Friday 02 December 2022

Nando Ottavi, president of Simonelli Group: “Nuova Simonelli’s first 50 years”

The Chairman and Director: "The company is still growing. The second generation has already started to work and my hope is that we can continue along this path, towards further development, maintaining the climate that the shareholders at the start created for this company. To be able to make the Nuova Simonelli brand grow for another 50 years and beyond. Our mission, which is the same mission as we proposed to ourselves at the end of year dinners with family and employees, is to get onto the podium of producers. After 50 years, we’ve made it.”

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BELFORTE DEL CHIENTI (Macerata) – Nuova Simonelli, then Simonelli Group with the brands Nuova Simonelli and Victoria Arduino. There is no better way to understand how everything started than by going straight to the source. And to talk about the beginning and the 50 years of history and evolution of this brand, representative of Made in Italy know-how and tradition, we have the Chairman and Director Nando Ottavi who we have joined in his office on the second floor of the Nuova Simonelli cutting-edge head office. On the 50th anniversary of the Nuova Simonelli brand, he is going over the various stages that have led to the worldwide success of the hand-crafted espresso coffee machines from Le Marche, Italy.

Ottavi and Simonelli, talking about origins

“2022 marks my 50 years as chairman and director of this company. Born in 1936, when a man from Macerata had the idea of building a coffee machine that was already innovative for that time. We joined the company between 1970 and 1971, around the time when its founder, Orlando Simonelli, left us. We wanted to step in on that occasion and, from mere employees, we became entrepreneurs: that was our first challenge. It wasn’t easy to change attitudes and we needed a great deal of courage to start on a new
path.

Our strength was the idea of developing a brand that wouldn’t simply disappear from the market and that would maintain its connection with the local area. We took this path together, although it was risky. But our dedication made it possible. We could already see at that time the high potential of this sector, a time when companies bigger than ours were already selling coffee machines whilst what we had was a craft business located far from the production hub in the North of Italy. Furthermore, we were faced with strong competitors in Italy. Therefore, we organised our company in such a way and developed a strategy to target mainly the European and international markets whilst still keeping our roots in Italy.

Thinking back to those times, I realise we were forerunners of economic globalisation: To imagine in 1975 that we could export espresso coffee machines all over the world starting from a local business was highly risky. We got to work straightaway and bravely, with the objective of making it.”

How was the logo for the Nuova Simonelli brand created?

“In 1972, we tried to understand how to develop a technical and commercial network that would allow us to face the new markets. It was immediately clear to us that we had to design more innovative machines whilst focusing on Italian design that was appreciated worldwide. In the spring of 1976, we presented our first ISX model and we also launched our brand, the same as the one Nuova Simonelli currently has, a stylized N and a stylized S. We decided to keep it in the spirit of our successful beginnings. It’s a brand that
is both linked to tradition, recalling its founder’s name (Simonelli) and with the word “nuova”, looks to the future .”

First Nuova Simonelli and then Simonelli Group have always cherished their links with Le Marche, where the company was founded: talent, uniqueness and creativity. How is this relationship today?

“It’s excellent. It was obvious in the first years that we had to find technical and sales experts in the local area who shared our ambitions and desire to promote the brand by travelling around the world. We needed to create a team. It wasn’t easy at the beginning, but our growth bolstered the team spirit. At that time, my colleagues and I decided to hire people that could become a united group and establish common objectives to reach specific results. Getting many people involved in the same mission means working with more enthusiasm.

The link with the local area is still very strong: we’ve been creating a network of connections in our region since the 70s. Within a range of 100 kilometres, we’ve developed a solid network with the University, research centres and institutions and this is definitely one of our strengths. Today Simonelli Group is working with various universities and research centres and has also become a reference point for the Region by creating jobs for more than 200 people and activities that ensure local growth and development as well as an increase in production and the growth of the company itself. Another important aspect is looking for partnerships with suppliers from Le Marche to exchange ideas.”

Which were the most important technical innovations during the first decades of Nuova Simonelli?

