The Italian way
Dino Fenzi, president of the Fenzi Group, middle, with his nephew, Fabio; son, Alessandro; and brother, Fernando, celebrating the company’s and his 70th birthday during Vitrum 2011 in Milan, Italy.
At Vitrum 2011 in Milan, October 26-29, 2011, Glass Magazine interviewed Dino Fenzi, president of the Fenzi Group, the Italian mirror and decorative paints, and IG sealants and profiles manufacturer. It was the 70th anniversary of the company's founding and also the year he was born. Fenzi Group's three core business units--Fenzi, Alu-Pro and Rolltech--manufacture in Italy, Belgium, China, Russia and Canada and distribute to customers in 90 countries.
Glass Magazine: First, happy 70th birthday to you and your company. Your father founded the company the year you were born. Why mirror paint?
Dino Fenzi: Another 70 more, thank you! Yes, my father founded the company four months after I was born. At the time, he was the managing director of Saint-Gobain's department responsible for producing mirror backing paints and putty for car windscreens. But this was during war, and due to Allied sanctions, the company was forced to close all but essential wartime production, which included only glass. He decided to establish his own company.
GM: How many employees then and now?
DF: In 1941, maybe a dozen; today, 800 worldwide. Our market is 95 percent abroad; Italian turnover is less than 10 percent. Together, Fenzi Group has a net consolidated turnover of 250 million euros or $350 million.
GM: The glass industry is full of family companies. Your son, Alessandro, is CEO of Fenzi Group and your brother's son, Fabio, heads the Decorative Paints Division. How did their training in the business differ from you and your brother's under your father?
DF: I don't see much difference. Our family is permeated by business. We talk, eat and sleep business. I was 19 when I entered the family business; my son was 21. Then, we matured day by day. This is typically Italian.
I am 50/50 partners with my brother [Fernando]. What was done with me and my brother was exactly reproduced. Originally, I was in administrative and sales and my brother was technical and manufacturing. The company has grown and is different, so responsibilities are divided differently. Alessandro is more involved in the insulating glass business, which includes Alu-Pro, and I am more involved in the mirror business. Fabio is [focused] on the decorative paint.
GM: A 50/50 split can be difficult when there are disagreements.
DF: We always agree. There has never been an argument. This is the strength of our story. You cannot generalize, but Italy is different. We are a traditional family; mine is a generation with a single wife. If you want the family to stay together, you do not mix family [business] and [business] business.
GM: Except for Berlusconi?
DF: Ah yes, well he fired more than one wife.
GM: How is Alessandro different than you?
DF: Being born in 1970, he has more experience than a guy from 1941. The quality of a person is not only genes. Of course, my wife says he is better than me; he is half her.
GM: Where is Fenzi Group's growth coming from today?
DF: China and Russia. Manufacturing has moved from West to East because of their history; these countries lost 50, 60, 80 years of growth and so are growing fast now. Demand is the story. We have one very large factory in China and two factories in Russia. Europe and North America are struggling, as you know.
GM: Everyone is focused on how the European Union can prevent Greece from defaulting. With Italy's large debt exposure, are you confident disaster will be averted?
DF: As is Italy, so is California. I am not worried about the Italian situation. I read in the newspaper about the Tea Party's concerns and read the same things being said here. We grew double digits from 1998-2007, and this was too much. We discovered this was a bubble. We will catch up in two to three years.
GM: What is the biggest threat facing your company today?
DF: Shall I worry for something, or shall I worry for everything? Nothing in particular. In my life, I have seen six major crises. Today's problems seem bigger, but everywhere people are living better than 20, 30, 50 or 70 years ago. If you look at Milano in 1943, it was completely destroyed by the Allies. So, I am not worried.
GM: How has Vitrum changed? The Gourmet Festival is a spectacular addition.
DF: We had a setback in 2009 at the peak of the recession and lost 15-20 percent of the exhibit area, so we downsized from 33,000 to 27,000 square meters. Now, we are steady and have caught up again with attendance. At shows, we no longer have to sell or sign a contract. You have to exchange ideas and feel the mood of the market. I am very proud of the Gourmet Festival. It is a nice, new, smart idea.
GM: How does the cliché, "Rome was not built in a day" apply to today's glass industry?
DF: Day by day, there are new products and applications in the glass industry; it is astonishing what glass fabricators are offering. Fifty years ago, we could not have imagined the [advances] in insulating glass or solar applications. We have a wonderful product that will [continue to] find downstream opportunities.