In the middle of the ocean and atop the deck of a vessel is where Carmelo Pistorio feels most at peace. “There is no greater autonomy than to be at sea in a sailboat,” says the 49-year-old Italian skipper of Singapore-based biometric security firm XiD Technologies, which is a leader in facial recognition tech in Asia. “Out there, you are the solitary king, beyond the boundaries of any laws. You are completely independent, and wholly responsible for your survival. There is nothing quite as intimidating – or as liberating.”
Pistorio’s intense affair with the deep blue began with free-diving off the Italian coast during his teenage years. The vastness and majesty of the sea continued to have a hold over him even as he moved to Massachusetts, US, to pursue higher education at the prestigious Tufts University. Son of a prominent and wealthy engineering luminary, he graduated with a degree in philosophy and history at age 26 – then found work aboard a 28-tonne fishing trawler based in Liguria, in north-western Italy.
“I knew the sea was the only place I could go to slowly make sense of the world,” says Pistorio, who often pens his musings into short novels and poetry. “My parents were actually not surprised.” After all, he had, with peers, driven an Alfa Romeo into a conflict zone during the ’90s Bosnian War, to better understand “the plight of the human condition”. “I felt shame that human suffering provided such escape for some, and thus turned my attention towards nature.”
And so he spent a gruelling year aboard the trawler, hauling huge catches and battling the bitter cold. “My fingers were often so sore, I had no choice but to sleep with my arms crossed limply over my chest. This way they touched nothing.” It was only when his grandfather urged him to focus on building a family and career that Pistorio took up business pursuits in the tech sector, eventually arriving on Singapore’s shores in 2002 and becoming a permanent resident a year later. His mariner’s instincts served him well on land.
“Running a company is similar to captaining a boat. You need to align many people, each with a different function, towards a common goal. You need to work around many elements,” he reflects. “Sailing is one of the best schools of life, where you learn about interdependence and vulnerability, and how to govern.”
“Sailing is one of the best schools of life, where you learn about interdependence and vulnerability, and how to govern.”
– Carmelo Pistorio
The exigencies of helming Singapore-based dot.com companies and a venture capital fund split Pistorio from his passion for nearly two decades. In 2009, however, he purchased a J-24 sailboat, christened it the MS Jock, and formed a crew with some friends. It took them a year to find their sea legs, then they began winning regional competitions organised by the Changi Sailing Club, some years even outperforming fulltime sailors.
Now executive chairman of the company and free of most operational duties, he’ll have more time on deck. “The view of the sky as a complete dome, touching only the horizon – this is among the greatest masterpieces of nature that one can behold.”