This issue of MTU was put together at a very particular time: during the lock-down in the spring of 2020. Therefore, we came up with a story in several instalments, to talk about the outstanding features of our company, but with the background to all the facts and events, either expected or not, that affect our work and our life, as we were able to experience dramatically during the months of quarantine.
Because the ability to respond, adapt and forestall is an essential part of the identity of Meccanotecnica, which allows us to face times of difficulty by leveraging the values that have always guided us. We spoke to Zeudy Bianchi, Emanuele Minciarelli, François Prévot and Luciano Vagnoli, using their words to compose a new narrative of outstanding achievements according to MTU.
On January twelfth, 2020, The World Health Organisation confirmed that a new coronavirus was the cause of a new lung infection that had struck several inhabitants of the city of Wuhan, in the Chinese province of Hubei, whose case had been brought to the attention of the WHO on 31 December 2019. The whole world would soon become familiar again with an almost forgotten word: pandemic. The consequences of the pandemic produced immediate effects on the life and work habits of every country. In Italy it became apparent on 11 March 2020, when the government issued the #IStayatHome Decree, which extended to the whole Italian national territory measures of social distancing and interruption of most economic activities: common retail activities, educational activities, catering services were suspended; gatherings of people in public places or places open to the public, travel not justified by special reasons of urgency were prohibited. In essence, the whole of Italy was in lock-down. An alienating dimension, that brought to mind ancestral recollections, memories of centuries past when the awareness of the fragility of the human race in the face of epidemics and diseases was much more present in the collective consciousness. The new isolation dimension that the whole world was starting to experience, in a horrifying domino effect, brought to light a new need to keep in touch despite the inability to travel; remaining collaborative and showing, at the end of the day, to be able to protect one’s relationships despite the new, unexpected situation.
Zeudy Bianchi is Corporate Product Manager at Meccanotecnica Umbra.
«Closeness, this aspect that characterises MTU, can be observed from many points of view;
it has to do with projects as well as geography: the technical department, found at all MTU sites and whose organisation is tight-knit, is ready to assist the end customer since the very design stage in a collaborative manner. This closeness, this partnership, renders tangible the values that underlie outstanding know-how, making it possible to work even at such absurd times as these.»
Covid-19 imposed its rules: not only health emergency, but also a new work dimension: the need to retain a real connection with customers, employees, suppliers, in a world where distances suddenly seemed to be huge again. That is how a limit started emerging in the world, compared to how one imagined it until a few weeks earlier: commercial interconnection, financial globalisation, the interdependence of transnational production and economic relationships – in other words, all that one took for granted and seemed unavoidable in the past decades, was thrown into disarray, while one discovered the need for proximity production chains, capable of sustaining the economy.
Closeness, but not only: a huge issue involved health safety connected to production and industrial chains. The confidence in many aspects linked to global interconnection inevitably took a bad hit, essentially also affecting all aspects indirectly connected with issues of health: energy sectors, extraction practices, polluting industrial chains.
«It is easy to imagine how it will be increasingly fundamental to be at the forefront when it comes to certifications concerning industrial processes related to the management of food sectors, drinking water and in general how industrial production impacts the environment and the protection of planetary ecosystems,» says Zeudy.
For some time now Meccanotecnica has reacted to this issue, taking a stance as a partner that responds with the best guarantees, and which gives its contribution to global improvement.
Essentially, in some cases success stems from this attitude. Many winning projects that combine the qualities needed to be a global company, but with swift adaptation abilities, capable of responding technically in terms of design and certification even in extremely sensitive sectors such as pharmaceuticals, drinking water, or food, which are increasingly critical and exposed in view of what happens in the world. «It mustn’t sound consolatory, but it seems it might serve as a really good indication for a positive response all in all, for what is happening and for what might happen in the future».
Being able to show off certifications, is tantamount to showing feathers in one’s cap right now: drinking water: KTW/UBA (Germany), ACS(France), WRAS (Britain), NSF61 (USA / Canada) for drinking water; FDA, 3-A, NSF 51 (USA), DM 174 (Italy), CE 1935/2004 (Europe) for food, are just a few examples. All this comes from afar: these values are in fact deeply ingrained in the organisation of the company, reverberate in all stages of its work, and are tangibly embodied in all the completed projects, such as the development of CUG (full carbon), a material without impregnation, WRAS and KTW certified.
