The Biesse story is one of innovation and passion. Founded in Pesaro in Northern Italy; the company has grown to be one of the market leaders in the production of a wide range of equipment for industries processing wood; wood-composites; stone; glass and other advanced materials.
In Australia Biesse holds a very strong position in the market, especially with CNC processing centres. Not strong in solid woodworking using traditional (static) machines, Biesse is focused on manufactured board construction (cabinetry) and other materials such as stone; glass; composite board and other advanced materials. Biesse is a great success story brought about by Giancarlo Selci who still attends the company daily, often meeting with Biesse’s many clients. I caught up with Giancarlo recently and had a short chat about his journey.
Giancarlo was born in Pesaro in 1936 where the Biesse Company still makes a range of wood working machines used all over the World. He’s affectionately known as Mr. Giancarlo, a reflection of the friendly formality that reigns within the company. Giancarlo says “For me, to work is to live, sharing projects with those who stand by my side, and learning by looking around me: everyone has something to teach. I like to fall in love with people and projects. Ideas never end, and people hold the real value in life on which we can rely.”
In 1956 Giancarlo would have been ten years of age. In Northern Italy they were rebuilding after the war and wood working machines were in demand due to the flourishing building and furniture trades. The area was set up to build the machines that would rebuild and refurnish not just Italy but in time; the World and several other companies had already started production of artisan wood working machines. At 15 years old Giancarlo was apprenticed to Benelli motorcycles as a lathe turner. In fact, one of Benelli’s factories is now a Biesse production plant. Giancarlo worked hard, often working double-shifts and recalls “Those are the years I never slept.”
Giancarlo served for a time in the armed forces. This was compulsory and because of his skills he was stationed at a specialist training centre where he worked on a milling machine and produced other mechanical items such as transmission shafts and cylinders. During all of his training Giancarlo didn’t just do his job but observed the entire production process, a skill that was to prove invaluable later when he started his own business making parts for clients such as Morbidelli; MotoBi (Benelli) and Ottomelara (Fiat).
Recently married to Anna who would become an important player in the success of the company; Giancarlo produced his first wood working machine; an automatic machine for drilling slots in closets called the ‘Dani’ at the height of the “Italian economic miracle” of the 1960’s. Success was immediate and Giancarlo changed the name of the company from Selci and Co. to Cosmec in 1973. Some Cosmec branded machines can still be found in factories around Australia. The possibilities for people like Giancarlo were endless as the Italian wood machinery industry enjoyed significant growth in Pesaro and the surrounding areas of North Eastern Italy. There are still many of the World’s major machinery suppliers located in this area.
In the 1970’s the first numerically controlled drilling machine was developed and this soon became Biesse’s core business. The early 1980’s saw the first ‘Rover’ point to point machine released and machines soon found their way to Australia. Like Hoover, Laminex, Bic and Jeep; the Rover name was becoming synonymous with the product itself. My first experience with a CNC machine was a Rover 33 installed at the first high-tech training centre in Melbourne. Table clamps, cassette tape, saw in one axis only, no routing and only vertical drilling epitomised the technology of the time but this was to change rapidly as Biesse technicians ‘pushed the envelope’ of woodworking technology. The 1980’s were a boom time for Biesse and indeed, the other suppliers producing CNC machining centres and in 1989 Biesse opened their first foreign subsidiary.
Biesse’s first production site outside of Italy was opened in Bangalore, India in 2008 and this was followed by a production plant in China to cater for the huge amount of growth in the region. Other suppliers also opened production plants there including Altendorf and Homag. Around this time Giancarlo thinks about business opportunities in areas different to wood working but ‘not so distant’ and so Intermac was created.
The difference between a wooden panel and a plate of glass was not so distant and so in 1987 the first Master machining centres for glass rolled off the production line. The exclusive domain of glass working artisans was now able to be automated and some of the World’s finest artistic creations in glass have been manufactured on Intermac machines. Some of these creations have been presented to the Pope and appear in art galleries from Rome to New York.
About this time Giancarlo’s son Roberto joins Biesse and being rather fond of travel and meeting people, established the Charlotte subsidiary in the United States. At that time Biesse was being represented in Australia by Allwood machinery who also sold a number of other brands. Roberto understood that to sell in an overseas market you needed to truly understand what your customers want. Roberto calls this ability ‘cultural contamination.’ Roberto is now President of the Biesse Group.
Since 2001 Biesse has been listed on the Italian Stock exchange, marking the beginning of a new era. Today Biesse has six manufacturing plants in Italy; one each in India and China and over thirty subsidiaries World-Wide including Australia where Biesse is a market leader. Over the past few years Biesse has sought to ‘give something back to the industry’ by setting up ‘campuses’ in several key areas including Australia from 2018. The desire to foster a corporate culture has seen Giancarlo and Anna Selci establish the Selci foundation to develop economic, scientific and social activities in Italy. These initiatives involve Nobel Laureates such as Rita Levi Montalcini and Dario Fo.
My conversation with Giancarlo was short, mainly because of his lack of English. He says “If I had known English I would have done more, much more because I like speaking to people and I can understand them well. When you really know each other you can achieve great things.” Biesse’s achievements speak for themselves and are respected by even Biesse’s greatest competitors. The three buzzwords applied to Biesse are Drive, Talent and Innovation. Giancarlo has thought about innovation for many years. He says “Innovation is passion; it is a flash of inspiration, the fire that illuminates the relationship between man and things.” He says “Innovation is our driving force. It is my life with Biesse.”
Article by Phil Ashley