Nando Ottavi insieme alle innovazioni tecnologiche dell’azienda (photo: Simonelli Group)

“One fundamental step was finding architects who could put all the Italian characteristics into an espresso coffee machine. But that wasn’t enough for us. So, we invested a lot into finding technological solutions to enhance the flavour of all varieties of coffee, both blend and single-origin. We also wanted to produce user-friendly tools. We were the first to make the barista’s job easier by introducing many small adjustments to improve each operator’s job and mental and physical health. We worked on energy saving as well, as we were able to foresee the issue of CO 2 emissions. This phenomenon didn’t actually happen so much during the model-building phase but it occurred while the machines were being used. Therefore, we developed new technology that could cut down energy consumption by 30%.

This particular aspect, along with digital technology and other smart tools to communicate with the surrounding system and with operators have made the Nuova Simonelli brand and the whole company even more trustworthy.”

Let’s talk about the human side of Nuova Simonelli: how did ex-technical experts become entrepreneurs?

“I’ve always believed that we can be copied by anybody in the world. Amazing things can be done with the help of technology today. But Italian creativity is difficult to emulate. We’re always able to create something new. So, we found ourselves in a context in which we all shared the belief that we could grow in this sector. That’s what pushed us to take this bold leap in the dark and to even attend evening classes to learn how to run a business.”

Are there any good stories about those heroic times?

“There are a lot of memorable episodes. The one that I’ll never forget is when we decided to become entrepreneurs. I also remember the time when my partner, Sandro Feliziani, and I realised we had to go outside Italy to grow. It was that insight that made us start to venture around the world. And so, in 1974 we made our first delivery to our distributor in the United States.”

In 1993 Nuova Simonelli started operations in the USA. How would you describe your presence there today, what are the numbers?

“We are present in 124 countries, and we have more than 600 distributors. Not all of them have a big turnover, but this intended fragmentation provided s great stability for growth. Except for those two years we all know about, 2008 and 2020, we’ve always kept growing as a group since 1974, exceeding 170 million.”

You started from scratch

“Yes. Simonelli Orlando, with whom I worked side by side– not to mention the fact that we both come from the same village, Cessapalombo – was a skilled technician and innovator, but commercially speaking he didn’t have the clear-sightedness to make the business grow. We started with the production of a few hundred machines a year that we distributed in Le Marche, Umbria e lower Tuscany. So, we did start from scratch, with a small factory that needed to be rebuilt.”

Which ones are your iconic machines?

“We designed our first model, the ISX, in 1976, an innovative project that gave us the strength and the right incentive to be appreciated and known outside our local area, also thanks to the media visibility at the Milan trade fair. Other well-known models are the Aurelia and the Appia: two long-standing names like the two ancient Roman roads in Italy. The Appia, in particular, represents Nuova Simonelli abroad, thanks to its wide distribution.”

You have been and still are central figures at the World Barista Championship. Which episode do you remember from the first championship you participated in back in 2008?

“Our feeling of satisfaction is the first thing I remember. We passed both the technical and design selection of the machine that was going to be used during the competitions with a very high score. We were still a small company, but the Aurelia had the right numbers to convince the team of judges of its performance, its thermal stability and its being so easy to use. That was big news for our competitors: the first championship where we participated in Atlanta in 2009 was carefully watched by all the operators in our sector.

Thanks to the assistance and co-operation of our technical experts, the machine provided the highest level of performance, allowing the baristas to do their job in the best possible way. We were very proud of that.”

In the same year the Aurelia was chosen for the G8 summit in l’Aquila: what do you remember about that event?

“It was a highly important moment. The brand was growing in terms of awareness and our machines were becoming more and more appreciated both in Italy and abroad. That request from the staff of the Prime Minister, was an enormous satisfaction for us. We provided customised machines that prepared coffees and cappuccinos to the leaders of the world and their respective staff. That event also conferred us with a good international image.”

What does Italian espresso culture mean to you?

