The local company system is the set of mainly economic players – businesses, but also non-commercial institutions – that operate as registered companies in the Varese province. These players are listed in the Register of Companies, the commercial register stipulated by civil law and kept by the local Chambers of Commerce.

The enrolment requirement affects both operators whose headquarters are located in the area as well as those who work only through a local unit (branch, factory, shop, etc).

The commercial register: the Register of Companies

The current Register of Companies, established by the reform of Chambers of Commerce law in 1993 and effective since 1996, combined two separate commercial registers. The Register of Commercial Companies, set up by the Commercial Code in 1882 in the chanceries of the civil courts, was the successor of the system of registration introduced by the Napoleonic Code in 1808, and the Register of Businesses, which descended from the mercantile roll in medieval and modern times, was abolished in1862 and restored in the Chambers by the 1910 law.

The Register represents an important instrument of information and economic transparency. All economic operators are required to enrol, to provide some details of their organisation and their associates’ level of responsibility. The Register, therefore, does not look into the merits of the economic management of businesses but provides other entrepreneurs and consumers with the legal information necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the market.

Each company in the Register is assigned a number (nowadays known as REA number) by which it can be identified regardless of the numerous alterations that can be made in its name, headquarters, business purpose and so on. This number remains with the company for its entire existence.

The above principle was partially modified from the ‘60s onwards. The original number of individual businesses, and sometimes also de facto corporations, that had been transformed into partnerships or corporations was updated. The apparently rejuvenating effect brought about by this procedure makes determining the actual age of businesses more difficult today. The transfer of a head office from one province to another requires enrolment in the Chamber of the new location and the assignment of a more recent position in the register.  Consequently a long-established business whose headquarters were transferred to Milan and then back to Varese will be registered among the most recent enterprises. As a solution to such problems, the reconstruction of businesses’ historical profiles has paid particular attention to these movements to avoid losing the links of continuity.

Long-established businesses

A long-established business is one that has operated on the market for a considerable time, although there is no single standard to indicate when the term can be applied. Thirty years can be considered meaningful, while fifty constitute an important goal as a generation change is generally involved. The few illustrious enterprises with over 100 years on the business scene tend to join forces in associations.

The importance of long-established businesses in the area derives from their permanence on the market in spite of the uncertainties that lead to a regular mortality and replacement rate among companies, constant renewal of the entrepreneurial population and a continuous dispersion of business experience. Long-lived enterprises have the ability to store and stockpile these skills, so that they can be passed on to following generations in the form of information, operational style and values. Throughout their history businesses have devised a code of conduct based on trust and the quality of their dealings with clients, suppliers and the local community. Long-established businesses, inspired also by family tradition, view the market as a sphere of regulated, ethical economic competition. On the one hand this allows them to reclaim the heritage of trust, attachment and solidarity which flourishes within the family; on the other the entrepreneurs are motivated to defend the social relationships cultivated locally over time and ensure the credibility of its members.

Recent concepts in business culture such as social reputation or social responsibility have always been part of the genetic code of long-established businesses.

The population of long-established businesses and its distribution by age and economic sector

The population of long-established businesses located in the area can be reconstructed by referring to the Register of Companies and some favoured sources – company records, business associations, local historians – which can help to re-establish the thread of continuity in business histories interrupted by legal breaks in the Register. The list of long-lived companies is the result of this information. The distribution of long-established businesses according to age and economic sector has been analysed on the basis of data from the Register. The investigations were carried out using figures only from the Register of Companies in order to maintain statistical coherence.