GIROLA, THE STRONG MAN OF THE WHEEL INDUSTRY
In Ceriano Laghetto, posted on the Gianetti Ruote factory entrance, a memorial plate celebrates Riccardo Girola, who dedicated his entire professional life to the world of wheels, contributing to the success of the firm, now part of the CLN group, both in Italy and abroad, from the postwar period to the new millennium.
A story of passion and professional commitment, dedicated to working for a company he would never have left, that lasted for over sixty years in which he actively followed step by step the firm’s development and success on the market. Riccardo Girola, born in 1928, has a nice story to tell, braided hand in glove with the success of a company now a top manufacturer of steel wheels for commercial and industrial vehicles. Founded in 1923 by one of the best-known families of Saronno, the company Giulio Gianetti & C. was famous at the time for manufacturing wooden wheel steel claddings for carriages. Riccardo Girola joins the family business in 1953, in the factory inaugurated by his father in Ceriano Laghetto, and as the sole university graduate, he soon becomes “l’ingegnere” for everyone. As the company started appearing on International markets against top competitors, his work would prove valuable indeed. Following a stage with Firestone Steel in Akron, Ohio, Gianetti can now add the license to produce 15° tubeless rims for trucks as well as multi-piece rims for earth moving machines, to the license for the production of modular wheels for trucks obtained 20 years earlier.
Technical management and post-war economic surge
If prior to the outbreak of the World War II Gianetti produced, licensed by Dayton Steel Foundry, cast iron spoke wheels, a first for the national market, immediately after the conflict it becomes the first ( and only ) manufacturer in Italy for truck wheels.
A dominant position obtained in about two decades thanks to the supply of OEMs along with a growing demand for products that, like hub adaptors, upgrade all circulating vehicles and tire fitting procedures both on locally manufactured trucks, from Bianchi, Ceirano, Isotta and Lancia to Fiat, Om and Spa, as well as on foreign brands, from Chevrolet to Ford. Meanwhile Riccardo Girola needs just six years to become the technical director. As a young director, he becomes appreciated for both his professional skills and his personal qualities, helping the company to cope with the many difficulties following the repeated deaths in the Gianetti Family. In 1959, finally, the company is bought by Fergat, a Turin based company, and also producer of motor vehicle wheels. That marks the turning point, following investments favored by an economic upturn in the Italian market. Riccardo Girola multiplies his overseas trips to establish new technical and commercial agreements which in time will prove instrumental to the company’s development, thanks also to the production of new 15° cast wheels ( in a single piece ) destined to be equipped with tubeless tires.
New directions and technological solutions
The range of products available for the clients grows, and the company’s catalogue includes not only modular tubeless wheels for earth movers, but, following an agreement with Firestone, also beer kegs, since the technical features are not so different from a wheel. At the same time, following the merger with Fergat, Gianetti stops producing automobile wheels: this activity had been very popular during the 30’s and 40’s thanks to design products destined to substitute poorly designed Oem’s. A forerunner of the present aftermarket, equipped with u-shaped rims (similar to the ones still in use today) and consisting of a pressed steel disk fitted with numerous openings for a more pleasing shape. Success, on the other hand, continues with the successful production of rims for OTR applications (for bulldozers, dump trucks, excavators and graders), deriving originally from wheels for agricultural purposes: a modular wheel with removable rings to allow the removal of very rigid tires and a rubber seal to guarantee a perfect air-tightness to the whole unit. The primary focus, though, is on the transport sector, and during the 70’s, under the direction of Riccardo Girola, new technical solutions are adopted and old ones are perfected, like cold forming to reduce the starting thickness of the material reducing also weight and costs. In 1977, Riccardo Girola becomes the managing director of the Ceriano Laghetto factory, and at the same time, takes up a position as senior technical director for the Fergat group, moving therefore to Turin.
An inexhaustible company-man
Things change three years later, as Gianetti changes ownership once again. Three difficult years follow this move, in which the company’s workforce is reduced by 20% to about 500 employees and has to rely heavily on wages guarantee funds, until another take-over, this time by Mario Magnetto founder of the Cln group, turns the tide. “L’ingegnere” returns to “his” factory, and well though-out investments and decisions increase production once again, leading to regaining part of the previously lost market share. Until 1992, when, after four decades of professional dedication he decides to leave the company, Gianetti experiences a constant technological development, which, along with new and better production standards, allows the company to reach new heights. With the success of new catalogues that include wide ranges of disk wheels, 15° rims for tubeless tires, destined as Oem’s on a number of prime European truck manufacturers, such as Mercedes, Man and Iveco. But his leaving the company wasn’t the end of it all: there was still a lot to be done, and his fondness for the company and tireless working attitude was evident in his expert advice as consultant for the new technical management of Gianetti Wheels, position he accepted with enthusiasm and held well over the year 2000. An important contribution was given in obtaining the Iso 9001 and Qs-9000 quality approvals. After this, noteworthy is his contribution also to the Saronno University of the Third Age, and his cooperation with the industrial museum in the same town. As “l’ingegnere” passed away a year ago, the Cln group has decided to name the Ceriano Laghetto production plant with his name: to be “his” forever.
INSTITUTIONAL RELATIONS AND A MISSION: CREATING ASSOCIATIONS
The wheels industry owes Riccardo Girolla a debt of gratitude, as testified already by the two main associations in this sector. First the European Tire and Rim Technical Organization (Etrto), having been for a long time part of its executive board, awarded him the status of honorary member in 1992. He received a similar award ten years later by the Association of European Wheel Manufacturers (Euwa), where he was the general manager in 1990. Also thanks to his contribution, his technical skills and ability in establishing relations at the highest levels, he was awarded with being part of the Iso (International Organization for Standardization) technical committee and, last but certainly not least, participating in all regulatory processes.