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MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Guidali


From the establishment of the business to the early 1930s


The history of the Guidali family business begins with the establishment of a carpenter’s workshop headed by the brothers Giovanni and Vittorio (known as Vittore): thanks to its enrolment with the Milan Chamber of Commerce, the company’s establishment can be dated back to 1893. The two carpenters were the sons of Protaso and Paola Limido, a farming couple originally from Rovate (a fraction of Carnago) who moved to Gallarate along with their six children: Giovanni and Vittorio’s four siblings were named Alessandro, Maria, Baldessare and Luigi. The vasta bottega da falegname (“the vast carpenter’s workshop”), which was equipped with all of the necessary tools and even an adjoining timber depot, was set up inside a building complex that Protaso had left in usufruct to his widow, and as inheritance for his children, upon his death in September of 1888. The complex was comprised of a house with a garden and a porch, as well as an additional house whose ground floor was occupied by the carpenter’s workshop itself. The building overlooks the main roadway leading from Gallarate to Sesto Calende, and is only separated from the ancient church of San Rocco by a small country road. The company’s main offices can still be found there today, at no. 19 Corso Sempione, which for a certain period of time was known as Via Amedeo di Savoia. Maria and Vittorio built their homes above the workshop itself. Many of their employees also lived and worked in these rooms, which were organized based on an “extended” family model.

By the end of the century, the other Guidali siblings had settled in Beckenried, on Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne. In fact, they owned a successful road construction company which was later transferred to the city of Lucerne itself. Even Giovanni, one of the workshop’s original owners, eventually followed his siblings to Switzerland, although, unlike them, he maintained his Italian citizenship. Despite having only an elementary education, he engaged in a successful woodcarving career and proved himself to be a skilful draftsman. In fact, the sketch that was selected by his grandchildren as the company logo is owed to his talent. The carpenter’s workshop was thus managed by Vittorio, who had undergone his professional training as an apprentice at Andrea Macchi’s furniture store in Gallarate and, after performing his four years of military service, at another similar company in Busto Arsizio. Vittorio formally dissolved the partnership with his brother in 1907 and registered the company as a sole proprietorship under the name of “Guidali Vittore”, which would specialize in the production of “doors and windows and other similar articles”. Vittorio preferred furniture production, as it offered greater satisfaction considering his professional capabilities, and provided for more consistent earnings throughout the year. Nevertheless, Vittorio did not forego the job opportunities offered by the new class of professionals and entrepreneurs in Gallarate, who were busy constructing houses and villas in the city, as well as in the most popular mountain and seaside resort towns. They required high-quality doors and windows, made primarily with Italian wood materials, above all spruce and larch. Given the manufacturing techniques of the time, it could take up to a year in order to produce the doors and windows for a single home. The company thus had no trouble obtaining orders, and soon became well-established.

 

The second generation. From the 1930s to the 1950s


Vittorio, who had since married Luigia Moccheti, gradually began to introduce his only son, Giuseppe, to the company’s activities. Having completed his technical studies in Gallarate, Giuseppe had acquired a solid educational background. After earning his diploma, he was sent to the front in the Great War. Although he was wounded twice, with cannon shrapnel lodged in his collarbone, he went on to become a passionate cyclist. He later married Rosa Guffanti (known as Rina), with whom he fathered seven children: two sons, Vittore and Luigi, and five daughters: Anna, Natalina, Celestina, Carla and Maria Pia, none of whom became involved in the family business, and one of whom became a missionary nun: a choice that was not very surprising considering their parents were quite religious. The boys, on the other hand, soon began collaborating with their father and, even if for a short time, with their grandfather as well. Vittore began his apprenticeship at the family workshop at the age of twelve, and was followed by Luigi after he had completed his studies.

In contrast to his father, who had focused upon furniture production, Giuseppe was more interested in producing doors and windows. In 1938, the company acquired a major customer, the “S. Antonio Abate” Hospital in Gallarate, for which it was mainly employed for the maintenance of the existing door and window fixtures, and even went on to establish a small yet well-equipped workshop inside the hospital itself, which was manned by a fixed employee. This type of work offered an important advantage, as it could be carried out during the winter months, when other construction activities had ceased. By 1944, Giuseppe had reached 46 years of age and, despite his differences with his father, had gained enough life and work experience to guarantee the continuity of the company’s management. On May 1st 1944, at the age of 78, Vittorio officially ceded the business to his son, who enrolled it under his own name as a sole proprietorship. Upon Vittorio’s death three years later, his daughters Rina, Elena, Laura, Maria and Paulina each inherited a share of their father’s business, although none took part in the company’s affairs.


The enterprise of Vittore and Luigi Guidali. From the 1960s to the 1980s


Giuseppe passed away in December of 1963, thus terminating the sole proprietorship that had been established in his name. Vittore and Luigi kept the company alive under the form of a de facto company, while maintaining its business purpose as “the repair, production and sales of wooden doors, windows and furniture”. Although Vittore’s wife, Giancarla Dettone, initially took care of the company’s bookkeeping, she eventually left the task to her brother in-law. Luigi’s wife, on the other hand, who was a French national, never became involved in the company’s affairs. The two brothers assumed different roles: Vittore mainly took care of the production activities, while Luigi supervised the installation of the doors and windows, as well as the company’s administration. Numerous competitors began to diversify their activities during the boom years and soon became involved in the construction sector which, given the tumultuous housing boom, offered exceptional earning opportunities. The Guidali brothers, on the other hand, remained faithful to their traditional work activities, and continued manufacturing high-quality products. In addition to doors and windows, the company also manufactured custom home furnishings, even using the new types of lumber that were being requested by the customers based on the market trends.

