MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Parma Antonio & figli spa

Historical Profile

From Lainate to Venezuela

Antonio Parma was born in Lainate in 1854 and, after sixth grade, moved to Milan where he worked as a mechanic. In 1870, at just sixteen years of age, he returned to Lainate and began manufacturing small chests, presses for letter-books, keys and locks. In 1881, Antonio created an ingenious armoured system designed to protect the famous "Golden Altar", a Carolingian artwork by Volvinio, on the high altar of Milan's basilica of St. Ambrose, which was used up until 1973. Having gained this notoriety, young Antonio began manufacturing strong-boxes for banks, thereby breaking the monopoly held by foreign manufacturers (the Germans, the Austrians and, above all, the English) and establishing himself as a protagonist in Italy's emerging security industry. With the electrification of the manufacturing processes and with the town of Lainate not yet being connected to the electrical networks, Antonio moved his business to Saronno in 1901, where he established a modern factory, with over 100 employees, for the serial production and construction of complete bank vault systems. With the quality and manageability of his products, the company Parma acquired various new customers, even abroad and in sectors outside the realm of banking. Antonio – whose first born child, Mario Giuseppe, died during the First World War fighting on the Karst Plateau, and fourth child, Marco, died on Lake Como – gradually involved his sons Ernesto, Angelo, Piero and Pio, in the business. In 1922, the enterprise was transformed into the general partnership "Ditta Antonio Parma e Figli". With a royal decree of that same year, Antonio was awarded the title of Cavaliere del Lavoro, a decoration which was reserved exclusively for individuals who had created a company from scratch. 1922 was also the year in which Antonio Parma passed away. Three years later, Antonio's youngest son, Ambrogio, came of age and joined his brothers in the family business.

The great expansion

The Parma company also excelled in the construction of circular vault doors for banks, one of which, due to its imposing size, received an award at the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona. The same year, the company manufactured a 600 ton rectangular vault door for Banco di Chiavari, which is still the world's heaviest to this day.

The factory in Lainate was closed in 1930. It was during this period that the company supplied armoured doors to the Royal House of Savoy, the Vatican, the Bank of Italy and the central banks of Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, all of which are still in perfect operating condition. The company established representative offices throughout Italy as well as abroad. The new mechanisms designed by the engineering department were patented upon completion. All of the processing stages (milling, welding, painting, etc.) were carried out at the factory in Saronno, which already had nearly 300 employees. It would later be flanked by Oscam, a family company that manufactured metal furniture and was situated in the town of Solaro.

Angelo Parma died in 1937, followed by his brother Ernesto in 1938.

During the Second World War, the company's production department was converted to meet wartime needs: boxes, shell cases, cartridge clips.

Upon Piero's death in 1952, Ambrogio and Pio Parma remained as the company's only two owners. Some time later, in 1963, they were joined by Pio's sons, Luigi and Paolo, as well as by Ambrogio's sons, Edoardo, Mario and Pietro.

In 1964, the enterprise was transformed into a limited partnership.

The company's family composition evolved periodically. The enlargement of the shareholding structure, with a relative increase in capital, was a sign that the company's business was doing well. In fact, with the development of industry, finance, commerce, tourism and public agencies throughout the country, the production of passive security systems (strongboxes, security doors, armoured cabinets, safe deposit boxes and wall safes) gained remarkable momentum. The company already had branches in Rome and Milan, and went on to open others in Verona, Padua, Genoa, Florence, Siena, Naples and Palermo.

The Parma company's sphinx logo had become a national and international symbol of industrial excellence. Ambrogio and Pio Parma both passed away in 1968 and the third generation assumed control of the company.


Since the 1970s - and even to this day - the company has undergone significant transformations in terms of both production and organization. The implementation of new processing technologies (numerically controlled machine tools) and laser cutting machines was combined with the outsourcing of certain processing stages (such as painting). Advanced protection systems were developed, particularly targeting credit institutions, by combining traditional "heavy" means with lighter elements and sophisticated electronics. Parma was the first Italian company to obtain UNI certification in the field of passive security, working to define the standards, in fact, alongside its own technicians.

Over time, the field of active security was also developed, which now offers a wide range of products (alarms, sensors and detectors, closed circuit video and digital video systems, etc.). In 1982, the company was transformed into a joint stock company and Luigi Parma was nominated president. During this period, a number of capital increases were deliberated upon and the company Oscam in Solaro was put up for sale. A new board of directors was appointed in 1991 and Edward Parma assumed the role of president.

In the meantime, production for foreign countries continued: in 1990, 13 armoured doors were manufactured for Yakutia, a Siberian glacial region rich in gold deposits.

In 1998, engineer Giorgio Amedeo was appointed as general manager, while the company capital was reconstituted, due to losses, thus revealing a state of crisis. Two years later, Antonio Parma e figli S.p.A. sold its branch of the business to CFD, a "paper company" that owned the building and land in Saronno, and took on the name "Immobiliare Marconi S.r.l.", with registered offices in Milan. Under the leadership of Edoardo Parma, Piero Parma and Paola Parma (Mario's daughter), CFD, in turn, moved its production activities to the municipality of Solaro, where construction had begun on a new industrial complex, and changed its name to Parma Antonio e figli S.p.A.

Recent developments

The flexible automation and outsourcing of the previous decades had already emaciated the company's once extremely labour-intensive production and organizational structure. But the evolution of the competitive scenario, being based more on price competition, tended to displace companies like Parma, which focused on high-end products. Other simplifications were needed, starting with the corporate structure.

In 2003, the grandson of the company's founder, Piero Parma (1938), decided to purchase the entire company and went on to become president and owner (at 60%), along with his sons Alberto and Emanuele (at 20% each). Giorgio Amedeo remained in his position as General Manager. Alberto Parma (1974), a law graduate and current president of the young industrialists of Varese Association, joined the enterprise in 2003 in order to closely follow the re-organization of the company, which appeared to be oversized with respect to its own market. For him, this also proved to be an extraordinary learning experience. The restructuring of the company, which was concluded at the end of 2004, implied a reduction in personnel (with the number of employees dropping from 100 to 75), but also triggered a process of recovery.

In the meantime, the new production facility had been completed in Solaro, to which the company transferred its headquarters in 2006. The company's new path was made up of two main strategies. On the one hand, the dedication to strengthening and stabilizing its presence on the foreign markets, especially those of emerging countries in the south Mediterranean, in order to overcome the occasional efforts of the past. On the other hand, the creation of new value-added products which would be increasingly dedicated to the logic of overall security, thus exploiting the company's vast know now. In recent years, one of the company's most noteworthy customers is the American bank machine manufacturer NCR, for whom it provides electronic and physical cash security systems. The Parma Antonio e figli logo, chosen by the company's founder, is a stylized image of the Sphinx, the keeper of secrets. In Ancient Egyptian, the word Sphinx meant "living image".