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Enterprise, ingenuity and tenacity are the main elements of the story of a family-run company that gave birth to an entire district and captivated markets: from a shop selling household appliances to an industrial multinational

Mino De Rigo

One was an imaginative and creative genius, the other an inexhaustible commercial spirit. They are Erminio and Remo Corghi, the enterprising brothers who are the protagonists of an Italian story, a text-book case history about an industrial empire created from nothing. A story that again attracted attention after the recent death of Remo, until the very end involved in the decisions made by the group he headed: a company that today, under the guidance of the Nexion holding, boasts a top position in the worldwide automotive equipment sector and whose birth in the heart of the province of Emilia led to the development of an entire district that currently now has 8,000 operators and a turnover of about 1.5 billion euros. The sons of a nurse and passionate about mechanics and electronics, the Corghi brothers were extremely inventive, talented and determined. Immediately after the war they ran a small shop in Correggio where they sold and repaired household appliances. The first invention was a birdcall device: the "Fonofil" was a magnetic wire recorder that replaced the inconvenient gramophones used until then, and soon a nightingale whistling on a magnet became their trademark. But the change from shop to factory and the establishment in 1954 of Corghi Elettromeccanica, came about thanks to the massive voltage stabilizers for TV sets that were expertly disguised in small tables of various kinds enhanced by mock volumes of the "Divine Comedy" or by elaborate flower vases. And then came a crescendo of ingenious solutions and technical inventions: from timers for the windscreen wipers of the "Topolino" to the first coin-operated audio guide, to the gadget for winding yarn at home that opened up a new market for the Corghi brothers.

Diversify to prosper
In nearby Carpi the knitwear sector was developing and women rounded up their husband's wages from the factory by working yarn at home: it was the beginning of a line of products for the textile machinery sector. But the search for useful diversification led to the exploration of other sectors and the brothers tried their hand at making dishwashers and washing machines as well as rotavators and tractors. These are very vivid memories in the stories told by Erminio's son and daughter, Giulio and Anna Corghi, son-in-law Mauro Severi, and Remo's daughter, Cinzia Corghi. Today, they are all equally committed to continuing a considerable entrepreneurial inheritance. The company's archives include splendid black and white photographs of shining products and workers in the sombre and captivating style of the brochures of the time printed on coloured card. Not to mention the instructions for use given to buyers, typewritten on flimsy sheets of copy paper. The idea of making manual work easier by using machines was at the basis not only of the subsequent manufacture of cone winders, hank winders and motors for the textile industry that would feed a business sector that was still in operation until two years ago, but also of products that marked a turning point at the beginning of the Sixties with the creation of equipment for wheels. "The first approach" - recounts Giulio Corghi, the new chairman of the Holding - "came with the perfecting of a rudimental balance that tyre repairers of the time nicknamed "bambocciona" (big baby) because it didn't work very well, took up a lot of room and couldn't be read unless they stood behind the wheel".

The invention of the tyre remover
Which led to the invention: a tachometer cable and disc with a pen that swung in synchronization with the wheel and traced a kind of coil, the shape and angle of which indicated the measurement that was shown on the front. But the most pressing request from tyre repairers was for something that would remove the tyres without so much physical exertion. "1961 was the year in which the first tyre remover was launched, the "Artiglio", which was so successful that it became synonymous with the device; it was based on technical principles that remained unchanged until the introduction of the lever-less version 40 years later. It was also the year of the first big factory; at that time it was in the middle of the countryside (nowadays more or less in the centre of Correggio) and was considered to be such an inconvenient location that employees had to be reimbursed for getting to it". In 1968 Erminio died and the main source of ideas and ingenious hunches died with him. But the road had been marked out and Remo, who had already established a programme for expansion on international markets, first in Europe and then in the United States, carried the family company forward toward new goals. In production, like the presentation in 1973 of a new automatic tyre remover for trucks, but also in image, with the supply of an ad hoc model for the Ferrari Formula 1 team. Subsequent growth was marked by a series of company acquisitions: Sice in 1972, to strengthen the production of textile machinery, and, eleven years later, Faip to increase its market share of the automotive equipment segment.

Local investments and a global calling
In the meantime, spin-off companies began to be created and these were the origin of the district of tyre removers in the province of Emilia, an area in which foreign competitors have invested in various production sites, as well as the start of initiatives that would add substance to the entire manufacturing chain: as management became more complex, it was inevitable that the group would outsource the production of components and use a network of specialist suppliers, especially given that design and assembly were the basis of added value. Corghi owns 197 patents and is 80th in the annual classification of companies registering patents in Europe. The entire group headed by Nexion has factories in Italy and China, subsidiaries and commercial agencies in Europe, Asia and the Americas, employs 878 people and has a consolidated turnover of 150 million euros, 28% of which in Italy and the rest outside its borders in 140 countries. "In the light of continuity" - Giulio Corghi concluded - "we are rationalizing the investments we have made so that we can concentrate on businesses with greater value and, as the construction of the site at Prato di Correggio demonstrates, strengthen the strong bond with the territory and the community to which we dedicate the social values that are the principal inheritance left to us by the founders".

• An old-style entrepreneur

"For him, the saddest moment in 2009, at the peak of the crisis, was when employees had to be laid off, even if was only for a short time". Cinzia, his daughter, has no doubts as she remembers the last years of Remo Corghi who had remained at the helm of the company he founded with his brother. Affable, jovial, a ready wit and very attached to his roots is how everyone remembers this old-style entrepreneur who loved to be in the factory, "cultivating" - says Franco Panari who has been with the company for 40 years - "a personal relationship with each of us. He kept an ever-vigilant eye on what was happening in the departments: if something wasn't working, he would be the first to see it". And he would look into it with precise questions "which" - emphasized Germano Campari, for many years in the technical office - "we were forced to answer truthfully because he gave the impression that he already knew what was happening". The experience, critical thinking and farsightedness he contributed to the decisional processes, combined with considerable pragmatism, are the aspects remembered by design and production director Corrado Bassoli. "On the one hand" - Anna Corghi recounts - "he gave us space so that we, the second generation, could grow. He never changed the decisions of others, on the contrary, he helped to direct them by pointing out the consequences. And in critical situations he reassured us: he had experienced the same things and they would be overcome in the same way".

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