I spoke to Mr Campagnolo in one of a small row of private meeting rooms inside the Campagnolo stand at Eurobike. Like everything Campagnolo does, the booth was beautifully designed. Even the meeting room doors were made from thick frosted plate glass, engraved with the famous cursive Campagnolo logo.
We were accompanied by Joshua Riddle, from North Carolina, USA, who now lives near Campagnolo’s headquarters in Vicenza, Italy. Joshua was there as a translator, but rarely called upon, as Mr Campagnolo speaks fluent English, with an elegant Italian accent and highly cultured turn of phrase.
I was momentarily worried by the long silence after my first question, but soon discovered that Mr Campagnolo considers his words carefully and crafts his answers with the same attention to detail as the company that he has steadily quadrupled in size since the untimely death of his father.
Bicycling Trade: What is it about Italians and stylish design—beautiful bicycles, cars, motorcycles…?
Valentino Campagnolo: I don’t know if I am the best person that can give an answer to this interesting matter.
I think that beauty belongs to the Italian approach. It started from Roman times (circa 2,000 years ago). They started doing incredible things. The Coliseum in Rome and other beauties.
In the Middle Ages from Giotto (1266 to 1337) the painter, through to the Renaissance (14th – 16th centuries) with Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Bernini.
I think that beauty belongs to the Italian heritage, the Italian soul.
I think it’s not by chance in that in Italy some companies have been born that have the capacity to create technical and mechanical things. Incredible cars: Maserati, Ferrari.
So, from the arts, to literature, to technical discoveries, I think Italians are a breed of people aiming for beauty, for new discoveries.
Italian bicycle designers took the opportunity from incredible racers: Binda, Giradengo, Bartali, Coppi and so on. Thanks to these people and some visionaries, like my father, we have been dedicated to imagining new things, new concepts linked to competitive cycling.
The Second World War was the starting point of a resurgence of Italy. I guess that my father and other people in the bicycle industry of my father’s age… names like Columbus, Clement, Regina Extra, all belong to the heritage of competitive cycling. And to this world Campagnolo and Tulio Campagnolo have played an important role.
BT: Did you study art and design yourself before you joined Campagnolo?
VC: I studied economics. (smiles) This is what I was requested (to do) by my parents. I didn’t have a choice. I was requested to study economics. I was requested to join the company without any other thoughts.
BT: How old were you when you joined?
VC: After military service, in 1974.
BT: How many years did your career and your father’s career at Campagnolo overlap?
VC: I had a strange career in this way. My father was an amateur racer whilst working in the small shop of my grandparents, who were poor people. They had a small shop selling hardware. My father started servicing bicycles in the shop.
My father was the inventor at the beginning, then the salesman of the new products, then the artisan, small entrepreneur, the marketing manager, sales manager, technical engineer.
He also did purchasing, planning… what else?
He as aided by a friend who managed production.
I had to adapt myself to my father’s desires, because I did not have any experience in sales or marketing or anything else. I stayed in the company, to understand what my father and his colleagues were doing, but I had no responsibilities, because I needed to learn.
I started to have responsibility the day after my father died in 1983. My responsibility started from zero to 100% from one day to the other.
BT: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
VC: Unfortunately, no.
BT: What are some of the most important things you learned from you father in that period from 1974 to 1983?
VC: Taking care of small things. This was the clear message of my father and I agree on that message. But I said to myself, ‘There are also other things that may be more important that I should take care of. So I accepted that advice, partially.
Later on I understood the reason why, of the saying of my father. Today I have to say that I agree with what my father said, because life is done by small things.
Small things can bring important things.
BT: Did you race at all yourself? Do you ride a bicycle today?
VC: I just ride a bicycle on summer weekends. I am not the type of person who can say, ‘I am a strong bicycle rider!’ No. I am a hard worker. Yes.
BT: How many hours do you work per week?
VC: I prefer to tell you about my day, so that I don’t have to do calculations. I am in around 7:20 am – 7:30 am and I leave the office around 8:00 pm, sometimes a little more.
BT: In Australia we would call that a workaholic. Do you have that expression in Italy?
