Issue Date: October 29, 2012
C&EN Talks With Giorgio Squinzi
His two-year term as president of the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), Europe’s main chemical industry association, is over, but Giorgio Squinzi continues to live his life by the same motto “Never stop pedaling.”
Even at 69, Squinzi has no intention of retiring. Instead, he will continue as chief executive officer and owner of Mapei, a Milan-based construction chemicals firm with annual sales of more than $2.7 billion. As if that weren’t enough to keep him challenged, he has just begun a four-year term as president of the Italian manufacturing association Confindustria.
During his career, and particularly during his term as CEFIC president, Squinzi has strived to raise awareness for the connection between innovation and the prosperity of the chemical industry. “We must continue to stress the strong links between competitiveness and innovation. All policies must keep these aspects in mind if we are to keep the 1.2 million workers in the EU chemical industry employed,” he tells C&EN.
Because the chemical industry in the European Union can’t rely on cheap feedstock to be competitive, it must draw on its capability to innovate. “The essential raw materials are intelligence and knowledge. The models to emulate are people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg,” he says.
Squinzi himself was a departure from typical CEFIC presidents, who tend to come from big diversified chemical makers of Northern Europe. He was the first Italian president in 29 years and was the only president in the council’s 40-year history to actually own a major chemical company. More typical is his successor at the helm: Kurt W. Bock, chairman of the German giant BASF.
Likewise, Mapei stands out at CEFIC as a producer of formulated products such as adhesives and mortars sold directly to construction companies. Most of the organization’s members are higher in the chemical supply chain. According to Squinzi, Mapei is also different because it has never laid off staff, even during economic downturns.
During his term as president, Squinzi was recognized for his relationship-building skills and entrepreneurial approach. Arguably his greatest achievement as CEFIC president was to help convert some senior members of the European Commission from chemical industry adversaries and skeptics to allies. He “has brought company reality into political debates,” said Antonio Tajani, EC vice president, in a glowing statement about Squinzi’s political influence as CEFIC president. “After the departure of President Squinzi, CEFIC is clearly stronger and more widely recognized than before.”
One of the “sparkling” successes of his stint, as Squinzi says, was overseeing the organization’s role in the 2011 International Year of Chemistry. Events held during the year helped spread recognition of the chemical industry’s contribution to society, he says. Another project Squinzi puts high on his list of achievements is the publication this year of CEFIC’s first-ever sustainability report.
With his presidency over, Squinzi is turning his attention to Mapei and Confindustria. His immediate concern is how to respond to the tough economic conditions faced by European countries. That includes Italy, where the “economic situation is horrible,” Squinzi says. He considers the fragility of the euro to be a major threat to Europe’s economic prosperity and says he will do his utmost to influence leading politicians to protect it.
Squinzi also faces slowing growth at Mapei. Sales at the company, which his father, Rodolfo, started from scratch in 1937, will increase about 5% this year, Squinzi anticipates, down from an annual growth rate of about 15% in recent years. He blames the slowdown on global economic conditions but is optimistic that sales growth can be revived through the introduction of innovative and greener products. The secret to Mapei’s success is “meticulous and constant technological innovation and a strong business spirit,” he says. The firm is on track to introduce 200 new product formulations each year, he says, and it will continue to invest 5% of its sales in R&D for the foreseeable future.
Squinzi has a degree in industrial chemistry from the University of Milan. Until 1984, when he took over from his father as CEO, he was Mapei’s head of R&D. Today, Squinzi’s son Marco is head of R&D. Although Squinzi is not tempted to don a white coat and return to the lab, he remains “curious about all of the company’s technological developments,” he says.
Apart from chemistry, Squinzi’s other enduring passions are listening to opera and cycling. Such is Squinzi’s dedication to cycling that between 1993 and 2002 Mapei funded a bicycle racing team that competed across Europe.
Squinzi himself is an accomplished cyclist. This summer he cycled the Stelvio Pass, which, at 2,800 meters above sea level, is the highest road in Italy. In an indication of his political connections, he cycled it alongside Romano Prodi, former Italian prime minister and a past-president of the EC.
Whether he is cycling or running an international chemical firm, Squinzi continues to live by the philosophy of putting his all into every project he takes on. Anyone who challenges Squinzi—on or off a bicycle—should remember one thing: He will never stop pedaling.
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