Engineer Roberto Piatti is not a designer himself, but he became managing director of one of Italy's most renowned design houses this year.
At the end of 1996, shortly before his death, Nuccio Bertone himself chose Piatti to grow into the job.
'I was honored by the invitation,' says Piatti, 36, a mechanical engineer.
Bertone had developed the idea of what he called the design machine, and Piatti was asked to manage it. In purpose-built premises, creative and engineering people would work in a confidential atmosphere. Such an environment is essential to out-sourced product development, which is the core business of the Italian design houses.
'We can even rent separate units, complete with all design equipment and staff, to our clients who want to make use of our know-how and skill,' Piatti says.
Before Piatti started working at Bertone's beautiful facilities in Caprie, west of Turin, he had taken several steps into Italy's world of design. While studying, he wrote occasional articles for La Stampa newspaper, then he went on to write professional stories for Auto & Design magazine.
'And believe me, I still do some writing, like a thriller from time to time,' Piatti admits with a smile. 'I love that.'
But his professional heart is clearly in the design and development business within the car industry. For eight years, he worked at I.De.A. Institute, 'where I learned all aspects of design, engineering and industrialization.'
Piatti contributed to the Fiat Palio as project manager. He is proud of his contribution to this Fiat world car.
But as a businessman, he is especially proud of the company's record since the death of Bertone. Business has not declined, as might have been expected.
'We simply had to keep the Bertone tradition alive,' he says. 'In 1997, we felt an increasing trend of manufacturers becoming our clients.'
The main task of the company is to be creative, 'to be provocative and outrageous in our design creativity,' explains Piatti. As an example, he points toward the Pickster, a Bertone concept of a BMW pickup truck that debuted in Geneva.
But he does not make any artistic claims for himself, and he is clear about his role at Bertone.
'I am only managing director, since creativity is still in the hands of Luciano Ambrosio and Eugenio Pagliano.' Bertone's daughter, Marie-Jean, who studied architecture, also has a strong influence on the coachbuilder's creative outings.
Piatti's job is to be a good manager. He must keep control of design talent, research engineers and other craftsmen working in one company, under one roof, but for different projects and clients.
'To safeguard our independence and offer them exclusive services, we have developed a sort of supermarket of design where we can create style and solve problems,' says Piatti.
'Clients may come up with a project for further development when the actual design was not even made by us. These clients require great confidentiality, which we can offer by means of separate working units, each with their own entrance. It really is a unique concept.'
At first Piatti seems a soft and shy man, almost childlike, but as he talks his strength of mind and character come forth. He is a cool character in a sometimes hectic and temperamental environment.
To keep his head, he loves surfing and sailing. And between work and hobbies, he teaches industrial design at the school where he got his training, the Turin Polytechnic.