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FARE INSIEME - Ep. 174 - Van Leeuwen Italia, that steel pipe giant that looks to the world

«We try to be dynamic and decentralize decision-making»



Behind apparent simplicity there is a high complexity due to the type of material processed and application fields - from cars to thermal power stations, bridges and cranes. The story we are about to tell reaches Lippo di Calderara di Reno from Holland. For FARE INSIEME, Giampaolo Colletti interviewed Ruggero Nestri, CEO of Van Leeuwen Italia

by Giampaolo Colletti

Photocredit: Giacomo Maestri e Francesca Aufiero

“This is how we should be! Like water. No obstacles – water flows. If it finds a dam, then it stops. The dam breaks, water will flow again. In a square recipient, water becomes square shaped. In a round recipient, water becomes round shaped. That is why water is more necessary than anything else. Nothing exists in this world that is more adaptable than water. Nevertheless, when water reaches the ground, persisting, nothing can be stronger.” This is what the philosopher Lao Tzu wrote almost 1,500 years ago. There you are, the story we are about to tell you has a lot to do with water and with those who, one century ago, learned how to manage and almost tame it. After all, the entire culture of the country we are about to visit is based on water. Because, to tell this story that is now part of Emilia as well, we need to start from far far away, almost 1,200 km cutting Europe in half from south to north. We find ourselves in Zwijndrecht, a district of less than 50,000 inhabitants in southern Holland. It is here, in a land that often goes underwater, that Val Leeuwen was set up in 1924, a company that for over a century has specialized in the supply of steel pipes, piping and related applications that are then distributed all over the world. It is from here that pipes of the most varied shapes and types are shipped for various applications: Oil & Gas systems, chemical and petrochemical systems, refineries and energy production plants. Everything started in a garage. That same garage that is still standing today and that has become a distribution centre covering 60 thousand square meters. A garage linked to the whole world, as the company is present in 33 countries and manages almost one hundred branches all over Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and North America. Italy - and Emilia - included.

Company profile. But let’s remain in Holland. Everything started from teamwork. The intuition was to combine two groups - Benteler and Van Leeuwen - born from the entrepreneurial stories of two families who formed part of the European steel aristocracy. Families that, over the years, crossed paths multiple times on various markets, opposing yet united. From Holland to Italy, now the second major European market for steel pipes after Germany. The beating heart is Lippo, a district of Calderara di Reno with less than 15,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area north-west of Bologna alongside the river Reno a stone’s throw from Bologna airport. Just think that Sacerno is located nearby, a place that was once called Mezzomondo and the place where Octavian, Lepidus and Mark Antony met in 43 BC to divide the territories that were part of the Roman Empire. But how do we get here from Holland? In 2019, the giant acquired a network of companies linked with steel and their competitors. Among them was one in Italy, and more precisely in Lippo di Calderara di Reno.

People profile. “Our DNA is rooted in the harbour: we are sailors, i.e. people who sail the market as if it were the water found in the channels that abound in the Dutch land, sniffing the wind and acting on the market to best manage events. But, to do so, it is also important to embrace digitization: that is why we establish contacts via webshops and employ artificial intelligence to process orders. All of this is combined with an advanced degree of automation in our warehouses and technologies such as laser cutting and welding, which are standard for many companies forming part of our group,” reports Ruggero Nestri, CEO of Van Leeuwen Italia. In Italy, over 50% of our collaborators are under 40 and 46% are women. These figures should not be taken for granted for a company working with ferrous metals. “We try to be dynamic and decentralize decision-making. We want to involve our collaborators in strategic choices generating great responsibility which can be reciprocated with the right freedom of action. After all, entrepreneurship is one of the founding values of the group, and this is how we interpret it in Italy. This must also not be taken for granted: many companies in our sector are characterised by extremely vertical decision-making processes. This can be an advantage when seniors are in control, but a disadvantage when dealing with the younger generations, who need strong identification with the company to truly unleash their potential. Our people are specialists with a passion for steel pipes: a world that may seem simple but which encloses high complexity due to the type of material processed and fields of application: from cars to thermal power stations, bridges, cranes and much more,” says Nestri. The future is linked with the Emilian production territory: hydraulics, production of agricultural machinery, automotive, motorbikes, precision mechanics. “We are at the service of these and other market segments. After all, 65% of our clients come from Emilia,” stresses Nestri. He also mentions the distinctive symbol of the company, i.e. the two lions. They appear in the name and logo and represent strength and ambition. Going forward, sailing the seas of the world without ever stopping. This is the winning recipe for successful organisations.

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