Bertazzoni cooks up exciting designs
Thinking of Italy usually involves thinking of food. The Bertazzoni name has been part of that tradition since 1882. Founder Francesco Bertazzoni evolved from making scales for cheese makers to crafting wood-burning stoves in Guastalla, near Parma in the Northern Italian region of Emilia Romagna. Today the company makes luxury ranges and cooking appliances.
Fifth-generation president and CEO Paolo Bertazzoni, who joined the company in 1981, took over in 1999 when his father passed away. His sister Elisabetta serves on the board, and his daughter Valentina is brand manager. Son Nicola is vice president of sales.
Bertazzoni calls itself “the oldest family-owned cooking company in the world,” but it also serves as a model of modernization. The company, which built its first factory in 1909, began making gas stoves in 1955 and ovens in 1958. It started exporting to other European countries in 1959. By the early 1970s it was selling equipment in the Philippines and Singapore, though it didn’t enter the North American market until 2005. Today Bertazzoni cookers are sold in 60 markets, including Australia, Russia and Africa. The U.S. is now the company’s largest market.
In 2011, the company generated some $80 million in revenues. Working in two shifts, Bertazzoni’s 300 employees produced approximately 200,000 pieces. Of course, even a well-oiled company has challenges, the CEO acknowledges, and his vary from time to time. The biggest is maintaining consistency in every area of the business, he says.
The company reinvests much of its profit, so unlike other European firms, it has weathered the tough global economy without taking on burdensome debt. “We have a motto,” Paolo Bertazzoni says. “The company must be rich, and the family can be poor.” This strategy has enabled the enterprise to consider new opportunities, invest in new products and still gain market share. Il Mondo, an Italian magazine, called Bertazzoni “one of 30 pearls of the Italian economy.”
Bertazzoni explains that every company should distinguish itself and have a personality that is visible across the product line. His company proclaims that its strengths lie in its heritage, its engineering competence (Ferrari and Lamborghini hail from the area) and the cuisine of the Emilia Romagna region: Parmesan cheese, prosciutto di Parma, balsamic vinegar, beef and pork, truffles and mushrooms, and tomatoes. “We produce appliances to prepare food, which is part of the personality of the product and the engineering tradition,” he says.
Kitchens have evolved from secluded, utilitarian rooms, and in many homes the kitchen is merging into the living room, the executive explains. Because appearance has become more important, the look of the appliances is vital to the company’s future. The goal is to create high-quality products that become part of a lifestyle.
The company’s design process is intriguing. First, designers consider the demands and constraints of their customers, suppliers and manufacturers, among others. Then they go back and subtract the non-essentials, so they can manufacture the line efficiently yet still deliver what the customer wants. It’s odd to hear the CEO say stoves can be boring, until you realize that’s exactly right. They’re a functional, staple item, and his job is to make them exciting.
Bertazzoni lives near his factory and often goes home for lunch, which he says changes the tenor of the day and gives him a chance to relax. It should come as no surprise that he enjoys cooking, especially fish, and he likes to experiment. He has no problem exchanging this role with his wife, Gabriella, a teacher.
Patricia Olsen is a New Jersey writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, On Wall Street, USA Weekend, Hemispheres and other publications.
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