«It’s wonderful being able to offer a material, whose quality control is in-company – a fact known by few. It perfectly exemplifies an integrated design and management process, that involves all MTU’s sectors.»
The certification system that Meccanotecnica Umbra can boast includes many of the values that are intrinsic to the company, and that are turning out to be exactly aligned with the issues that the global crisis triggered by the pandemic is bringing to light. It is easy to imagine how the most important tangible impact of the last few months will be observed in the production chains of certain sensitive sectors: food, medical, environmental. The whole world is experiencing how there are no gaps between sectors: they all affect our lives, for better or for worse. This attention is symptomatic of a transversal attitude, that is, the company’s promptness in obtaining the certifications, for all the sensitive industries in which it operates. And this turns into a driver for achievement, allowing the whole structure to raise the bar one notch higher, seeking new sectors in which to apply the new expertise thus obtained.
«In light of the current situation, the future will most likely be increasingly connected to the concept of hygienic design. For Meccanotecnica, this is certainly a strategic element, that may become winning. Clearly, a pandemic is not blocked with a seal, but outstanding work contributes to building a process for raising the quality generated, also in terms of health.»
The existing guidelines (e.g.: EHEDG), which an ever growing number of territorial settings are adhering to, entail technical adjustments in term of design, for instance seals with no corners/edges and dead-ends, or controlled surface roughness of the components in contact with the product, that might result in a higher level of hygiene, by reducing the risk of microbial contamination.
«There is hygienic engineering and design, and we are proud to say it is one of our outstanding achievements.
The demands vary a lot depending on the customer, the sector or the region. Europe is already well on its way towards high standards for operating in these sensitive sectors, and China has even decided to raise its standards.» Something’s got to give in our way of looking at industrial production or imagining the rules to raise the environmental quality levels of processes, and leave the pandemic emergency behind. The past few months have highlighted the intrinsic risks of globalisation, where direct relationships, contacts, personal knowledge are done away with, in exchange for competitiveness based on a few decimals of cost.
«But on personalisation, on the closeness of technical support, on dealing with the design stage with a truly collaborative and consultancy approach, many are proving to be less responsive than us».
Being able to build virtuous and long-lasting business relationships depends on a series of decisive factors, not all of them so obvious upon first reflection. As Luciano Vagnoli, forty-seven years at the service of MTU with passion and talent, knows very well. “An impeccable technical approach, for sure. Timeliness, design skills, commercial closeness. But also, and sometimes we might say above all, the ability to express a vision, to recognise and nourish values that are shared by the company and its customers: that’s where the deep nature of the relationship lies.”
The Campello sul Clitunno headquarters of Meccanotecnica Umbra is located among the gentle slopes of the eastern Umbria hills, surrounded by some of the most beautiful medieval hamlets in Italy, where centuries-old olive trees grow, an emblem of the close relationship that has always existed in these lands between man and nature, where everything, starting from the nature of the dwellings up to the industrial production of the area, tells of a delicate and wonderful relationship of integration and symbiosis. Spello, Campello sul Clitunno, Montefalco, Bevagna: the places and scents, the pace of life of this land, the exceptional quality of the oil and wine produced here, are a fitting corollary to that which a company like MTU is able to express through its products. Being able to build a strong relationship is based upon these values: through the senses, through knowledge, in a slow process of understanding and integration.
«When I look back at the many years of work, it seems to me obvious that there is no distinction between the company and the region: getting our partners to know Meccanotecnica also involved getting them to know Umbria, with all its outstanding products».
And that is how, just as the Umbria region tells its story slowly and deeply, MTU’s qualities revealed themselves over time, binding partners and stakeholders, consolidating business relations, conquering trust, broadening markets.
