MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina


The origins and establishment of the business

At little more than sixteen years of age, Umberto Isella, born in 1884 to a family of fishermen in Calcinate del Pesce on lake Varese, began a business transporting fish, as well as the products of the Laveno ceramics company, in the town of Laveno itself. After having moved to Varese, he married Delfina Canziani of Milan in 1910, who died the following year while giving birth to their first son, Angelo. At the end of World War I, Umberto was joined by his younger brothers, Stefano and Giuseppe, after they returned from the front. On January 1st 1919, Fratelli Isella was established, a freight forwarding company with offices on Via Cavour. The family lived on the upper floors of the building, while the ground floor housed the carriages, the horse stalls and the caretakers' quarters.

That same year, Umberto was remarried to a widow with three children, Maria Martignoni, who went on to abandon the management of a restaurant in the Varese town centre to dedicate herself to the family, soon after giving birth to two more children, Lidia and Dante. The aspects of family and business often mixed and Maria regularly prepared hot meals for the animals' caretakers as well. At the beginning of the 1920s, in fact, the business activities were entirely handled by horse drawn carriages (Isella ended up owning more than 20) and were largely centred around the railway station. It was here that railcars would arrive loaded with goods, which Isella, in turn, distributed to the urban area and to other nearby towns.

The company's main customers included the City of Varese (for coal), as well as the Veresine and Macchi coachbuilder's workshops, Fiat, the gas works, the Sterzi paper mill and the Marzoli and Massari mills. The activity gradually gravitated towards the use of motor vehicle transport and grew along with the city and its industries: its client base expanded to include the lathe manufacturer, Pontiggia, as well as the Poretti brewery and many others. The moving division developed alongside the transport business and Fratelli Isella, being one of the few Varese companies in the sector, was able to organize itself in such a way so as to guarantee two moves in a single day. During its first 10 years on the market, the company even obtained a contract from the city of Varese for waste collection and street cleaning, as well as for funeral procession transportation, which also extended to nearby towns.

The new headquarters and the diversification of the business

Having gained momentum, the three brothers' business tended to expand and diversify, even with regards to its geographical layout. While maintaining joint involvement within the company, Umberto handled the transport business at the railway station and lived on Via Cavour; Giuseppe took control of the purchased company Satov, which managed the tramway between Varese and Bardello, and went to live in the latter town; Stefano, who focused mainly on the moving and funeral procession transport division, moved to Viale Valganna. It was here that, in 1931, a new company facility was opened within a pre-existing structure, made up of a tavern with bocce courts. At the time, the area was nearly uninhabited, but was quite close to the train tracks and the railway station.

Finally, the last branch of the company was dedicated to the management of the Lyceum cinema, which was entrusted to Ada Martignoni, Umberto's daughter from his first marriage, following the purchase of the building in which the cinema had been housed since 1922. At the same time, however, a number of other business sectors were discontinued, such as waste collection, which ceased just before the end of World War II. The company's image was also structured during this period: the first advertisements, with the house on wheels, arose from an idea conceived of by the brothers, while the logo was derived from a design by architect Ravasi, which included the colour "Isella yellow", created exclusively by the Fiori paint factory.

The advertising campaigns, which were mainly limited to the moving and funeral procession transport sectors, initially employed the use of billboards (later abandoned), as well as telephone directories and local newspapers. Immediately following World War II, the company also became involved in association work: Giuseppe, who was a protagonist in the founding of the ASEA (Association of shippers and carriers) for the province of Varese, was elected its first president in 1946. Giuseppe later separated from his brothers in 1948, however, leaving the company and continuing on in the sector of public transport, which in the meantime had moved from rail to rubber.

The succession and division of the group. In partnership with the competition

Umberto's death in 1954 marked a turning point for the company. Stefano Isella and Umberto's first son, Dante, became partners in the company, which had been transformed into a general partnership in 1951. The following year, Stefano ceded his shares in the company to Dante's sister, Lidia, and the partnership was transformed into a joint stock company for a number of months. At this point, Umberto's widow, Maria, decided to move to Viale Valganna to get more closely involved in her children's business. Her son, Dante, after having decided to dedicate himself to his studies in literature, later moved in to the residence in Via Cavour and subsequently went on to have a brilliant university career. After leaving the company in 1960, Dante was succeeded by his sister's husband, Romolo Bianchi, who left his position as an official for the province of Varese to assume the roles formerly occupied by the entrepreneur, also taking over the positions he held at the ASEA. 1959 also marked another important moment.

In order to avoid continuous negotiations with various suppliers, the director of the Poretti brewery granted an exclusive distribution contract to Fratelli Isella and Carcano, Varese's two largest competitors in the sector, provided that they work together as partners. This resulted in the establishment of Olona trasporti, which performed transport services for Poretti up until 2001, after which it limited its business to the management of its headquarters in Via Pacinotti 28. Olona also served as a carrier for the development of numerous activities that went beyond the confines of the orders for which it has been founded. Olona also went on to purchase Fosini, a historical Varese transport company, which helped to supplement the overall services offered by Fratelli Isella and Carcano.

