Success beyond the boardroom
Tony De Domenico and his multifaceted career. Journalist, politician, chairman, industry leader, Order of Australia Member and nonno... Meet former ACT deputy chief minister and chairman of Bertocchi Smallgoods.
Antonio “Tony” De Domenico, born to Italian migrants from southern Italy, was just 4 years old when he migrated from Alexandria, Egypt, to Melbourne, Australia. “You have two ears and one mouth; as long as they work proportionally, you’ll do well.” Tony shares treasured wisdom from his late father, a jeweller who was interned during World War II. As a migrant who experienced discrimination in the 1960s, Tony instinctively became a “fighter” – the foundation of the resilient and empathetic nature he embodies today.
Starting off as a journalist, he quickly shifted to a boisterous career in politics. In spite of high hopes, he lost the 1977 Victorian state elections by a narrow margin. He clearly recalls the headline in Melbourne’s Toorak Times “What’s this Wog doing in Toorak?” and negative comments such as “Why doesn’t he stand on the soap box in Footscray for the Liberals?”
The anti-migrant sentiments of the 1980s and 1990s hung in the air. He described his political career as “brutal” – a double-edged sword in this formula of success. Gracefully knocking back criticism, Tony managed to fully assimilate into Australian politics: he arrived in Canberra in 1981, he was elected to the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly in 1992, and spent the next 20 years in Canberra, where he became the first Italian leader in the Australian Capital Territory Government; then president of the Chamber of Commerce, member of the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly; and subsequently the deputy chief minister.
Tony’s career highlight was his secondment as trade commissioner in Milan in the early 2000s for the Australian Trade and Investment Commission. It was Tony who signed off on the Melbourne-Milan sister city relationship, which endures to this day. Thanks to a short sommelier course and his ability to speak Italian fluently, he managed to do the impossible and sell Australian wine to the Italian market. Tony easily bypassed any of the cultural barriers that Italian-Australians might feel when visiting their homeland; in fact, he forged connections that went beyond business negotiations. This took him all around Italy, exploring artigianale production houses and, most importantly, meeting his future wife. This vivid and romantic time abroad had him wining and dining at Italy’s finest osterie while rubbing shoulders with Italian fashion icons such as Giorgio Armani.
Tony aims to nurture the trade relationship with Italy and Australia in his position as life member at the Italian Chamber of Commerce. He served as president alongside friend and colleague Frank Gambera as vice president, for 10 years. Gambera boasts of Tony’s innovative strategy of self-funded activities which saved the chamber and its growth over the years. Fast forward to today, the chamber works closely with the Ambassador of Italy in Canberra on the import and export relationship between the two countries in major industries such as medicine, high technology machineries, and defence technology.
“Why kill with poison when you can use honey?” is another proverb guiding Tony’s business approach. Despite his renowned reputation in chairing numerous federal government and private boards, in 2018, Tony woke to the front page of Melbourne’s newspaper The Age with its headline “Property Guru with Mafia Link.” In fear that 45 years of community work would be flushed in an instant, Tony took legal action against The Age, successfully resulting in remedies but most importantly an apology to clear his name. There is a silver lining to this story – In the same year, he was awarded the Order of Australia medal for his contributions to urban planning, research, and development.
Now at Bertocchi Smallgoods, he boasts about how it is still a family-run business that continually seeks to improve their products and quality. With their connection to Beretta (the biggest salumeria in the world) and Parmigiano Reggiano, Tony is passionate about the brand. As a board member for 12 years, chairman for 6 years at the Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Australia – Melbourne, and inaugural chair of the Melbourne Italian Festa, he remains actively involved with projects he is passionate about. It is clear he holds tightly to the Italian culture and has been an iconic contribution to the migration story of Australia. Of all the titles he holds, unsurprisingly however, his biggest achievement is becoming a nonno!
Images provided by Tony De Domenico OAM