«Today, looking back at decades of consolidated business relationships is a bit like savouring a precious olive oil, the result of centuries of natural growth, work, passion. Because we are made of the region in which we live. The land shapes us, conditions us, rewards us and characterises us. And this sensation becomes real when visiting the area where Meccanotecnica Umbra operates: it is an extremely important and irreplaceable value, that never leaves one untouched. I belong to a family that has produced wine and oil for centuries, in the lands surrounding the famous Umbrian hamlet of Montefalco. My working life took me to very different milieus, with huge rewards, but there is still a cousin of mine who has continued pursuing this olive growing and wine making tradition, and I must say I have sometimes envied her over the years. That’s what I find worrying, in the consequences of all this isolation: we risk losing direct involvement, the experience, even sensorial, of being in a special place. Closing a deal with a handshake, looking into each other's eyes. Letting oneself be absorbed by the taste of the land, the scents of these hills that enchant and ensnare. The imposed social distancing, and even more, the fear of infection, take the pleasure of this dimension away from us».
But luckily, the bonds that have been forged in this way are strong, and at times it takes very little to renew them: «Thus, during these weeks of lock-down I found myself talking to customers from distant regions. That’s all it took to have the feeling that those flavours and scents are still there. That the world awaits us to restart, and the whole humanity is still waiting for us, the whole significance of relationships that make life dense and memorable, and new valuable memories to collect».
«Because long-lasting partnerships are founded, above all, on the existence of shared values that one upholds: it is important to remember that, especially at times like these. Some of these partnerships have been in existence for more than forty-five years: which is a long time indeed.
This time, this important measure of history, is not only about work: it is about respect, friendship, human relationship, there is a special form of complicity. In other words, it contains the whole beauty of life. And perhaps, this is the best translation I can think of today of the words outstanding achievement».
In early 2015, Meccanotecnica Umbra made contact with AugustaWestland, active in helicopter construction and later merged with the helicopter division of Leonardo s.p.a., to cooperate in the development of a new product intended for the Asian market. “For us this was a great challenge: designing a mechanical seal for transmissions that, owing to its technical specifications and operating conditions, forced us to overcome the traditional boundaries of our activities. It was a remarkable product also for AugustaWestland, in as that it was to be produced once only, and would have no follow-up. Most likely, this feature was one of the reasons that made them leave their usual suppliers and opt for us. When compared with the habitual turnover in the sector, a non-replicable project may not seem very appealing. Therefore, success is granted by being able to rely on a partner with the same characteristics that Meccanotecnica has: operating nimbleness, communication and closeness. All these elements make it possible to address one of the main issues that companies face when dealing with suppliers in projects with extremely high applied technology, i.e. response times,” says Emanuele Minciarelli.
«In the beginning, I remember how complex it was to convince the whole of MTU to embark in the production of such a highly innovative product that posed somewhat risky issues and challenges».
As a matter of fact, the project required operation at a rotation speed of 15,000 - 18,000 rpm, when the standard level of rotation speed for MTU was 4,000 - 5,000 rpm. What is more, the sector was completely new for Meccanotecnica: a helicopter. Metaphorically, a fitting symbol for how this project required leaving a comfort-zone (work at ground level, at a pressure of 1 bar) to embark on the conquest of new space (i.e. high altitude, with pressure close to 0). The decision to proceed – supported by the proprietor and the entire company structure with the research and development department in the forefront – then decreed the tangible start of this challenge, as the year was coming to an end: aerospace, the conquest of a new design world, a journey to discover a new space. These were the “good intentions” for the new year, which, as usual, looked set to be a harbinger of changes and new conquests.
On January tenth, 2016, the man who fell to Earth, the artist in a thousand disguises, singer of the discovery of new planets left Earth once and for all. David Bowie died in his New York home, after spending a lifetime shifting borders, shedding old clothes for new uniforms, always going one step further. And modifying taste, sensitivity, the very way of thinking and whole decades of costume in the process, shaping sounds and fashions. At the beginning of the year, his last journey ideally passed the baton, in the search for new challenges and new ideas.
Thus Meccanotecnica and Leonardo unwittingly found themselves ploughing paths to define new project spaces, co-developing the product, expanding their respective work ranges, working side by side in defining new challenges. A bet that eventually proved to be winning, reaching, after various intermediate prototypes, the end product in mid 2017.
When facing new adventures, the consequences are often greater than what one could initially imagine: but sometimes, in addition to confirming that the design outlook was correct, the positive discoveries are not exhausted by the production of the designed item.