Olona also gave rise to a number of ad hoc companies, such as Effe-A, which exclusively managed transport services for the company Bassani, and Tra.So.Car, which transported glass panes for a company in Milan. Finally, Luigi Giovanni Carcano came up with the idea for the company Casaforte, which offered self-storage rental spaces based on the American business model. Olona eventually acquired its own local identity. In fact, the beer transport trucks were painted "dark intercity blue", a colour which was subsequently maintained for Isella's industrial transport vehicles and complemented by the traditional yellow writing. It was during this period that a new generational transition was starting to get underway. In fact, Lidia and Romolo's first born son, Alberto, was born in 1946, followed by his brother Marco in 1959. Both children grew up in and around the company's headquarters: the courtyard was a natural place for the children to play and a number of company employees also became their playmates during off-work hours.


Isella trasporti

In 1980, another important transition took place. The Fratelli Isella company, which had been transformed into a limited partnership, kept its building in Viale Valganna as well as a stake in the newly founded company Isella s.r.l., which was given the branch of the company relative to the business. Alberto, who had begun working at the company in 1971, gradually began taking charge with the help of his parents. His father, Romolo, who had long been a councillor for the ASEA, conceded him that legacy as well: Alberto thus first became an auditor, then a councillor, and later went on to become vice president of the association during the late eighties. Alberto could also count on the help of the employees: due to the nature of the work, reliability was a crucial outcome of the company's training investments. This result justified the company's efforts and provided for long lasting relationships.

Relationships based on a similar trust were also established with the suppliers: trucks, trailers, tyres, oil, diesel and tarps had always been provided by the same companies. This element of trust was also fundamental in the relationships that had been established with the customers. For example, the preliminary inspections prior to every move were specifically designed not only to come up with a price quotation, but also to allow customers to compare the Isella operator's working methods with that of the competition.

During this period, Isella witnessed the transformation of Varese from a centre with a significant industrial presence into a city in which this presence was gradually disappearing. "For us, the transport work had always begun in Varese and finished elsewhere in Italy or Europe. Now, on the other hand, we load up wherever we're called, because there is much less merchandise leaving from Varese." At the same time, operations of moving entire households were becoming much more sporadic within the transport sector. Pre-furnished homes, tailor made furnishings and the reduced size of the habitations had altered the proportions between the furniture and the clothing/objects to be transported. All of this was also reflected in the means of transport. During the eighties and nineties, there was a predominant trend of increasing in size: the trucks grew from thirty, to fifty, and even to 80 cubic meters in volume. This however was destined to change: the lack of parking, the intense traffic and the decrease in the amount of materials to be moved, combined with the switch from fixed to tilt cabs, which were no longer approved for use with additional seats (up to 5) for the moving personnel, led to a preference for more streamlined solutions, such as the use of two trucks of twenty cubic meters, capable of transporting a total of six individuals.

This solution was feasible for short distances, but longer distances required agreements to be formulated with return agents in order to prevent Isella from having to bear the costs of the empty return trip. From an administrative standpoint, Alberto took charge of the company's management upon Romolo's death in 1997. Following a brief stint at the company, in fact, Alberto's brother, Marco, decided to devote himself entirely to his accounting business, while retaining 50% of the company shares. Their mother, Lidia, on the other hand, continued supervising the business from her apartment on the upper floor of the Viale Valganna location, just as their grandmother Maria had done in her time.


The new headquarters in Mornago and the new generation

Between 2001 and 2002, a number of transitions traced the company's path for the near future. The strategy of investing in industrial transport, in a period in which the profitability of the transport sector was in continuous decline, resulted in a decisive transition. In fact, a new logistics centre was rendered operational in Mornago, a location which was selected in order to circumvent the traffic problem, since Viale Valganna by this time had become fully engulfed by the city. The new warehouse focused on the activity of road haulage, as well as the new service of storing materials for subsequent handling and transport. The new business structure also resulted in a division of the personnel. The administrative headquarters, where Alberto worked alongside his long time secretary Graziella Riva, remained in Varese;

Giuseppe Furiga, who dealt with the moving branch, and Valeriano Cunego, Alberto's son-in-law, who was in charge of the funeral home, also remained in Varese; the new centre in Mornago, on the other hand, was managed by Marco Dossi, flanked by Alberto's children, Valentina and Luca Bianchi. The rest of the fifteen employees included drivers, movers, and funeral service personnel. Mainly as a result of the new EU regulations that put and end to funeral contracts, this latter branch of funerary transport services went on to develop into a true funeral home. In order to address its decreasing workload, on the other hand, the moving branch focused on expanding and complementing the services that it offered. Isella thus began collaborating with a number of tradesmen in order to guarantee its customers connection and cleaning services, as well as more or less significant building or furniture interventions, including restoration. As indicated above, Alberto's children, Valentina and Luca, began taking part in the company during these years.

This was a generational transition that was simultaneously being foreshadowed at the company Carcano. It was at this juncture, between 2005 and 2007, that the two road transport dynasties decided to part ways. The Bianchi brothers retained ownership of Olona trasporti which, as previously stated, was now only involved in real estate. In exchange, they conceded the Mornago headquarters, out of which Isella s.r.l. operated, along with the Viale Valganna facility. Lidia passed away in 2005, leaving a void not only in her children's affections, but in the business as well. Today, while waiting for his children to acquire the experience necessary in order to fully support him in running the business, Alberto is charged with the task of leading the company into the future.