Web Date: March 17, 2008
FIS Founder Dies At 84
Gianfranco Ferrari, the chairman and president of Fabbrica Italiana Sintetici (FIS) and a member of a pharmaceutical and chemical industry family dynasty based around the Italian city of Vicenza, died on March 9 after a short illness. He was 84.
With his father and two brothers, Ferrari founded FIS 50 years ago when small-scale manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) thrived as a cottage industry in Northern Italy. The firm amassed a sizable portfolio of APIs for generic drugs and, in 1990, branched into custom manufacturing of patented APIs for pharmaceutical company partners. Still family-owned, the firm achieved sales of $180 million last year.
Born in 1923, Ferrari received a Ph.D. in law from the University of Ferrara in 1948. He went to work in an administrative capacity at Zambon, a drug company currently based in Milan. At the time, the Ferrari family owned 33% of Zambon; the Zambon and Ferrari families are related by marriage.
In 1957, Giovanni Ferrari, along with his sons, Antonio, Gianfranco, and Ottavio, split off to form FIS. According to Vittorio Bozzoli, a former general manager and current member of the FIS executive committee, the vision of pursuing pharmaceutical chemicals was Gianfranco's. "Even with the presence of the father, the real charge of managing the company was given to the three brothers," Bozzoli recalls. "And the two other brothers soon delegated management of the company to Gianfranco to pursue other interests." Ottavio went on to found a plastics packaging company near Vicenza.
Italy's long dominance of the market for generic APIs was eventually threatened by Asian competition and changes in patent law. Under Ferrari's leadership, FIS shifted the bulk of its business to custom-making fine chemicals and APIs for patented drugs. The firm managed to weather the custom manufacturing industry's recent severe downturn without closing plants or firing workers. The company's success is attributed to a conservative, family-run business approach (C&EN, July 23, 2007, page 19).
Peter Pollak, a fine chemicals industry consultant who formerly ran Lonza's custom manufacturing business, says Ferrari also succeeded in attracting and retaining a strong management team, including Bozzoli; Massimo Barcaro, manager of technical operations; and Roger Laforce, the current general manager, who came to FIS from the Swiss firm Helsinn in 2004.
Ferrari maintained strategic control of the company, however, and remained the key decision maker. "Recently, I had the chance to assist a meeting between Mr. Ferrari and the management team of FIS," Pollak says. "A major expansion of a plant was discussed. When Massimo Barcaro asked for approval of the investment, Mr. Ferrari, deferring to the management team, said, ???Well, it's up to you to decide.' But it was quite evident that this was a pro forma statement and that the real decision maker was Ferrari."
FIS spent $11 million in 2006 to increase API capacity at its main manufacturing site in Montecchio, Italy, and another $14 million at a site in Termoli in order to bring operations up to current Good Manufacturing Practice standards. In recent years, the company has branched into cytotoxic compounds and steroids.
Industry observers agree that FIS is among today's strongest manufacturers of pharmaceutical chemicals. They attribute that strength to its technical expertise and its flexibility in serving large drug and biotechnology company clients with specialized services. Those familiar with the company credit its strategic development to Ferrari's vision.
"Gianfranco Ferrari was a low-key, high-vision gentleman," Pollak says. "He was demanding, serious, and correct."
Ferruccio Ferrari, 58, the son of Antonio Ferrari, has been named president of FIS. There are two other Ferrari family members on the executive committee: Gianfranco's son, Giampaolo; and Ottavio's daughter Antonella Cappellato.
Ferrari is also survived by a second son, Giovanni, the founder and president of Brevetti Cea, a pharmaceutical devices firm; a daughter, Stephania Guerrini; and five grandchildren. His older brother, Antonio, died last year.
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