“That’s how Leonardo s.p.a. got to know MTU, engineers and managers came to see the company and had first-hand experience of what Meccanotecnica is about. Several specific certifications are required to be able to work in the Aerospace sector, as you might imagine, for which appropriate audits were carried out, to ascertain that the work standards were in line with the requirements of this critical sector,” Minciarelli reminisces.
«That’s how Leonardo s.p.a. got to know MTU, engineers and managers came to see the company and had first-hand experience of what Meccanotecnica is about. Several specific certifications are required to be able to work in the Aerospace sector, as you might imagine, for which appropriate audits were carried out, to ascertain that the work standards were in line with the requirements of this critical sector».
The excellent economic outcome, or the subsequent opening of new projects in the aerospace sector, are in fact the most conspicuous part: the more hidden but no less significant part consists in a conscious, organic, transferable growth. And above all, capable of broadening MTU’s identity, without distorting it. As was the case in other sectors, the collaboration with the aerospace industry also inevitably led to confronting ethical choices, given the contiguity with military uses of the same technology: a challenge within the challenge, the ability to positively conclude the design of a product without foregoing the company’s deep values.
That first project was the start of a spur in various technical sectors such as dry running, or high rotation speed (today, MTU designs components capable of operating at up to 40,000 rpm). This led to the development of innovative test benches and new technologies, such as surface laser processing, and other large projects such as H.E.R.O., which uses some of the surface laser processing derived from the aerospace project.
And all that started that year, crossroads of projects, legacies and triggered changes, 2016. The year when, on June 28th, the Ataturk international airport of Istanbul was struck by a terror attack.
At the time of the incident, Istanbul had already been hit by three terror attacks during 2016, and the situation was worrying to say the least. That day, just before 10 pm, three attackers approached the airport's scanners and opened fire, engaging in an armed conflict with the police and detonating themselves, causing 45 deaths and injuring 239 people. For years, things in Turkey hadn’t seemed to go in the right direction, that is, in a direction that would allow the business relations between the country's companies and international partners to enjoy stable conditions of social and financial security in order to work well together, as they had always done until then. In the long history of economic relations between Italy and Turkey there have always been difficult times, however these have always been overcome by the awareness that, since the 1960s, the two economies have had a high level of complementarity, which makes them almost indispensable to each other.
Through highs and lows, the history of economic relations between Rome and Ankara started a long time ago, in the 1960s, when major Italian groups set their sights on Turkey as the ideal platform to conquer new markets in the eastern Mediterranean. Between 2013 and 2014 Turkey was the main outlet market in that area for Italy, and for MTU this translated into a total market of over two million Euro, split between the automotive and industrial sectors, when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, founder of the Turkish conservative party AKP, was elected on 28 August 2014 as the 12th Turkish President. Right around that time, Emanuele Minciarelli had taken over responsibility for the Turkish market from Luciano Vagnoli.
«Over 2 years the market collapsed, especially due to the social problems that arose in Turkey, which led over time to commercial restrictions. This caused our customers to stop buying from us, and to favour Turkish suppliers. Due to the social problems we were no longer able to continue visiting our customers in the region: we discontinued direct relationships, and stopped taking part in local events. What is more, our main Turkish competitor at the time opened a production facility one hundred metres from the main Turkish pump manufacturers. The fact is that, in late 2015, our turnover had reached zero».
Where can one restart from? From what one does well.
«First of all, we tried to re-establish all those direct relationships that had been interrupted, seeking to rebuild the network that Luciano had worked on, seeking agreements with local distributors.
This allowed us to start restoring some form of personal relationship, which in the Turkish market is absolutely essential. At that time, the idea materialised of acquiring one of those distributors, Megaseal, which in addition to distributing was also a manufacturer of mechanical seals, mostly intended for the power sector. I remember those years very well, we had just managed to minimally increase our turnover. Everything came to a standstill following the airport attack.”
The Turkish situation seems to spiral out of control: on 15 July, 2016, a failed military coup is organised and carried out by a part of the armed forces to overthrow President Erdoğan and seize power in the country. The consequences are dire and lead to declaring the state of emergency on 20 July, making it actually impossible to continue the process of breaking into the market again in a linear way.
