutations in context that require change.

It is important that we can always steer this change towards self-improvement. In our work, for example, there is a constant contradiction: we are constantly looking for virtuous products because they are sustainable, but also at a reasonable price so that they are accessible to all income levels. It is a contradiction that never ceases to be the object of comparison and refinement in our daily relationship with our suppliers. Because the right price for a product can only be achieved through a commitment to a constant search for effectiveness and efficiency.

Looking back on your own career, and looking into your company today: How many Maura Latinis are there, following your own example? And can you help them to succeed?

I see many young women around me who are ready to face the challenges that lie ahead. The new generations are better prepared than we were, they are more aware of themselves and their possibilities, they are also mentally ready to express their characteristics and abilities. They also have a bit of anger that drives them to assert their place in the world. So I think that there will definitely be more female presidents and board members after me. I hope so and I will be happy to see them grow.

Maura Latini will speak at the International Retail Summit on 13 September 2024.

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