We spoke to Ugo Ghilardi, Principal CEO of Itema Group, about the textile machinery manufacturing industry, and how the company stays ahead of its competition amid the repercussions of COVID-19.
ITALIAN INDUSTRY LEADERS
“The manufacturing industry has been both a personal interest and passion that has accompanied me throughout my entire life.”
For Ugo Ghilardi, Principal CEO of the Italian-based textiles company Itema Group, and author of the opening statement, manufacturing was always on the table.
With family roots in the industry, Ghilardi was introduced to Itema at an early age through his father – a production manager of the company for over 30 years. The machinery and workplace became a key source of interest to the young Ghilardi, and would lead him to following in, and surpassing, the footsteps of his father.
“From a personal perspective, I have always been interested in technology, automation, precision mechanics and digitisation, and I guess being born and raised around the company has something to do with it,” Ghilardi tells us, and adds positively.
“I look back and like to define it as a kind of ante-litteram form of school-work alternation.”
Ghilardi graduated his Organisation and Management course at the University of Trento, to soon after dive into the manufacturing industry. Across his career, Ghilardi has worked for machinery production companies in capacities ranging from Sales Engineering Manager, Managing Director, CEO, COO, and Divisional Board Member. It would be March of 2020 when Ghilardi joined Itema Group as CEO.
“I saw this as a sort of natural evolution of my personal interests and of my working life,” he explains.
“My mission at Itema is to maintain the traditional excellent level of quality in the solutions provided to our existing customers and to guide the Group towards new business expansion, while focusing on digitisation, training, and sustainability.”
The company’s headquarters is based in Northern Italy’s Seriana Valley – an area that has always played a pivotal role in the Italian textiles industry. Itema itself is one of the leading global suppliers of quality and high-performance weaving machinery, and the supporting services that go alongside this, in the industry.
“In addition to weaving solutions, Itema is diversifying into complementary, high-growth markets through stakes in innovation-driven companies, such as Lamiflex, leading supplier of technical composite products,” Ghilardi informs us.
2019 saw Itema launch the new technical textiles division Itematech, born from the merger of Itema and PTMT (ex Panter), mixing the companies know-how and expertise. In the same year, Itema acquired majority stakes in Schoch, leading producer of weaving accessories, including reeds and other components.
With more than 1,100 employees worldwide, two world-class production sites in Italy, one in Switzerland and an assembly line in China, Itema has a worldwide presence with commercial, after-sales and training centres in Italy, Switzerland, China, India, Japan, USA, Hong Kong and Dubai.
And in the face of the global effects cause by the coronavirus pandemic, Itema continues to function with optimism and forward planning.
“Despite the current obstacles the global economy is faced with due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Itema is not halting investments,” Ghilardi assures us. “We are convinced that the only way to overcome this critical period is to believe in a future made prosperous by long-term strategic choices.”
ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS
Itema sets itself apart from its industry competition in multiple ways, but most notably by its provision of all three top weft insertion technologies: rapier, airjet, and projectile – elements of company production that allow it to stand above competitors.
“Moreover, thanks to our brand-new technical textiles dedicated division, Itematech, we offer the most complete technological portfolio available on the market to weave these special fabrics adding even more value to our company’s traditional product portfolio,” Ghilardi tells us.
On top of this, it is the organisation’s increasing investment in the latest technology and increased digitisation that gives it an edge in the industry.
“Innovation is, ever-since, our main driver and one of the founding elements of the whole Itema Group. And today, it goes hand in hand with digitisation,” Ghilardi continues.
“When I talk about digitisation, I am not only referring to the goal of making our processes and production sites smarter, but I also refer to products and services, to make the life of our customers easier. By means of our advanced R&D twin centres, Itemalab®, we aim at reaching increasingly higher levels of process and product digitisation in the short time.”
Within the manufacturing sphere, supply chain partners are a crucial element to the success of a business. The reliability and trust between suppliers are fundamental for companies in the industry, and especially at a volatile period such as that caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as Ghilardi explains.
“The COVID-19 outbreak made it clear that we need to find new ways to create value for our final customers. This is to ensure that we reply to these questions we are working together with our suppliers and partners to find an answer to this issue that can benefit all of us,” he adds.
“Among the other topic, a very important one is sustainability: our suppliers and partners’ cooperation, indeed, is essential to identify all the opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of our activities, in order to make weaving industry and textile sector greener.”
PREPARATION AND DEVELOPMENT
Itema’s key position in the textile industry does not keep it away from incorporating people-centric and community-based work into its operation.
The end of January 2020 saw the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, and Itema’s Chinese branch required the necessary equipment to deal with limiting the spread of the virus in the workplace. Itema’s immediate response was to send equipment to protect the 200 employees of Itema China in Shanghai.
“The Bergamo area, where our headquarters is based, was the most heavily affected area here in Italy, so we decided to provide help to local institutions and communities by donating a part of the masks we received from China,” Ghilardi informs us.
And in the face of how the industry has changed since the inception and global spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Itema has developed a focus for the next few years to help maintain and expand its current position.
“One of the main focus for the next year will be Itemalab®, our R&D centre,” Ghilardi tells us. “We are planning important investments to transform it in an incubator of ideas and innovations that are not only related to the weaving sector.”
2021 will also see a special focus on training with the new Itema Academy Digital Edition starting up. Born in 2014, Itema Academy is a 24-month apprenticeship programme that provides the best of Itema’s expertise and resources to young graduates who wants to start their career in an international and dynamic multinational company.
“To better prepare young students to the working life, we decided for this year to pair up the traditional courses with specific digital pillars to make them aware of the way digitisation is shaping that traditional way of doing business worldwide,” Ghilardi explains, and ends regarding further company plans.
“We are also working on training from the external point of view, namely new ways to reach our customers and their employees through some innovation related to our Itema Campus.”