Stefano Bartoli, the Timenaut of the Lagoon

Stefano Bartoli is the owner of Bagni Alberoni, a historic beach property on the Venice Lido. He’s young at sixty, with a head of hair that suggests a bush. Refreshingly open, disarmingly honest, Bartoli is a former chemist whose dad wanted him to be a ski champion, but who fell in love with baseball instead.

Venice from the steamer

The steamboat departing from Santa Lucia Station struggles as if going uphill. The lagoon is jade green under an insolent sun; gondolas sway. I can smell the water and fumes of marine exhaust pipes. I count tourists in groups of hundreds. The whole world is in Venice! The steamer leaves the Grand Canal puffing along, southbound. Beyond the Giudecca and its canal, we can clearly see the long strip of land called the Venice Lido. One more bus and I’ll meet Stefano.

ws From chemistry to the beach: what do you call this career change?
sb It could be called destiny. Actually, I come from a family of chemists, including my grandpa, dad, uncles, cousins, and sister. It seemed inevitable that I would become a pharmacist too. I graduated in biology, and then after two more years finished in pharmacy. For family reasons, I started working with my sister who inherited my father’s chemist shop in Padua. We worked together for years. It was a job that brought income as well as satisfaction, but increasingly I felt drawn to a different life. I wanted to leave the city and be close to nature. I am an anticonformist and a rebel; this is the true legacy of my dad.

ws You mention your dad. How did he infuence you?
sb My dad was a visionary, a genius-anticonformist. I had a lot of friction with him, but he had the great insight to push me toward my dreams, to encourage me to develop my ideas consistently, without worrying about what others thought. One day he left the pharmacy, bought a piece of land, a “rock” on the Marmolada, and built a prefabricated house where he lived happily for the rest of his life.

The cabanas at Bagni Alberoni

ws An important trail. How did you end up buying the Bagni Alberoni on the Venice Lido?
sb Once the decision to leave Padua and the pharmacy was made, I had to convince my wife Daniela to resign from her job so we could pursue this adventure together. We looked for a place in Veneto and Tuscany for a long time, and visited many places. In 1995, we went back to the Venice Lido, an island that we loved. The Bagni Alberoni arose in all its wonderful decadence. The facilities were obsolete and ugly; rain leaked in from the roof; the water system worked by fits and starts. There were a thousand things that didn’t work. But the place was amazing, the nature tasted of the wild and we were only 20 minutes from Saint Mark’s square. We fell in love and, after long negotiations, we purchased it.

ws How much did you pay for the beach property and how much does it need to run?
sb We needed 235,000 euros at first, then a series of expenses for ordinary and extra maintenance. The annual concession costs 36,000 euros, and waste removal runs 30,000 euros—this for a season that lasts, on average, 100 days a year. It wasn’t always easy. We had difficult moments and problems of various kinds, including my separation from my wife.

ws How much land does the beach resort occupy and what services do you offer to guests?
sb The beach property covers an area of of nearly five acres, including the beach and the building that houses the restaurant and a kiosk. We offer 135 cabanas and 180 parasols for an accommodation capacity of about eight hundred units. The restaurant is open everyday, both for lunch and dinner. The kitchen is well-known and serves traditional dishes and some that are a bit more exotic. It attracts outside customers as well as guests. My three sons manage and work at the kiosk, a place for young and slightly older people, that serves aperitifs, cocktails, and cold drinks. There’s live music, and evenings there are a delight.

A pensive Stefano Bartoli

ws How many employees do you have?
sb and the building that houses the restaurant and a kiosk. We offer 135 cabanas and 180 parasols for an accommodation capacity of about eight hundred units. The restaurant is open everyday, both for lunch and dinner. The kitchen is well-known and serves traditional dishes and some that are a bit more exotic. It attracts outside customers as well as guests. My three sons manage and work at the kiosk, a place for young and slightly older people, that serves aperitifs, cocktails, and cold drinks. There’s live music, and evenings there are a delight.