VC: I don’t know the exact translation, but the meaning, I understand very well. I am doing what the company and my people are requesting of me. I am doing what my colleagues are expecting.
BT: Which products or decisions that you’ve made during your 31 years in charge of Campagnolo are you most proud of?
VC: Immediately it comes to me. I started to manage the company in 1983. In 1985 mountain biking was arriving in Europe and I started to jump on that business.
But the company was not ready. I personally did not have enough experience in managing the company and we did not have the capacity and the skills.
So I did some very tough years and had a very bitter lesson on my personal skill. So I took the decision, despite the fact mountain biking was totally destroying road racing bikes, to stop immediately mountain bike activities and concentrate on road bike components.
This was a very tough decision, because the road racing market at that time was very tiny.
It was like a jump into the black. But I did it and I am proud of that choice.
BT: Back then when you made that decision, how many employees did you have, and how many do you have today?
VC: I guess we were nearly 200. Today we are 826 as a group. Pretty soon we will arrive at nearly 900, as a group.
BT: ‘As a group’ leads us to Fulcrum wheels and your decision to create Fulcrum as a second brand.
VC: This is the second thing for which I feel happy. I would have said proud, but no, happy.
I think that we need to keep our feet very well on the ground, so I prefer to always have a conservative approach.
Fulcrum gave us attention, results, many satisfactions. Now Fulcrum is a pillar of our group and a strategic tool for our activities.
BT: Would you sell more Fulcrum wheels than Campagnolo wheels?
VC: In terms of numbers, Fulcrum sells 2.5 times the number of wheels than Campagnolo, because Campagnolo concentrates its effort on the high end and medium range. Fulcrum is also doing business in the top and medium ranges, but also for OEM purposes.
BT: What is your opinion about road disc brakes and their future?
VC: Disc brakes will come to road cycling. They’re already there from a sales and marketing point of view. It is clear that it will come to the racing field. As soon as the product itself will be ready enough, as soon as the frames will be ready enough, and the major players (UCI) are ready, we will be ready to do an offer.
We are working hard in this respect. It’s something totally different to what we do so far, but Campagnolo is able to meet challenges. We were the first company to launch eight speed, 10 speed, 11 speed. We were the first company to launch carbon fibre in a massive way for the bicycle business. We had no experience, but through internal development, now we handle many different technologies in the carbon fibre business. Nobody helped us other than our colleagues.
Sometimes we like to be challenged. Sometimes we might prefer not to have challenges. But if we need to accept challenges, we do.
BT: Looking to the future, do you have any children working in the business?
VC: Yes, I have two daughters and one son. My older daughter, Francesca, started working in the marketing area years ago. Then she married and decided to have kids. She thought it was more important to have babies rather than work in the company and I totally agree on that.
Now she is a mama and I am a happy grandfather.
Then I have a son, David, who has been working in the company five years. He is taking important steps inside the company. He is 33 years old.
Then I have another daughter, Benedetta, who is finishing university studies. She is dreaming of working in the company.
BT: Do you think Campagnolo will remain family owned?
VC: I hope so. I don’t know the future, of course. But being a family company doesn’t prevent growth of the company. A family approach can favour the development of the company.
What counts is a mutual understanding and respect and understanding for each role, the shareholders and the managers. It’s a question of respect.
BT: Are you the only shareholder?
VC: No! My wife. If those who are coming after us are not interested, then it’s preferable to sell the company, for the interest of the company, and those working for the company.
BT: But fortunately for you, that is not the case?
VC: I don’t know. I have some ideas, some expectations, some dreams, some projects… we will see.
BT: If it’s not a rude question how old are you now and how long do you think you’ll stay working at your company?
VC: It’s not a rude question. It’s a normal question. Now I am 64 years old. I will be 65 next December and I don’t want to think of Valentino Campagnolo being the Managing Director and CEO for so many years. There is the necessity to have full power, experience, determination. I think that now there are capable managers doing a good job in the Campagnolo group. And I am seeing progressive growth of my son and my daughter.
I think there is time and room enough to imagine a progressive development.
The company doesn’t need sudden change like I did when my father died.
It was a very bitter lesson. I experienced something too negative.