Although the 1960s represented a period of intense economic development for the company (which increased its number of employees to over a dozen), its production processes did not evolve towards a more industrial dimension, but rather remained largely based on manual processes. During this period, Vittore became quite involved in the sector’s various associations: in 1964, he joined the regional board of the Craftsmen’s Association, offering his own contribution to the drafting of the standard price list. He also later joined the national board of the Italian Woodworker’s Association, where he became involved in the negotiations for the renewal of the national labour contracts. In 1971, the company received an important award: the Chamber of Commerce presented the company’s owners with the Loyalty award, citing 1898 as the company’s date of commencement of activities. By the 1970’s, the proper conditions were in place for the company’s succession. Luigi had both a son and a daughter, neither of whom were interested in working at the company. Vittore’s children, Paulo and Alberto, on the other hand, had begun frequenting the workshop at a young age, where they helped their father with the cleaning activities, but also used the premises as their personal playground. Paulo went on to pursue a professional career outside the company as a nuclear engineer, but his life tragically came to an end in 1985 following a motorcycle accident. After abandoning his accountancy studies, Alberto joined the company alongside his father, where he mainly assisted his uncle with the installation of the doors and windows. When Alberto was called to perform his military service in 1978 in the Carabinieri Corps, he discovered a true passion for the military lifestyle, which led him to consider the option of leaving his father’s company.

Due to pressure from his father and the emotional bond that he had developed with his uncle, who had originally gotten him involved in the company and even shared Alberto’s passion for mountaineering, Alberto ultimately decided to ensure the continuity of the family business. His dedication to the Corps remained, however, and over the following years Alberto maintained a strong personal commitment to the Corps’ associations and activities. His decision to focus upon the family business, however, turned out to be extremely important, as a series of negative events took place during the 1980s that called into question the company’s continuity. The crisis that arose during the 1970s, in fact, had already reduced the company’s size to the point that it ultimately had to let half of its employees go. Later, in 1985, the head offices of “Fratelli Guidali di V. & L. Guidali”, which had been regularized the previous year as a de facto partnership, were destroyed by a fire, which only spared a few old cast iron machines and a number of planes. For one year, the company rented a workshop in Cardano al Campo. While this could have served as an occasion to find a different specialization and expand the workshop, Vittore and Luigi opted to remain with the company’s traditional business model. Paolo’s death later that same year also naturally weighed heavily upon the family. In 1988, with the arrival of even more demanding procedures for the awarding of contracts, the Guidali family ultimately decided to forego the tenders for the Gallarate Hospital, thus ending its relationship with a client for whom it had been working for over half a century.


Under the leadership of Alberto and Daniela. From the 1990s to the present


Alberto married Daniela Mapelli, who bore him two children: Paulo and Elena. The new generation, represented by Alberto, ultimately took control of the company during the 1990s. In May of 1994, Luigi left the company after suffering a crippling disease: although this event left Alberto without a solid reference point, he and his father nevertheless persisted, and on June 13th 1994 the company was registered as a general partnership under the name of “Guidali lavorazioni del legno di Vittore e Alberto”. The description of the company’s business purpose invariably remained as “the production, repair and sales of wooden doors, windows and furniture”. As soon as he became involved in the company’s management, Alberto asked his wife to help him with its administration: despite having joined the company as a limited partner in 2008, Daniela was still working as one of the company’s four employees at the time. After earning his high school diploma and later becoming a surveyor, their son Paolo took a job with a Varese-based company that was also involved in the woodworking sector. Their daughter, Elena, was still attending high school at the time.

The company has recently made a major production investment by purchasing a CNC machine, which was deemed necessary in order to meet the challenges posed by the rapidly changing market. New competitors have also arrived on the scene: on the one hand there are the large companies, which are no longer averse to performing the small jobs that were once exclusively reserved for independent craftsmen; on the other hand, the large chains selling do-it-yourself construction materials have gained a strong foothold, and are capable of offering all sizes of doors and windows at extremely competitive prices. Finding itself stuck between industry and trade, and weighed down by increasingly burdensome taxation, this small company is only able to carry on thanks to the commitment and passion of its owners, who are willing to put in the hours necessary in order to get the job done. These developments have also led to difficulties in finding skilled labourers, who require lengthy professional training that the professional schools are not capable of providing. Moreover, young Italians are increasingly opting for more profitable careers that do not involve manual labour. Italy’s new legislation on apprenticeship has also begun to heavily penalize small businesses, forcing them to pay higher salaries to new employees undergoing training: small companies are thus forced to rely on non-EU workers, who often have little experience with the local work techniques.

In addition to these issues, small businesses are also being taxed increasingly heavily, thus reducing their ability and propensity to invest in their companies’ continuity. Today, the high-quality door and window market, in which the Guidali company operates, has undergone a significant decline. The construction sector is now focusing upon the use of longer lasting and less costly materials, and has already begun to introduce aluminium and PVC doors and windows, above all for residential building projects. The Guidali company, which regularly works for large architectural firms that restructure prestigious buildings or luxury shops in historic centres, has succeeded in maintaining a high-profile niche clientele. The company’s most prestigious contract was perhaps the renovation of Civitavecchia’s Forte Michelangelo, a sixteenth century fortress for which the Gallarate-based company produced doors and windows made with wood imported from Canada.