AICA: 40 YEARS OF INNOVATIONS AND THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
Interview with AICA’s Chairman
As the 40th year of activities approaches, we had a chat with the Chairman of the Association, Mauro Severi. With an important past behind, marked by success and growth, the association still foresees many challenges ahead for the garage equipment sector. The first centers around the ability to understand and exploit the "great transformation" taking place in the automotive industry. Change is always the key word: constant innovation to stay ahead of the competition, and laying the foundations for a new industrial policy through a new corporate culture
Established on July 9, 1976, AICA - Italian Garage Equipment Manufacturers Association - is about to turn forty. The National Assembly held last November, the first since the death of the founder Giorgio Cometti, renewed its governing bodies, and the new Board of Directors appointed Mauro Severi as Chairman of the Association. Managing Director of Corghi as well as the Nexion Group, Severi is also Chairman of Unindustria Reggio Emilia, and is ready to take on the legacy of four decades of growth and success, driven by constant innovation, which established the Italian garage equipment industry as an industrial excellence worldwide. His words and opinions provide a privileged point of view on future technological developments and the challenges these pose to all operators.
Mr. Severi, you are the first to succeed as AICA’s Chairman to the founder Giorgio Cometti, who for nearly 40 years led the association with foresight and spirit of innovation. For 2016, which issues and goals has the Association placed in its sight?
Giorgio Cometti’s work and commitment was extraordinary in all respects: for the number of years dedicated to the Association, for his passion, enthusiasm and vision. A beautiful page of business partnerships that characterizes and distinguishes the Italian productive system. A reality, made up of small multinationals and SMEs organized in industrial districts, where both the human and entrepreneurial factors make a difference.
As far as my commitment and programs are concerned, I can say that the great transformations affecting the industry are the perfect starting point for our future programs. There is a great technological revolution taking place, one that will affect all companies operating in the sector. On the one hand, we have Google cars and Mercedes trucks, self-driving vehicles already running over Californian roads while each one of us carries in his pocket what ten years ago would have been considered a supercomputer. On the other, we are beginning to glimpse where the digital revolution will take us with faster and cheaper hardware and software that are ever more sophisticated and adaptable. As more people, processes, data and things connect and interact through the internet, a new “internet of things” is slowly developing, the heart of a digital revolution that, due to technological developments, will highlight the distinctive features of our industrial fabric. I mean the creativity, innovative spirit, quality and ability to produce excellence in every field. So today, understanding how to take advantage of the opportunities created by this technological evolution is paramount, and AICA is committed to working in this direction by renewing itself, its initiatives, its services and its own means of communication.
The garage equipment sector has always played an important role within our National industrial framework: by many, it is actually considered to be one of the last true Italian excellences, able to export and be competitive. It is still so? What challenges and opportunities have you identified in the future of the sector?
Our industry is one of the best-hidden secrets in the country. We are very strong in our field, and we can say that we invented the business even though we now find ourselves having to deal with the competition of countries where the automotive market is growing faster. In this perspective, especially considering the industrial revolution we mentioned earlier, and the need to protect our companies against counterfeit products, the only truly effective answer is innovation. The only way to effectively counter the aggression of some producers from emerging economies which, year after year, base most of their activities on importing our know-how and then copying it. We really have no alternative: we must respond with greater controls, and better learning processes allowing our companies to raise the bar of what they do better compared to these new competitors. Human capital, internationalization, segmentation, extreme personalization, customer care, distribution, service, digitizing and, above all, connectivity. These are the weapons to be used if we are to meet the challenge. Technogym is a good example of this, despite operating in a highly competitive sector, with many manufacturers outsourcing their production plants in Asia ,is still able, year after year, to grow and defend its market leadership.
How could, and perhaps should, the institution best support the value your sector brings to the whole national economy? Are the Policies aimed at promoting and facilitating research and development up to the task?
For such a large and diverse industry like ours, what matters is the ability to use new technologies to imagine, design and produce new machines and new services. While we are penalized by one of the worst bureaucratic machines in Europe, not to mention the high taxes and a cumbersome and outdated Labour Law, we can still rely on a real competitive advantage coming from being "immersed" in an extraordinary economic, social and productive framework, such as the one that has naturally developed over the years in the entire northern part of the country. The key issue here, for us, is to support this reality with “think tanks” – technological hubs connected to universities – freely accessible to companies willing to learn about new technologies and gain a new corporate culture. In this regard, two things deserve our attention. The first is that in Italy, financial and fiscal policies - in support of innovative business – are limited to encouraging companies to adopt only high-tech innovations, thus lagging behind other advanced economies. Little attention, in fact, is given to product innovation as well as to supporting new marketing strategies, expressly excluded from the definition of innovative activities and thus from any kind of support. There is no real support towards marketing products, or strategies aimed at penetrating new markets or maintaining current market shares. We definitely need more, and all interventions should be tailored also around our small and medium-sized enterprises. The second point concerns the multitude of Italian companies that struggle to change individualistic practices, established over decades of activity and often focused on the sole figure of the entrepreneur. Opening up to universities, pre-competitive research and collaborations, whether on the web or on behalf of new innovative companies (startups), is a slow and difficult process, one that - mind you - no public policy can carry out because such choices depend only on us entrepreneurs. Being aware of all this I am absolutely convinced that, today more than ever, starting a virtuous cycle of innovation - within a network of SMEs organized in sectors and districts - represents the great challenge facing the future of our industry.