From Bologna to the
rest of the world - a strong push towards internationalisation yet deeply
rooted in the Emilian community. This is the identikit of Bonfiglioli, a
business currently employing approximately 4000 people with a record 2021
turnover of €1.73 billion. For FARE INSIEME, Giampaolo Colletti interviewed
Sonia Bonfiglioli, Presidente and CEO of Bonfiglioli Riduttori
di Giampaolo Colletti
Do. Or Do Not. There Is No Try. This Star Wars quote would be heard many decades later, but it perfectly adapts to the entrepreneurial adventure of Clementino Bonfiglioli. In 1956, this young Emilian innovator, orphan of both parents whose father died under the last bombing of Bologna during the Second World War, founded what at the time was actually a start-up and which over the years has become a global giant. He received a technical training at the Aldini Valeriani technical institute, an excellent school that over the years churned out dozens of entrepreneurs that went on to make the history of the Italian productive fabric. But Clementino also boasted an unrestrained passion for everything to do with mechanics. He therefore became a designer for Samsung Ingranaggi and then set up his own business with other partners. Those were the years of the so-called “Italian Miracle” i.e. that economic boom consisting of genius intuitions, bold experimentations and stubborn determination. After all, Italy had to be rebuilt and it was done brick after brick, idea after idea, company after company. For Bonfiglioli, everything started in a garage, typical of US imagery but which has a lot to do with Italian and, mostly Emilian, innovation as well. In this case, the garage was located in Bolognina, a crowded neighbourhood near the Bologna train station inhabited mainly by a tireless and passionate working class. “Dad started making replacement gears for agricultural machines, American ones too. Those were spare parts linked to maintenance. He then moved on to the boxes that contained them and built the first gearboxes. Catalogue number 2 already featured a gearbox with the traditional endothermic machine gear,” recalls Sonia Bonfiglioli, President and CEO at Bonfiglioli Riduttori, the second generation that has been running the family business since 1992 together with her father until 2010.
From Italy to the world. Concreteness and vision - because Bonfiglioli thought his company had to be deeply rooted in the Emilian community yet boast a strong global vocation. In the 1960s, the company moved to Lippo di Calderara, a stone’s throw from the airport. “After all, the company was already literally starting to fly and we can say we were practically born with wings. Dad had an international vision right from the start: the first German catalogues already appeared in the 1960s, then assembly and production facilities were set up in Spain for the first time in the 1970s.”, Sonia Bonfiglioli recalls. The business currently employs approximately 4000 people with a record 2021 turnover of €1.73 billion. It includes 20 sales branches, over 550 distributors and 15 production plants all over the world. Two of them are in Germany, three in India, plus the ones in Slovakia, Vietnam, China and America. We are talking about co-engineering: clients become part of the project, from the embryonic stage, to manufacturing and to prototype testing. Different units share a common element of power transmission for different applications: there is the Construction & Wind area for earth moving machines, for the wind sector and for the marine sector. There is Discripit Manufacturing for industrial transmission. Then there’s Robotics. The current headquarters is a combination of past and future, tradition and vision. But the element that makes the difference is arriving before others. After all, Clementino Bonfiglioli has always repeated “forever forward” like a mantra. “We lived through a crisis in 2009, which however also represented an opportunity to evolve. We had to review the production model we had in Italy and gambled on an integrated digital approach. We already achieved this in 2016 so, as pioneers, we decided to review the processes and our footprint.” Thus came the integrated process, which joined all those dots that created a connected district inside the company.
Train to win. People often say robots will steal our jobs. But our job must be redesigned according to the new challenges and by introducing new skills. “Together with Boston Consulting, we mapped our skills, made a forecast of the expected ones and undertook a training journey that introduced an average of 200 hours of training a year for the new plant. An incredible number. We also invest in new talent: we set up a project on certified robotics with Belluzzi in Bologna,” explains Bonfiglioli. The Digital Re-Training pilot project was set up in 2018. Then there is the Bonfiglioli Academy, a platform that offers courses and the possibility to access a library with over 16,000 external modules available also via app. “The transformation journey does not start from the factory, but from skills. Together with the unions, the results bonus for each operator is also linked to professional career reskilling. As part of this, the concept of long life learning, i.e. essential ongoing training, is also faced with a logic that motivates employees,” concludes Bonfiglioli. In an ever-evolving world, knowledge remains the investment to make in order to grow.
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