The Italian Business Genome

Italy is renowned in the world for its high quality product design. However, in a country where the crisis is widespread, the national debt is high and the fiscal system is not encouraging entrepreneurship, being successful in business can be really chall

  • Sonia Bonfiglioli, President at Bonfiglioli Riduttori Spa
    Sonia Bonfiglioli, President at Bonfiglioli Riduttori Spa

IEN Europe: The top five Italian industries that are having most success in exports are distinguished by high and cutting-edge technology. Could you tell us what is Bonfiglioli's philosophy regarding state-of-the-art products design and aesthetics?
Mrs. Bonfiglioli: We work in a sector where the main drivers are technology and innovation. Therefore, our philosophy draws attention to the theme of innovation in the light of integrated technology. The topic of mechatronics from the point of view of components design is for us the main element of connection with our clients: We try to understand their needs, which are different from sector to sector. The theme of aesthetics has been taken into account just in the last few years, and only by specific sectors, like automation industry. Obviously, product technology and innovation are the top priority when it comes to product design; aesthetics are important but customers expect high performing, quality products over aesthetics. However, companies that are able to design products that have an aesthetic appeal, as well as superb design and performance, are the ones who will have a distinctive element that can position them as leaders. At this moment, in our sector there is a strong competition for leadership and the players are only a few companies. Currently, Europe is still the leader country in our sector on an international level. It's a leadership that obviously starts with guaranteeing technological performance and confirming innovation. These elements of value and responsibility are implicit, as much as the fact of giving the client everything he can appreciate: Here it comes into play the theme of research of aesthetic value.

IEN Europe: How do you explain the reasons of success on an international level for your most celebrated product range?
Mrs. Bonfiglioli: The difference between Italy and the other countries is now becoming tighter and tighter. Dimensional difference among clients or sectors can exist apart from geographical differences. It's obvious that when it comes with dealing with big companies, the model becomes the capacity of co-engineering but also of co-testing solutions, even completely new solutions. In the last twenty years, companies active in the manufacturing industry have massively looked for best practices, which are now more or less the same. Nowadays, it's important to send customers a message of continuity and show them our intent to invest and research, together with the willing of questioning ourselves with openness: These are soft elements which are however very important in a medium-long term relationship. Today, there are far less distinctive elements for a company than in the past. So it's essential to get into soft themes such as interrelationship, responsibilities and desire to be at the forefront of situations, always being available to discuss problems and correct mistakes, in order to find the best solutions for the client. This business culture is becoming the winning system.

IEN Europe: Despite its 3200 employees around the world and facilities in 80 countries, Bonfiglioli had the ability to keep its original identity of a strong family-run firm renowned at an international level. How have you been able to keep this brand identity?
Mrs. Bonfiglioli: Not taking anything away from managerial skills - that every company is supposed to have - when a company doesn't have a long term vision, the person in charge could be someone who today is here and tomorrow is somewhere else. Clearly, when you have a family that believes in the company and works under the old concept "poor family, rich company", this gives you an advantage and helps you measure yourself more in the light of long-term elements, also by choosing the management that gets closer to your business culture, which is a company's DNA. This business strategy, more attentive to long-terms elements rather than hit-and-run ones, is our culture and defines how we were born, our DNA: Today, this strategy is a real distinctive element.

IEN Europe: How much Italy has been a part of Bonfiglioli's success? Do you think Bonfiglioli would have reached the same success without its "Italian genome"?
Mrs. Bonfiglioli: If Bonfiglioli had been established elsewhere, maybe we would be different now. We are sons of the geographical context in which we grow up. We must remember that Italy of the Post-war is a country with healthy roots, a beautiful country. I'm proud of being Italian, and I'm pro-Europe, but I also feel citizen of the world. There's no doubt that Italy's history is made of important figures of men and women who fought for values such as independence and religion. Obviously, it's true that an apple always has two halves and a coin two faces, but I'm proud of being Italian even if I'm aware of the limits of my country at a systemic level. I like when I see people ready to fight every day to show the world that this country has good values and a healthy and widespread business culture, despite the fact that in Italy there are fewer government benefits, energy costs more and the tax system doesn't allow Italian companies to be competitive on a European scale. That being said, I'm confident that this healthy part of the country won't give up, but will rather do its best to turn this positive attitude to normality, as abnormality can't dominate.

IEN Europe: Can you mention the most significant advantages and disadvantages of establishing and maintaining a business in Italy?
Mrs. Bonfiglioli: One of the themes that I find extremely weak, not only in Italy but also in Europe, is the theme of expertise. In Italy, the greatest part of our industrial sector comes from mechanical engineering, which has been the driving sector for years, but if we think that the leading technologies of the future will require expertise in mechatronics, electronics and IT, we understand that these integrated skills will be distinctive not only in Italy but also in Europe, and should be encouraged and promoted. To gain these skills, it takes at least five years. So we need to start sowing today, to reap a new industrial culture tomorrow. This is fundamental both from a social point of view - since we need to match the needs of enterprises with the training opportunities we give to our young generations - and for the economic development of the country. That's because if you don't find this expertise here, you will look for it abroad, but you won't contribute to your country's development. Europe is facing the same issue with lack of expertise, so I think that these are questions that we should deal with on a European scale, since looking for a solution as Italy is restrictive. However, I'm not so sure that in Europe there is more awareness regarding who is leading these policies towards the acquisition of integrated skills.

Sara Ibrahim