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An interview with our CEO

An Interview with our CEO

 

Leopoldo Girardi is MAIOR’s Chief Executive Officer. He has been part of MAIOR’s story since its beginning and his valuable contributions have made MAIOR a successful company, not only in Italy but around the world.

In this interview, Leopoldo tells us how the company was founded, what are MAIOR’s core believes, and explains the elements that make it unique. He also describes the importance of R&D activities and cooperation with the academic world and outlines the future challenges of the public transportation industry.

 

How was MAIOR founded?

 

MAIOR began at the end of the 1980s as a sort of spin-off of the University of Pisa, around a small group of professors and recent graduates of the University of Pisa who focused their activities on operational research. Angelo Davini, then Antonella Albano, and I had recently graduated with Professor Paolo Carraresi, and we shared a passion for operational research and developing mathematical models and optimization algorithms.

The story of MAIOR begins with a group of friends motivated by the desire to create something together.

 

What does the acronym mean?

 

The acronym ‘M.A.I.O.R.’ means Management, Artificial Intelligence and Operations Research.

The Operations Research was the core of it, but the first experiments with AI were already being done within the possibilities offered by the computers of the time. M referred to the opportunity to provide management tools mainly to transportation companies, but not only. The initial idea was to expand into other markets. Actually, we grew in the public transportation industry, starting with buses, then with airlines and rail transport.

 

Management, Artificial Intelligence and Operations Research

What is the difference between Artificial Intelligence and Operations Research?

 

MAIOR started with both AI and OR. However, its development was supported most by Operations Research. When I have to describe the difference between the two technologies, I always like to quote a phrase used by Professor Antonio Frangioni of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Pisa: “AI does what you expect it to do, OR it does what you ask it to do.”

This is because Artificial Intelligence, despite its name, has little creativity. It tries to replicate in a “mechanical” way what a person would do; it can surprise you more by how much it can resemble you, but not by the quality of the solution it finds. Operational research can find unexpected solutions, which correspond exactly to what you asked for.

Today, AI is useful to facilitate daily work, making it less repetitive by suggesting small solutions. Operations research is still preferred when you have a very complicated problem and you aim to find the perfect solution.

 

Operations Research

What are the main cultural elements in MAIOR?

 

I am convinced that MAIOR brings a bit of Italy abroad: versatility, creativity, and the ability to approach problems thinking out of the box.

We are aware of having developed an important and very well structured software, it is the result of years of work, talent, and research; however, that software exists and works only thanks to the human component, intended as our staff, our partners, and our customers.

Ours is a niche market and each customer has its own history and uniqueness that it wants to maintain. Thus, our attention towards their particular needs is constant and a priority.

 

highly customized solutions

Why do customers choose MAIOR?

 

I believe that customers choose us because they want to change and improve. Just until a few years ago, tools like our MAIOR Transit Scheduling Suite were still not very common, so for a company to rely on MAIOR was an extremely innovative choice, linked to the desire to do things differently.

Today it’s different, those who come to us often come from a competitor and they choose MAIOR because they recognize the high quality of what we do, but above all, they appreciate the spirit I mentioned earlier: attention to the specific needs of each transit company’s reality.

I believe that the high customer retention rate is well explained to this, to the fact that we always provide solutions tailored to specific needs.

 

why Maior's costumers choose them

What makes MAIOR an innovative company?

 

The close relationship with the University of Pisa since the foundation of the company has made the innovative element very important from the beginning.

It was the late 80s, and computers were a long way from what they would become later, meaning, what you could see were green characters on a black background and no graphics.

The founders, Paolo Carraresi and Angelo Davini, were convinced that it was crucial to make graphically accurate applications and that to do so, it was needed to develop them on Apple Macintosh, which at the time was the only system that allowed the development of graphical interfaces.

Our software was one of the first in the world in which it was possible to interact more simply and intuitively.

 

MAIOR - innovative company

What will be the future of the public transport world?

 

The needs of the new normality and the social distancing linked to the consequences of the pandemic, the trend to use more and more alternative methods of mobility, such as car sharingbike sharingscooter sharing, as well as the development of new technologies, such as electric and autonomous vehicles, are all elements that will play an important role in the coming years.

I’ve always been impressed by this: Despite Italy is a country made up of many cities that have an ancient history, with historic centers where people mostly walked or used a carriage at that time, today soft mobility is not yet fully assessed. People who move on foot, by bicycle, or with electric vehicles are not many.

This is because public transportation is not something that makes history in itself, the ways in which we move are not simply linked to transport infrastructures, but are connected to urban planning, therefore to the choices by which cities are built and structured.

Future mobility scenarios will depend greatly on the urban planning choices we make today.

 

The urban chaos is necessarily followed by mobility chaos. Instead, if urban planning works properly, mobility also works. The future will depend on the hands we put it in. If the right choices are made, new forms of mobility also linked to new technologies will be very successful.

MAIOR urban planning

How important is research and development for MAIOR?

 

It is fundamental, and it is certainly a factor that differentiates us.

For many years now we have been investing about 30% of our turnover in R&D, a very important component for the development of the company. We have created an internal team of over 15 people, including mathematicians, developers, and researchers, whose sole objective is innovation.

We are carrying out projects involving Operations Research to constantly improve our algorithms and increasingly integrate AI within our software solutions.

 

cooperating with universities

What is the relationship between MAIOR and academia?

 

MAIOR started within the University of Pisa, with which the cooperation has always been determining and profitable. Our investments have often involved the University of Pisa in numerous collaborations; we have also financed and co-financed research projects with the University of Florence and the Milan Polytechnic, and collaborations with the Sapienza University of Rome and Roma Tre.

We would also like to create new collaborations with foreign universities; to date, we have done so only within the framework of European projects, some of which are still in progress. Many students from all over the world have done research projects with us, something we are very proud of and that has brought cultural richness to MAIOR.

 

What are the upcoming challenges for MAIOR?

 

Being part of the Clever Devices Family represents one of the most important challenges that we have faced, and that we are still living. MAIOR is an Italian company, and Italy, in many ways, is a great nation: it is the country that allowed us to grow and get where we are today. From an economic point of view, however, we are certainly not among the most powerful nations in the world; for Italian companies, dealing with international markets is quite complex. We have a cultural background and an attitude that helps us, but the Italian economy rules make it more difficult to carry out international operations.

Succeeding in the international market is still a priority for us, and with the support of the Clever Devices group, we trust we can do it. From this point of view, the acquisition by Clever Devices has been an essential step because it has allowed us to grow also in the US market. This, however, is not enough because our goal is to be present in the rest of the world.

We are well aware of the reality in which we move: coronavirus emergency, SaaS, AI, technological innovations and academic research, electric and autonomous vehicles, are all challenges that we are embracing.

 

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