Veneto used to be a land of poor people.
A generation of entrepreneurs emerged accidentally in the backyard, with little money and lots of willpower.
«Make» is the rallying cry in this land. Little talks, lots of hard work, good focus, and a little help: a blind eye on tax payments and policies prone to grant easy credit. In the 1996 Gian Antonio Stella, a journalist from Corriere della Sera, had the strength to speak out and tell everybody, included the absent-minded, that in the North-East of Italy a miracle was happening. Lots of small businesses were experiencing an unexpected prosperity. Money. Lots of money. Very fast money. After the destruction of the second world war.
This has always been a record breaker territory: the highest density of enterprises per capita, the highest export rate in Italy, the highest number of districts, the highest productive added value per worker in the whole country.
The best eyewear in the world? Manufactured here. Fabrics for luxury brands? Weaved here. The jewellery-shoes, the highest and most fashionable heels? Designed and produced here. To cap it all, Veneto is also known for its expertise in precision mechanics, with designers of aircrafts and nuclear power plants.
«Supply» is another keyword. We have largely been supplier-entrepreneurs. Outstanding suppliers. Unfortunately, we have succeeded in being the best in parts of the supply chain where very little added value is produced. In fact, the few entrepreneurs who have succeeded are those who started off as suppliers but rapidly understood the need to downstream, controlling the whole retail chain to establish a direct channel with the final customer.
For over fifty years, there has been only one outstanding example: Luxottica. A “company-town”, a district itself. A company in which its chief succeeded to survive not only all of his managers but also his own family, although sometimes stumbling, for the good of his enterprise which now is experiencing a record in sales. The economic crisis has fueled this giant eyewear producer, but has damaged so many other companies.
Those that stepped aside are the companies that proved unable to deal with globalization, with a domestic market that cannot absorb all the products of our own economy, with a stuck credit system and an insolvent public administration.
And still, in spite of the desertification of many business sectors (the first to suffer being the furniture and the construction industries), as well as many large groups (Electrolux to name one, along with other multinational firms that had invested in this area), Veneto was able to move forward, understanding that the landscape had changed permanently and that it was imperative to start investing again.
In these years of economic crisis, new champions have peered out but very few people have told their stories. Oftentimes the big scene has obscured the details and, in these bad times, the press has paid much more attention to the hight rate of failures and tragic suicides rather than to the emerging underworld.
Today, the economic recovery is tangible and it can be seen on the faces of those who have kept on working hard. Veneto has left many negative stereotypes behind, and its strengths are surfacing again.
There is still a lot to be done to catch up the “friend and competitor” German industry, which we are tirelessly supplying, sometimes with contracts granting us exclusivity. There is still a lot to be done to catch up the “friend and enemy” French industry that has shopped in this territory, from which we were unable to learn how to team up and shape truly big companies.
Except for Luxottica, with nearly 8 billion euros in revenues, Veneto is still a land of small and medium enterprises. But in these past years of economic crisis something has changed. Nowadays firms have understood that money should be invested as opposed to used for purchasing real estate. Moreover, we’re experiencing a season of sales of important brands, Dainese to name one, to Italian or foreign private equity funds or even to competitors. Why so? Failed intergenerational shifts, heavy debt, need for liquid assets/cash.
Those who are still in the market today are those who travel the world, those who look at distant markets as if they were the local targets. Several companies are still in the process of getting more international, while others have grown outside the national boundaries thanks to acquisitions. Overseeing and controlling the distribution chain was a crucial requirement for the growth and development of today’s big players like Calzedonia, pursuing diversification (from restaurants to bridal gowns), but also of a medium player like Fedon, that recently went public, which moved from eyewear cases to eyeglasses opening its proprietary stores.
To go public is a choice that several are starting to take into serious consideration, such as coffee Segafredo Zanetti, Masi Agricola (the producer of Amarone) and H-Farm. This last one is showing a need that cannot be further postponed to find possible synergies between the new digital services and the established companies. The external innovation seems to be the best way to diversify processes, products and communication, and to sell through e-commerce, a tool that so few companies use (Luxottica included).
Veneto was also able to dematerialize some industries. In this territory we also produce Apps and IoT devices, Lago furnitures are an example. The last step (or maybe the first step for those who look backwards) is the inclusion of the digital natives in our companies. A new season of jobs that can broaden people’s skills along with a wave of new contracts for a new enterprise in which the production line is made of cloud, sensors, augmented reality and 3D printers. In order to make this real, we need more than an education able to keep the pace of the established industry: we need an education that is way ahead of it.
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