ws How many employees do you have?
sb We are a big team, beginning with family. In addition to my former wife Daniela and myself, there are our three sons, my new partner Alessia, and our son—Alessia’s and mine. There are also twenty-three others on staff, including cooks, waiters, lifeguards, and attendants. They are all exceptional people, motivated and energetic. My staff also has two guys from Bangladesh, a Polish gentleman, a Lebanese fellow, and a Moldovan lady.

ws You were a chemist for a good part of your life, and now you’re managing a beach resort and a succesful restaurant. What is Bagni Alberoni’s turnover?
sb I still remember my first day. I was serving coffee when I accidentally hit a treebranch, cutting my head, spilling the coffee in front of customers, and scalding my hand. Then came the time a section of the ceiling fell onto the restaurant floor; and finally, a large woman broke a chair and fell head over heels onto the floor. That made me stop and think. The job was completely new to me, and I want to single out Bepi, a senior worker, hired by the previous owner, for helping me so much, especially in the beginning. At present, our turnover is about 500,000 euros a year, but there are many expenses.

Dad Stefano with two of his kids (Stefano and Lorenzo)

ws What’s the secret of your success?
sb I worked hard and believed in it. We bit the bullet when it was necessary. We thrived during some fantastic periods, and kept working. Our guests experience peace and the freedom to enjoy their holidays. Children play when and how they want. There’s room for everybody. I dislike restrictive rules. Guests must feel at home.

ws Old vinyls hang on the walls, photos of singers like Giorgio Gaber or Frank Zappa playing naked on the toilet; and Prodi’s interview to Enrico Berlinguer. What does all this have to do with you?
sb It’s still me, even after many years. I loved the Rolling Stones. I met Gaber and we talked for hours. Those things are a part of my life.

The beach resort and the waves

The beach resort and the waves

ws I see an image of a timenaut in my mind that around the year 2000 came on a trip to Venice and never left. Why? What did you find here?
sb Myself. There’s a moment of silence when a middle-aged woman approaches. “Sorry to disturb,” she says with a strong Veneto accent. “But I want to testify that Stefano has made a great contribution to this area. What he’s done is not only for himself, but for all of us who have been coming here for a long time. New activities are available; streets are clean;, dodgy people have moved on; and the community is much more content.” Some curious onlookers approach, nod, add a few details, and basically fly the flag of the Bagni Alberoni very high. Stefano Bartoli slips away with his private thoughts. His modesty has silenced them all. But in doing so, he has answered the question I didn’t even ask.

[W bagnialberoni.com]


freccia “I worked for three years as a Special Constable (a volunteer police officer), which provided a good foundation for the career I wanted.”

Lamorna Trahair has had a varied career since leaving school. She initially wanted to study Medicine, but University rapidly fell in her list of priorities. After many miles sailed, and being named among the “Top 35 Women Under 35,” she joined the Police Force.

ws What did you do before changing careers?
lt I was working for the Round-the-World Yacht Race as a race officer and I set up, as one of four founding directors, an adventure travel company. We developed what turned into a very successful company, running multiple events worldwide and raising over £1 million yearly for charity.

ws What pushed you to shift gears so dramatically?
lt Joining the Police had always been something I considered, but other opportunities arose. Once I decided it was time for a change, though, I mentally reviewed the previous jobs I’d had and identified the aspects I’d enjoyed most in each.

ws Why did you choose this profession?
lt I could enjoy the advantages of a “portfolio” career as well as the benefits of stability in having just one employer. It was also a career that involved less travel abroad, but still involved interaction with a wide swath of society. It also promised an element of excitement.

ws What type of investment did you make for this career change?
lt The move involved some initial sacrifice. I’ve had to curtail my expenses, but I see this as necessary to pursue the career I’m so passionate about. The biggest investment for me personally, though, is that of the intensive training period.

ws Are you happy?
lt Absolutely! I’ve always felt that being able to respond to the generic question, “So, what do you do?” with pride and enthusiasm is the best measure of job satisfaction.

freccia “When the morning bell rang in Italy, you heard, “It’s the postman, you need to sign.” It had become my worst nightmare.”

