Two men from a different era but with common goals and a determination to be reckoned with.
The story of Marcantonio Colonna, ruler of the town of Paliano in the Province of Frosinone and Benedetto Dei Giudici, famous constructor from Sonnino who took part in the creation of the Punta Raisi airport runway. A story that shows how, regardless of the century, creating a great team is the secret to conquering any obstacle, whether ancient or modern.
It is well documented about Marcantonio Colonna’s victory in the now famous Battle of Lepanto in 1571 because of the cohesive and highly skilled team he had put together sourcing men from various towns throughout the Lazio region including Sonnino.
Upon his return from the Battle, he was confirmed as Captain General of the Church by Pope Gregory XIII (Ugo Boncompagni) and a few years later made Viceroy of Sicily. A bit of Sicily can be found today in Sonnino, due to this Sicilian relationship, in one of the alleys in the historic centre which is named after the patron saint of Palermo – Saint Rosalia.
Fast forward nearly 500 years, men from Sonnino descended on the nearby Palermitan town of Cinisi in Sicily. They were there to build the runway at Punta Raisi Airport. This was later renamed the Falcone-Borsellino Airport, after the two anti-mafia campaigners assassinated in the early nineties.
Benedetto Dei Giudici was the second-in-charge for the Roman construction company SAB – Società Appalti e Bonifiche. The company specialised in airport runway constructions around the country as well as in the Middle East.
Benedetto had been involved from the very early years of the company working on airport projects such as Miramare di Rimini, Ciampino, Aviano, Naples, Sigonella, Fiumicino, just to name a few. Being well respected by the company’s senior staff including the owners, Gianni Alberto and Dr Gioacchino Dorazio, Benedetto was tasked to create a working team for the newly won contract for Punta Raisi airport in the late fifties.
Thirtysix construction companies submitted their tenders which was awarded to the Roman led company. It has been documented elsewhere that their tender was 29% lower than the next tender!
For the duration of the Punta Raisi project, Benedetto and his trusted team and with their respective families moved to Sicily in 1959. The company was paid more money to complete the job one year in advance than what was originally agreed due to the additional pressure from the national carrier Alitalia as they were substituting their DC2 fleet with larger planes for the Rome-Palermo route as well as the first international flights from London and New York.
Cinisi was the heartland of the Mafia clans at the time including Gaetano Badalamenti and Luigi Impastato, the latter father to anti-mafia activist Peppino Impastato. Badalamenti had a construction business that supplied the crushed rock readily available from his properties for the building of the airport runways. Even though the airport was not in a geographically or meteorologically ideal location for flying due to the mountains and strong and dangerous crosswinds, according to various documented sources, Badalamenti was successful in bribing the officials to have it built near his hometown.
There is a famous piece of writing from the 1700’s by the Abbott Meli, a native of Punta Raisi/Cinisi where he used to advise the bird hunters not to bother going to Punta Raisi because the wind did not allow for birds to fly in the area! Ideal for airports with no chance of bird strikes however pilots would have to contend with the winds as well as the mountains parallel to the runway on one side and the Mediterranean on the other forcing the pilots to exercise either left or right hand circuits for landing and taking off.
The Sonninese group packed up their families and left Sicily to continue life back home. This didn’t last long when Benedetto’s team, now well trained, left for one final time this time to Kuwait in 1962 without family and their second in charge Benedetto. At this stage, Benedetto was working on the Fiumicino runways to ensure they were safe due to them being constructed on marsh land.
The men on the team building the runways at the new Kuwait City airport worked early in the morning until about 10 before it got too hot and then returning on site in the late afternoon when it was cooler. The Kuwait City airport build was a British company project and those working under the direction of the British were none too happy due to the subservient attitude they received from them. The locals lucky enough to be working alongside the men originally from SAB were happy to work with the Italians because they were treated as equals.
The two year project extended to over four years due to technical faults for the laying of the runway’s concrete in the British led project. It was a godsend for the men and the company as they were paid well and with many who had young families back home, the financial reward timing was perfect. The downside, the company paid the men’s ‘contributi marchette’ – the instalments towards the pension – was calculated at the lower amount as if they were working in Italy rather than overseas.
Who was Benedetto Dei Giudici?
He was a tall, lanky kind of man who commanded respect from anyone that crossed his path whether it was from the owners of the company, the engineers or his crew of men.
He was a strict but fair man which earned him the name of “Lo Sceriffo” – The Sheriff. His youngest son, Alberto, who also worked on a number of SAB building projects including Punta Raisi and Kuwait was automatically baptised with the nickname “Lo Sceriffetto” – Little Sheriff.
Just because he was Benedetto’s son, the second in charge, it did not earn him any extra privileges or leniency. Alberto had to work just as hard, if not harder than the other team members. At the time he didn’t know it, this also put him in danger with his father having received written death threats whilst working on the Punta Raisi project.
Benedetto was born in 1905 and was one of the very few in the town in that era who had a year five education, a rarity in those days unless you came from a well to do family. His above average education and skill in geometry and mathematics proved to be a rewarding factor for one of his class mates, born into a wealthy family and had become a civil engineer.
During the reclaiming of the Pontine Marshes – the Bonifica Pontina – the friend engaged Benedetto as his assistant and foreman to supervise the execution of the work by the labourers. He was from a not highly educated family of small land owners in Sonnino who had inherited a small parcel of land upon the death of his father, Pietro. Benedetto worked hard to provide for his family and went wherever he could put his skills to good use.
This meant going to Vienna to construct a deviation in the Danube River or even going to Dalmatia in the former Yugoslavia during the Fascist era building canals. He was one of the local men who were not conscripted to fight in World War Two. Even though he had the perfect height and strength to be the ideal soldier, he was rejected on the grounds that his chest measurement was one centimetre smaller than the minimum requirement!
Leaders can be successful in whatever field as long as they identify team members who have the right skill set as well as the ability to properly manage their team. Suffice to say that on the Punta Raisi project the work force was made up of about five hundred individuals grouped into a dozen specialised teams composed of labourers to machine operators and all individually known by name by Benedetto.
His well created cohesive group achieved the task at hand and completing it before the projected time which financially benefitted the company. This is what both Colonna and Dei Giudici were capable of doing and why they were successful in their roles.
Two stories that span across hundreds of years, of two different men that knew what a good leader needs in order to be successful, both on the battlefield and in life. A good and trusted team who are willing to sacrifice anything for you and work as hard as they can, values and beliefs that cannot be taught that span across time and space.