Nando Ottavi posing (image: Simonelli Group)
Nando Ottavi posing (image: Simonelli Group)

“Espresso: an Italian drink that represents our know-how. When we started to export our machines abroad, we immediately thought that we needed to add a service to the product. That’s why, in 1990, we organised a team of technical and sales experts to travel and
provide training to companies, to importers and to dealers for correct use and servicing.
This led to the success we are now enjoying.

Supplying professionalism and training was a key to becoming ambassadors of Italian espresso coffee in the world. Now other types of drink are being conceived, cold and hot coffee-based drinks, and we have already presented models that respond to the new demands by consumers, who have become ever more attentive to quality in the cup. For this reason, we continue along the path of research and knowledge. We are conducting a number of studies with our Research and Innovation Coffee Hub, a technological centre that we want to make into a reference point for coffee research and innovation. The Coffee Knowledge Hub platform, on the other hand, provides services of coffee education and training. Customers are more demanding and baristas need to be even better prepared.

Our platform provides services, both online and in our headquarters, but also abroad in our
branches and in the experience labs. One above all is in Singapore, we created a space for training baristas and coffee operators who want to stay always up to date.”

You’ve been chairman for 50 years: how has the coffee market changed since the 70s?

“It has changed a great deal. Specialty coffee gave a strong stimulus to the sector. Initially, espresso was supplied in the form of blends, now with the World Championship and the great commitment of so many players, we have tried to communicate and promote the development of quality in so many coffee varieties and origins and of the experience in the cup.”

Was Nuova Simonelli one of the first to enter the specialty sector?

“We were one of the first because we believed in this trend, which then became a necessity. Having developed different technologies to extract all the positive characteristics of various types of coffee provided an enormous push to the sector. The first studies dating back to 2000 on how water passed through the coffee in the portafilter, they made a stir. This drove us to continue with our development work, also with universities, to understand how to bring the best characteristics of every type of coffee into the cup.”

Is it difficult to maintain the craft spirit of a machine producer when automation is pushing towards new solutions?

“Italian industry is craft industry. We are often small and medium-sized companies. In 2000, people talked about the need to aggregate into multinationals, to be able to grow and cope with the various markets. But that didn’t happen. Around 2009-2010, with the crisis, those same small and medium-sized Italian companies did their bit to save the economy of the country. To keep craftsmanship, you have to count on teamwork, a spirit of co-operation, investment into research and development, and Nuovo Simonelli always
did that. In 1992 we started an ideas box where everybody could bring their technical contributions and ideas. We believe in co-operation and sharing of ideas between employees. We are not a multinational, and we give a sense of family, of group that leaves its mark at an international level. We are a pocket-sized multinational. I say this because I really believe it.”

You also withstood the Marche earthquake: how were you able to go ahead?

“When I talk about collaboration, I mean this: we dealt with the disastrous earthquake of 2016, Covid and now the problem of the world economy, wars and the higher costs of materials and energy. How did we manage? Precisely because of the strength of the group. Straight after the earthquake, I remember, faced with various difficulties we rolled up our shirtsleeves and alone, using our own means, we opened our management centre and then the logistics hub without waiting for state help. Otherwise, we would have stopped working. Our aim, however, was not to stop, but to go ahead.

This is what happened also during the pandemic: in 2020 there wasn’t a lot of work and weren’t even able to send our products. And we had to deal with a lot of other problems that we got through thanks, once again, to the co-operation of our employees. For this reason, we decided not to use the furlough system; quite the contrary, we provided access to our assets to ensure employment and full salaries for all our employees. We also made donations to the hospitals. All of this was appreciated by our staff, who felt supported by their company at time of general hardship.”

A final wish from Nando Ottavi: “These have been 50 hard years but characterised by important results.”

“The company is still growing. The second generation has already started to work and my hope is that we can continue along this path, towards further development, maintaining the climate that the shareholders at the start created for this company. To be able to make the Nuova Simonelli brand grow for another 50 years and beyond. Our mission, which is the same mission as we proposed to ourselves at the end of year dinners with family and employees, is to get onto the podium of producers. After 50 years, we’ve made it.”

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