Esmeralda Zoppi is the third generation of her family to direct Bruno Folcieri Srl, an Italian manufacturer of blade granulators for large throughputs and plastic materials that are difficult to grind. The small company is in a tiny village of about 500 residents one hour from Milan but ships its granulators worldwide.
Zoppi stresses that the focus on high-quality construction by hand gives her company an edge in the marketplace.
Camilla, her father’s aging horse, wanders inside the factory from an adjacent pasture anytime she wants attention, and chief operating officer Zoppi has no problem with that. Zoppi talked about her role in the company, management philosophy, the work atmosphere she fosters and her dealings with customers during an interview at K2019 with Editor Ron Shinn.
How did the company start? Zoppi: My grandfather had a small business repairing tractors and farm machinery, but the business was seasonal, and he worked only six months a year. The remaining six months he was working in his fields. The Americans rescued us after World War II, and he wanted to expand the business. He had experience with granulators for seeds and corn, and a brother working in the chemical industry suggested he build a granulator for Bakelite. He did that in the 1950s and his daughter — my mother — joined the business in the 1960s. In 1973, she got married and my dad quit his job to join my grandfather’s company.
Where did the focus on big granulators come from?
Zoppi: My dad, from the very first, understood the right way to go was big size, high-quality granulators. He believed that growth would be in heavy-duty granulators. He was correct.
Is your father still working in the company?
Zoppi: Yes. He is 74 years old and works every day. He is the CEO, and I am the COO. We share ideas and decisions.
How did the business grow?
Zoppi: Throughout the 1980s, we were selling our machines to the most important recyclers in Italy. Then our reputation for big granulators spread to France, Spain and then the rest of the world.
What brought you into the family business?
Zoppi: In the late 1990s, I was studying economics at the university and my family needed someone to help manage the growth of the company. So, I joined when I was 22 years old. It was not my plan, but it seemed like a normal thing to do because I had been playing in the company since I was a baby.
Where did you learn enough engineering to run a manufacturing company?
Zoppi: I am in the plant all the time. I breathe that air.
What is your biggest challenge as the COO?
Zoppi: Organizing the company to be able to work better and face more challenges. It is not just about buying new machinery. We have to all be part of the same team. There is no difference in the guy running the CNC machine or welding in the plant and me. We are a family. I expect everyone to work their best. That is important for me.
Is it true you wear a company-logo T-shirt and sneakers at work?
Zoppi: Yes. I very often wear the same thing that the guys in the plant wear. We are as down-to-earth as our customers. We are craftsmen and every grinder is custom-made.
I don’t have any problem asking our employees their opinion. I don’t have any idea that I am always right. I try to have very open conversations with everyone.
Tell me about your customer service philosophy.
Zoppi: I always want to be closer to our customers. We now have customers in America. When they have a problem, they ask me to put my guys on a plane and be there tomorrow.
We always try to learn from our mistakes. The world will know immediately if you do not take care of your customer.
Did you learn that philosophy from your father?
Zoppi: Yes. He taught me to be honest and professional, and to treat our customers like your friends.
Do you get many opportunities to talk to customers?
Zoppi: Of course, all the time. For every need, they call me from all around the world. They ask me how the horse and my dogs are doing, and we talk about grinders.
Would you consider building your granulators in Asia to cut manufacturing costs?
Zoppi: No. Our machines are 100 percent Italian.
What gives Bruno Folcieri its competitive edge?
Zoppi: It is certainly the strength and durability quality of our machines. Our competitors are more aggressive on the commercial side, but investing in quality gives us an edge. This always pays off.
What is the process your company goes through to upgrade a machine or build a new series?
Zoppi: Our winning point has always been listening to our customers’ opinions, feedback and needs. They know better than us how our grinders are performing, depending on the materials they process, because they live it every day. When there are some issues or they need some advice, we are always ready to find a solution together. In this context, improvements come to life. We are not afraid to challenge ourselves and that’s how we find new solutions.
What technology achievement are you most proud of?
Zoppi: Our Easy Power granulator series was born from a specific major need of our recycling customers. They needed a safe and powerful grinder manufactured with Folcieri heavy-duty construction but that was very easy to maintain. Post-consumer contaminated plastic material is very abrasive and causes faster blade degradation and can seriously damage the structure of the machine itself. For this reason, they need to change the knives more frequently than when working with post-industrial, clean materials.
The Easy Power cutting chamber is completely lined inside with wear-resistant metal sheets that preserve the grinder’s integrity and furthermore are totally replaceable when worn out. Perhaps the most significant feature is the large throughput. We have also upgraded the machine with an interactive control system and remote management.
Are there any other technology innovations you are proud to have developed?
Zoppi: On the Top Line series, we built a rotor from a single block of forged steel. Each one is inspected by X-ray and ultrasound in order to be super wear-resistant and reliable.
Would you like for your daughter to follow you in the company?
Zoppi: She is almost 4 years old and plays in the office like I did. But I am not going to push her. She will be free to do whatever she wants.
What do you want your legacy to be?
Zoppi: That the people who worked for the company were happy and satisfied with their jobs. I want the company to flourish, not vanish. Three generations of my family have put their lives into it.
Just the facts:
Who: Esmeralda Zoppi, COO of Bruno Folcieri Srl
Location: Volongo, Italy
Years with company: 23
Primary business: Large blade granulators and auxiliary equipment
U.S. representative: Innovative Recycling Solutions LLC