SICE PREVIT THREE GENERATIONS OF ENTREPRENEURS
By Monica Tonini, based on the book “Mano d’opera, 50 anni di Sice Previt”
The story I would like to tell, is a story forged by its people.
A story that comes from a family’s heritage, made from the fabric of intrinsically combined stories: the lifetime recollection of many workers and their families who have collaborated with us over the last half a century.
I now find myself acting as spokesman for these generations of builders who, 50 years ago, founded SICE PREVIT.
You will not find their names amidst these words. Our memories of them, however, will be echoed in our every action, reverberating from every brick they have laid in cement and every time we “reach a new summit,” every time we raise the Italian tricolor, they will be remembered. Their commemoration voices our accomplishment within the working sphere, our heart-felt pride when handing down a respect for tradition and the craft of our fathers.
Our work needs time to be completed, it requires effort, knowledge and attention, for it’s a matter of seconds and we can endanger our own lives and the lives of others. Unlike many, this is still a job that must be done by hand. Capable hands, strong hands, expert hands – hands that have the power of making the abstract into a tangible thing. It is such an ancient craft that it still amazes to think it has survived amongst our virtual era with the same manual gesture of a hundred years ago.
After the First World War my grandfather, Giovanni Tonini, who originally came from Trentino, worked as a designer and construction manager on projects for dams and hydro-electric plants at the studio of Ing. Omodeo in Milan. The completed projects, both in Italy and abroad, represent outstanding works of land transformation. These were the years of the first earthquake-proof dams, where innovative skill combined with experience made it possible to construct stately buildings using a few machines and a great many tireless arms. From here he moved on to working at SIAF, where he designed and directed several aqueduct projects in Italy. In 1937 he set up the first construction company in the history of our family, named ‘Tonini & Colombo’, with which he realized a number of hydraulic projects within Italy. The outbreak of World War II, with the introduction of conscription to the army, meant that all entrepreneurial activity had to be abandoned.
In 1945, when the war had ended, he founded the new construction company, ‘Ditta Ing. Tonini’ in a country that needed to be entirely rebuilt.
It is within his love for the mountains and the aspiration of reaching the peak, within the pride of belonging to the Alpine corps, and his sense of freedom and justice that we find my grandfather’s strength and determination (Trentino irredentist and captain of the Alpine troops in the World War I; colonel of the Alpine troops and later prisoner of war and partisan during World War II).
Everything he undertook in his lifetime was permeated with the values of honesty and earnestness that today represent the foundations of Sice Previt.
In 1961, after a number of years of intense work in the field of restructuring and the manufacture of the first one-floor prefabricated housing modules, my grandfather founded the companies Sice S.r.l. (Società Italiana Costruzioni Edili) and Previt S.p.A. (Prefabbricati Vermiculite Italiana) along with his son, Leonardo. My father, Leonardo, was able to gain excellent technical experience working alongside my grandfather and became one of the keenest promoters for the development of prefabricated elements. Forerunner in a sector that is still evolving today, he introduced within the company the prefabrication of large-sized prestressed concrete elements and façade panels. This activity involved studying each project individually in order to identify its architectural and structural characteristics and needs as to devise innovative solutions regarding design and construction. Previt prided itself of offering custom-cut solutions, tailored to suit the client’s requests, whereas other companies focused on manufacturing mass produced prefabrications. Experimentation was also applied in the organisation of building sites, in order to obtain an economically-competitive ‘unique product’, manufacturing part of the prefabricated elements on mobile formworks on-site.
Besides his building activity, in the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties, in search of innovative building systems, my father started new entrepreneurial activities, founded with other entrepreneurs several companies operating both in Italy and abroad, which propagated the new ideas in construction resulting from the exchange between the different professional experiences. It is precisely this spirit of associationism, this sense of teamwork – so essential to the launching of new entrepreneurial activities – that my father succeeded in passing on to me. I remember his steadfastness, his joie de vivre and his forward-looking approach to life, constantly willing to place himself on the line with his great sense of humanity. I remember also my first climb with him, when I was 11 years old; after six hours of arduous climbing I was exhausted, but he helped me muster the energy I needed to reach the top. I remember that last ledge, that last stretch to the summit; I had no choice but to keep going.
The forge of my father’s initiatives, in constant evolution and continually in the forefront, came to an end abruptly in 1985 with his sudden death. I found myself having to manage his business at the age of 25, without any experience but with the invaluable support of Maurizio Petrone, the company’s tax consultant. Faced with important company choices, I decided to completely eliminate the activities relating to the sector of prefabrication after the current commissions had been completed. Amidst the tears of the prefabrication workers I threw away, like old iron, the formworks that had held the history of ideas and construction, and sold the machinery used to make the expanded polystyrene elements. I kept only the activity of the restoration and traditional construction of Sice. I was deter-mined to continue the history of this company and guarantee the jobs of its workers, including those involved in the discontinued activities, but I realised that on my own I would not succeed. So I began to look for a partner with whom I could share the work and give new life to the business. After several offers of total acquisition or shareholding in the company, I had the good fortune to meet Ing. Arturo Caprio, him-self also a constructor and the founder of a small but fast-growing company named Programma Edile S.r.l. The resulting business collaboration lasted one year and had the purpose of verifying whether we had the same vision, before going ahead with the transfer of company shares. After one year working together we were so finely-tuned that our partnership became not only professional, but also sentimental.
Arturo’s entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm goes back a long way. His grandfather, Ing. Romolo De Bartolomeis, together with his brother Remo, designed and constructed systems for producing gas and relative ovens, systems for transportation and lifting, brick and ceramic furnaces, wastewater treatment plants and incinerators, parabolic antennas and large antennas for aerospace use. The company founded in 1921, ‘Forni ed Impianti Industriali Ingg. De Bartolomeis’, patented and manufactured several special plants and remained in the fore-front for over 50 years. The factories at Lecco and Ambivere have given work to more than 2,000 people employed in the different manufacturing processes. As Arrigoni wrote in occasion of the 50th anniversary of the company De Bartolomeis: “[…] with its emphasis firmly placed on human values, ‘DB’ may attribute the secret of its value to its technique, but also, and above all, to the cohesion of its workers”2.Alongside this spiritual legacy in the field of large-scale industry, Arturo also inherited from his father Salvatore an extraordinary talent for relating to his fellow men. In some way, his father’s profession (international law solicitor) stimulated his own commercial and contractual skills, and he adopted the same unprejudiced spirit that characterised Salvatore Caprio.
The first years of our work were dedicated to merging the two companies (Sice Previt and Programma Edile) and extending our customer portfolio to include also the fashion sector. In 2000 we invited a carpenter friend to come, with his machinery, and set up work in a part of the Sice Previt warehouse. Under his expert guidance the first joiners were trained, marking the beginning of an adventure that was to develop, thanks also to Arturo’s expertise, into a factory covering an area of over 2000m2, for the manufacture and marketing of furniture and furnishings for stores throughout the world.
The activity of metalwork fabrication began in 2003 for the purpose of integrating masonry works with the metal structures necessary for the consolidation and construction of buildings, as well as the manufacture of furniture elements and iron staircases. The roots of our two families narrate a common story of innovation, research and the valorisation of the men who have made it possible for us to achieve great things. This is a gift that Arturo and I have been given, and which we strive to pass on to future generations with the same enthusiasm.