Giovanni Anzani – Business Comes First



One of the many paradoxes of Italy’s business environment is that companies with an international reputation can be found in the most unassuming places. A case in point is the small town of Inverigo, from where Poliform, a specialist furniture company embellishes the most exclusive residences around the globe.

Some days Giovanni Anzani says he feels as if he never gets anything done. After all, says the 66-year-old with a touch of humor, he’s almost retired anyway. His business card, however, reads Chief Executive Officer. And what this senior executive has to say still carries a lot of weight in the family business.

The premises in the center of Inverigo near Como not only provides exhibition space for the company’s choice furniture, it also features bright and airy conference rooms. As we enter, Gaia Spinelli, the daughter of Anzani’s cousin exits one of those rooms. She wants to update the CEO on the progress of the new showrooms in Berlin. As soon as she’s finished, another young man appears and approaches him, waving plans in his hand: “It’s about the cost proposal for the trade fair in Shanghai.”

For an employee involved in such an important project, his appearance is extremely casual: open-necked shirt, massive earring, tousled hair. The senior executive himself presents an entirely different image: blue business suit, perfectly matched Hermès tie, not a hair out of place, elegance right down to his socks.

The company is expanding and with it the management board

Poliform has been in family hands since 1970. From the outset, several family members had a say in the running of the company which was founded when the three cousins Giovanni Anzani, Alberto & Aldo Spinelli took over the small workshop where their parents worked and transformed the company into a globally represented brand.

Today, Poliform employs 600 people, but business success was not always smooth, with the economic downturn of recent years also affecting demand. In 2015, however, Poliform reported business growth of an astounding 20%. Soon a further generation change will take place. When the current directors hand over the reins, the three family executives will become eight. All are already working within the company in Inverigo.

The small town is located twenty kilometers from Como in the heart of a mountainous region known to Italians as Brianza. From the town itself the mountains are visible in the distance, gleaming white where snow reflects the sun. In the immediate vicinity of the town however squareshaped houses nestle on the slopes of gentle hills and lush green meadows lined by cypress trees evoke an almost Tuscan ambience.

Dolce Vita? Not here!

Brianza is a singular region and several globally successfully manufacturers can be found here. The explanation given is that people here frown upon idleness; the climate is ambitious and competitive. These attributes have contributed to Poliform becoming the largest employer in the region. It has also shaped the three families behind the company.

Giovanni Anzani has finally finished dealing with the various employees and finds time to sit down in an armchair in the middle of the showroom to talk to us. The huge space has been subdivided into individual areas by ingenious dividing elements: glass panels and enormous suspended planes separate the units. Prestigious names have visited these showrooms: Philippe Starck, to name one, or architects Daniel Libeskind and the recently deceased Zaha Hadid. These connections are essential for Poliform, and the really renowned designers are all extremely agreeable, Giovanni Anzani tells us, very unassuming and unaffected.

I can’t imagine working in any other profession than this one.

Showing off doesn’t feature in Anzani’s repertoire either. Possibly because at the time the three cousins took over the company, their aggregate ages didn’t even amount to 70 years. Modesty can be said to be an intrinsic part of the company’s DNA. Today, Poliform manufactures extremely personalized furniture: Customers can choose from 700 fabrics and 24 colors. Poliform sells furniture both to end customers as well as architects who furnish entire residential towers. Since the company acquired the kitchen manufacturer Varenna, they are also able to offer high-grade kitchens.

“I can’t imagine working in any other profession than this one,” Anzani says today. It had been his dream since childhood, he recounts, as he fondly recalls how impressed he was by the things his parents made in the workshop. His first-born daughter, Laura, grew up with the same ambitions.

But his second daughter, Marta, now 33, chose a different path. After completing a degree in marketing at the renowned Milanese business university Bocconi in 2007, she wanted to pursue a career in fashion and not in the furniture branch. But Poliform drew her in as well and she started an internship there. “It took me a bit longer,” she says, “But I ended up losing my heart to the company as well.” Today she holds the position of a corporate manager.

Loyal to their roots right down to the bottled water

Poliform always strives to remain innovative. Early on, for example, the three cousins decided on a regularly scheduled change of directorship. Then Poliform introduced new ways of creating a broader footprint in the market “In the 1990s we introduced the concept of shop-in-shop retailing in our branch,” Marta Anzani tells us. “It was an unbelievable challenge to set up sales spaces that weren’t managed by Poliform and had only our furniture on offer. But we mastered the challenge successfully.” “We were trendsetters,” Marta says. Today the company can pride themselves on significant projects such as the AOL Time Warner Center in New York or the Palmolive Building in Chicago. But they draw a line at innovation when it comes to their heritage. “Our previous brand of mineral water was acquired by a French company,” the senior executive tells us. “So we changed to another brand. This here is the only mineral water that is still in Italian hands.” Poliform is and intends to remain an Italian brand – from the bottom up.

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