Guido Rabà is an Italian entrepreneur who, at the end of 2010, decided to leave his home country to move to the Isla Margarita in Venezuela, where he built a new life, both on a professional and personal level.

ws What were you doing before the move?
gr In the last twenty years, I owned a construction company, a business that at first worked in refurbishing and, in the last seven to eight years in building luxury properties. It was a prosperous business.

ws What made you decide to change?
gr In an end-of-year meeting with my accountant, she told me, “Guido, this year went well; our turnover increased.” “That’s great,” I said, “but be honest with me; how much have I earned for myself and my family, net?” She said, “Well, after everything, 24,000 euros!” At that point, I thought there was something wrong. At the end of 2010, I gave myself a month and warned everyone that I was leaving to see if Margarita Island was for me. 

ws What are you doing now?
gr In April 2011, after being on the island for only four months, I started a tour operator business called ItalCaribeClub. We work in two ways: we organize holidays in Venezuela and now also in Cuba and Panama; and we help and support people interested in following in my footsteps, who then move here.

ws What investment did you make?
gr I arrived with basically no money, but was lucky enough to create something like ItalCaribe Club. From the beginning, this business has produced income. It’s clearly not great by European standards, but here If I earn 100 euros on one trip, I am earning half the monthly wage of a clerk.

ws Are you happy now?
gr This is the hardest question. On a professional level, I’m very happy. I live with much less stress. I have the time and resources to do the things I love and I wake up in the morning with a lot of energy.

freccia “I had wanted to leave the chaos of Madrid and return to my roots. The loss of my boy was the final push I needed.”

Luis Montalvo is a Spanish entrepreneur who began as a messenger boy until he opened his own business. The stress of owning a company, but above all the tragic loss of his son, prompted him to return to his roots and create a leisure center in memory of his child, Luis Miguel.

ws What were you doing before this change in your life?
lm I began in the delivery world as a messenger when I was young. One day my ex-wife was laid off, and with her dismissal compensation I was able to set up my own business. At the beginning it was difficult, a loan wasn’t an option, so I had to sell my car and motorbike to pay my employees, but then things started to work out.

ws Why did you make the change?
lm I’ve always had a deep connection with the village where I grew up. It has always been a place of solace and relaxation; and after such a stressful situation, it was the only place to find relief. In 1998, my son was diagnosed with cancer and passed away two years later. During his illness, we talked about how much we loved karting. I promised him that once he was better, I would build a track for us. It never crossed my mind, at the time, that it might provide income.

ws What sort of investment did you make?
lm We had to start again from scratch. I mortgaged all my assets, my two houses as well as those of my brother and my nephew, and assets of my family, who supported me 100 percent. We knew that we needed 800,000 euros to get started. I also received funding from the EEC. Overall, the entire project cost us two million euros.

ws Are you happy now?
lm Now I work where I live, and that gives me time for my family. I’m very happy, if you can measure happiness. Often, happiness doesn’t depend on what you have, but in enjoying time for yourself, earning money to get by, and doing something you really love.

freccia “I’d thought that I wanted a career, but then realized that there’s a trade-off in your personal life.”

María Bodelón Maceiras is a Spanish professional. After a promotion, she suddenly realized that a good career and great money wasn’t the key to happiness.

ws What were you doing before changing careers?
mbm I was working in the finance department of British American Tobacco.

ws What made you change so dramatically?
mbm I had been working for the company for almost five years and then got promoted. I thought that was my ambition, to be a good manager and have a good salary. In many ways it was, and I worked very hard all along. But then I realized life wasn’t turning out as I had expected. In 2008 I visited India, traveled around for three months, and was strongly affected by what I saw.

ws What are you doing now?
mbm I decided to quit my job and do a master’s degree in Development. I never thought I would set up a NGO. Now I live in India, since 2009 where I run Seed for Change.

ws What sort of investment did you make in this career change?
mbm The investment was very high for me personally. Since I wasn’t making any money myself, I had to dip into my savings to support myself and cover my expenses, which are not high in India, but one needs to live. Even now I don’t get a salary, I just cover my expenses.

ws Are you happy now?
mbm Yes, I am happy. Still, if things don’t improve, I’ll have to find a way to support myself.

[W   avonandsomerset.police.uk    centrodeocioluismiguel.com    envialia.com     italcaribeclub.com     semillaparaelcambio.org]

Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Fall 2013