On December 19, 2016, the Russian ambassador Andrej Karlov is assassinated in an attack while attending an art exhibition in Turkey, shot point blank by Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a young local policeman. Admittedly, Turkey was not a very appealing market to develop a long-ranging business project.
“Yet, the process had begun. Megaseal had invested in view of the takeover, hiring personnel and developing the local market in order to be able to properly liaise with MTU. We found ourselves in a very difficult position, as we were unable to keep our word.”
In the second half of 2017, it was decided to set off for Turkey again. The situation was going back to normal, allowing what was actually the first visit in person in 5 years to be organised.
This made it possible to resume the relationships with customers, rebuild contacts, put a real face and voice to new acquaintances.
And, thanks to the distribution agreement with Megaseal, the network of social relations started being weaved again.
«Being there was necessary. That is why I scheduled a visit every three months, even without any strictly commercial reasons. Saying hello, having a coffee and a smoke together... although I don’t smoke! A packet of cigarettes sealed the handshakes, after dinners with people who spoke little English or Turkish only, or tales of which you could hardly understand three words but that seemed very clear, in the end».
While the security measures loosen up, with the end of the state of emergency, MTU obtains direct support by the local distributor in the region, also with an official declaration filed with the government. Everyone was well aware of the difficult situation at the time, and of the need to rely on local people to be able to move freely, acting as all-important go-between. In little less than one year, turnover went from 35,000 Euro to 500,000 Euro in 2019, and the pathway to acquisition was resumed purposefully.
«It was also essential for us to create a direct relationship with the employees of the company we were going to acquire, who did not think highly of us due to the promises we had not kept in 2017, albeit not by our will.
Turkish people are very friendly and equally proud: one must never betray their trust, as it is then difficult to regain it again. The conditions and prerogatives for the acquisition were thus recreated and in July 2019 it really seemed a done deal».
Except that the umpteenth devaluation of the Turkish Lira, in August 2019, turned the offer made just 15 days before the acquisition into waste paper, endangering the very stability of the market as well as imposing new financial conditions.
«The umpteenth hurdle on this crazy journey was overcome in October 2019, when we were able to take part in one of the most important Turkish trade fairs. According to tradition, this fair is very much about socialising and conviviality. So much so that on Saturday morning, it is customary for the various managers and proprietors to invite their families, for very intense social and cultural exchanges».
And again, it is indeed this deeply human aspect of the business relation that keeps relationship alive and kicking, and the pathway towards the acquisition remained feasible. This renewed trust ultimately made the decision to sign the agreement seem possible.
«The history of the presence of MTU in Turkey is an important example of how, in addition to assuring good sales and designing good products, the best results are obtained especially by building excellent relationships».
Because that which has been built over many years is the groundwork that leads to thriving sprouts, that builds strong bonds, that will hold fast even if the market is turned on its head again. Even if that were the case, the doors would remain open.” The tale of Meccanotecnica Umbra’s outstanding achievements is also made up of these values: they represent an intangible yet irreplaceable corporate capital, built on relationships and bonds, cultural as well as personal.
François Prévot is used to multiculturalism. Like all people to whom life has dealt multi-citizenship, it is a bit as if he summed up the very idea of Europe: nothing to do with the political realm, but rather a marked sensitivity in grasping those subtle differences that allow people to recognise and trust each other and establish relationships of trust, when you are in settings other than those you are traditionally used to. In his job as Sales Manager for Meccanotecnica Umbra he has been a Frenchman working in Italy, an Italian going to Germany, or a French-Italian dealing with the social mores of a country where, for instance, the “Roman” concept of punctuality is not exactly seen as a feather in one’s cap, that is, Great Britain.
François knows very well the amount of work needed to establish relationships, and how little is needed for them to crumble rapidly. Breaking into Britain, or Germany, being accepted as a valuable partner worthy of unchallenged trust, although you are playing on your competitor’s turf, is a work of crystallization that looks more like the layering of mother of pearl than a linguistic crasis, devoted to rapidity. That speed that seems the only yardstick for an era where slowing down is not accepted, where the time of breathing is forgotten. Breathing – it makes you know a land, a people, a culture, through the sense of smell, or taste, much more than through other, more “professional” forms of experience.
