Paolo Fantoni: “Enthusiasm will come back: I expect a rally…”

We have selected this statement by Paolo Fantoni for the title of a phone interview he made as entrepreneurs and president of Epf, the European Panel Federation. We talked to him when he was very worried. He still is, but we can say that, in the morning we disturbed him in his office at Fantoni in Osoppo, an excellence of “made in Italy” for the quality of their panels and office furniture, the scenario looked really dark…

The conversation could only start from the situation of the company: “Only 10 out of one hundred people working in our offices have remained at their desk, sometimes taking turns. Many have continued to work remotely, for others we were forced to send them on holiday or apply for layoff schemes,” Paolo Fantoni said. “Our production lines worked when the authorities allowed, with inevitable “pauses” when demand was weaker. There is no denying we have seen a general slowdown, but we agree that reviewing your budget now is crazy, we don’t have all the elements to know how this situation will evolve”.

One thing is certain: the blow has been very strong…

“A bolt from the blue: we all know we might have to face catastrophic situations, but no one could ever imagine the impact of this event. We immediately responded to implement all safety measures and to collect the necessary information to do all we could. I decided to act in first person and I sent a message to all Epf members, warning them not to underrate the situation and react quickly, introducing similar measures in their companies, because the risk was tangible”.

Mr Fantoni, not everyone has adopted the same approach, creating a situation of “unpleasant competition”…
“There have been different decisions that have resulted into much stricter lockdown and production capacity reduction in some countries, such as Italy, Spain and France. Others – including Germany, Austria or Poland – kept on working and stopped their factories only when they had no other choice, for ten to fifteen days, comparted with at least four weeks in Italy or Spain. Each country made a decision and time will tell, and it has already told, who was more sensible. But I think that the effort of German companies to keep producing has also reached a limit, so now – after filling up their stocks – they might have to stop their plants to adjust production to a market demand that I would call “thoughtful”. Also consider what happened in distribution: we could re-start selling on May 18, while in Austria retailers had opened their stores and warehouses two weeks earlier, and also Germany had a different timetable. The availability of goods on the market has created different situations from country to country.

The difference was apparent, due to medical and legal conditions and different measures, which inevitably created different situations; but within the European federation there are no regrets or complaints. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the complaints of companies whose competitors could increase their revenues in recent months and easily access new markets that could not be served by others. This happened in the panel and in the furniture industry, and in many more segments, so you can feel some disappointment and many companies wonder how things might have gone if the European manufacturing industry had responded with the same rules. As Germany had stronger demand, shorter plant shutdown, fewer constraints to transportation to other countries, the Germany industry could benefit from better operating conditions than Italy. But there is no friction about this, as the European federation is ready to address country-specific issues”.

But United Europe is still a far-fetched idea…
“There’s much more evidence to what you are saying, things that have nothing to do with the exceptional event of this pandemic. For instance, Germany – its government, not the panel industry – has adopted an independent regulation for situations and products, violating specific protocols and standards for EC products. I assure you that, on topics such as volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde emissions we have reacted strongly; many Epf members, not only in Italy, are refractory to these things, and we reported to the European Commission a long time ago.

A few months ago we launched an initiative I can tell you more about now, as last May 28 we started a legal suit against Germany’s decision to set new standards for formaldehyde emissions from panels. We want to stress that these national initiatives damage the entire industry and I believe that a strong stance, shared by many companies from different countries, is a sign of solidarity”.

What was the lesson learned of these weeks and months?
“We are still shocked, it’s too early to say. The more flexible companies and supply chains will come out improved, but everyone will have a chance to show that Italians are able to stand up and recover. The consequences will be heavy, but I expect a powerful rally of enthusiasm, a strong desire to get back what we have lost. There will be a recovery, though slow and gradual”.

Paolo Fantoni: “Enthusiasm will come back: I expect a rally…” ultima modifica: 2020-08-10T08:00:23+00:00 da Luca