“The experience of promoting MTU on foreign markets is in itself a tale of outstanding achievements.
I like talking about Meccanotecnica like a “pocket-size” multinational, with a human face, extremely reactive and flexible, where customers can find the same guarantee of quality, of deadlines, the same closeness, wherever their facilities might be.
That “mark” that can be recognised anywhere in the world. But at the same time, a supplier that is a bit less unyielding than our competitors, who sometimes, owing to their size, have greater inertia and a specific weight that is similar to that of their customers, who are forced to accept their terms».
Up to this point, a perfect “commercial” definition. But translating these sentences into something tangible and concrete needs a mediation that we might define as cultural, much more to do with a gut reaction, emotional involvement.
«The problem is that going to Germany to sell an Italian product to German customers against German competitors is not always easy. Sometimes, one needs to fight prejudices. By continuing to attend to the markets, one grasps the cultural differences between them. Professionalism makes us turn a blind eye to them, but they are still all-too relevant: saying a couple of banalities in German to elicit a good feedback in Germany; speaking French in France; being punctual in Britain» says François.
And this makes it possible to understand other subtleties, for instance how Germany is partly a country that resists change, where a concept can only be revolutionised if one first guarantees that the same existing level of quality can be assured flawlessly, whereas in Britain one can work more easily.
But, at the end of the day, it is always a matter of having successful planning: study the market, analyse the players, carefully build a relationship, identifying the most suitable contact.
«We come across as being informal, we therefore need contact people whose language is appropriate to understand, almost in a homeopathic way I’d say, our Latin side. Cultural differences must be respected even when they concern our identity; the company is enriched by all the cultural elements, summed up by an imprinting that osmotically absorbs the territorial closeness of the settings in which it operates. You might have the best product in the world, but if you don’t create empathy, if you only deal with customers for one-shot operations, you cannot build anything».
And that’s where other visiting cards come into play, such as a visit to the Campello sul Clitunno facility. The strategy that focuses on the search for a flexible type of customer, who is sensitive to MTU’s assets, comes to fruition by bringing them to Umbria.
«If you deal with industrial customers and show them a state-of-the-art facility in terms of machinery, laboratory, know-how, research, and by doing so you prove your DNA has an “automotive” setup, you are able to break through.
It has often been the case with Danish or German customers, who showed a lot of interest after visiting the facility. It is then up to us to manage to close a deal on a project where we are able to have our say, and make a bit of a dent into the hegemony of our main competitors, also by overcoming language barriers. One needs to work on the technical as well as cultural level: one needs to shake up that inertia, due to the fact that many customers have been used to having a local contact, close to them geographically as well as linguistically, with easy communication and excellent quality in terms of their technical response. Breaking into this context is far from easy».
Over time, good connections are established, thanks to MTU’s typical flexibility, specifically, thanks to its ability to solve a customer’s technical issue, seizing projects and partnerships whose innovation content matches a common DNA shared by the company and the customer. But first and foremost, this relationship is established thanks to visits to the facility.
That is the moment of imprinting, in which relationships start appearing not merely as business relationships, but as the construction of a human, cultural and dynamic relationship, able to generate mutual growth.
«MTU’s production facility speaks for itself. However, once one leaves the facility, the region and the products it offers are crucial in creating relationships: one feels good and is happy to come here. That’s how business becomes one of the reasons for the visits: our partners are happy with us. Oil, wine and lifestyle. It is an alchemy of exchange that must be created and nurtured».
In twenty years, one accrues a lot of experience. One travels, hosts, grows. And it’s beautiful to watch how such a way of working is able to produce the results one hopes for, generating business, projects, stories.
Obviously, sometimes even the best strategy fails: it is all part of the game. But it is always important, when it comes to sales, for the company to walk at a sustainable pace, in terms of research, production, relationship management. In addition to the bricks and mortar, to the structure, the organisation and the people are what really makes a difference:
from technical staff who are able to inspire trust during meetings, to the back office that is able to manage relations in the best way.
And when we receive tokens of appreciation in this regard even from our competitors – sometimes real behemoths – that’s when we understand that we are doing a really good job.