Founded in 1962, Flos has stayed true to its original philosophy of producing modern lighting for every type of setting. President and CEO Piero Gandini (son of Sergio Gandini who joined the company in 1964) was in Toronto last month for IDS where we caught up with him and asked him a few questions about the future of FLOS.
Gandini, pensive, yet positive, spoke to us about some of the global challenges faced by the lighting industry today. He has a healthy outlook on industry challenges, but also stated, “I’m not this beautifully relaxed guy who just enjoys the journey. I’m extremely competitive and I’m extremely tough. It makes it more interesting if there’s competition out there. But I do have this enormous feeling that everything, in the end, comes from human beings.”
IDS show attendees charged up in the FLOS booth using the D’E-light
What are the repercussions of the Internet on the lighting industry? How are you and FLOS reacting to the Internet?
The Internet is just a different place, virtual, where you can buy things. Lots of our good clients are Internet clients. And there, just as in brick and mortar shops, you have good shops and bad shops. The difference is that the web, of course, is that the web has a bigger audience. The potential of the internet gives us much better ways for us to explain to people what we do and why we do it. Of course, guys like Marcel Wanders and Philippe Starck have a lot to say and are very good communicators, so of course you are inspired. Not even the best salesperson in a shop somewhere will be as good as Philippe Starck to explain what he is doing. With Internet, you can do it – you can provide a video where Philippe Starck is telling you how he created something. Or you can put a QR code in a lamp connected to that video. So I strongly believe in that.
I am extremely positive about the Internet, but we also need a place on the street, a mix between bricks and mortar and the Internet. We will see; we are here to follow up. It will be a fusion.
Piero Gandini at IDS 2012
How do you feel about potential competitors using the Internet as a tool?
The thing that worries me more is social networking. If it is done properly, it is fantastic instrument. But it became a very basic, almost stupid, way to collect mass opinions and I’m a little bit worried. I don’t think it’s important to know if 10 000 people who don’t know anything about something like it. There is a loss of intelligence in the process. I have the impression that many of these social networkers have a lot of time. First, they are going surfing and clicking and clicking and liking. What are they … doing all day? Second, it looks to me that their pleasure is more about the fact that they are putting something out there rather than the context. So it is like a syndrome – a kind of syndrome where they feel they have to add something. So even if they don’t know anything about it, they read what the others have said and then add something.
I think it is something we have to take care of. It will take time. When you give a lot of people immediately a fantastic instrument to say something, of course, everybody will participate. And this is a nice thing. I like the fact that masses of people can participate, but it has to be done on a quality basis. There is the platform out there, but now we have to look at the process. It is our responsibility is to drive this process; all of us, but especially guys like you, who are totally involved in this, to give a contribution to provide the real value. The value is to participate with intelligence.
And what about companies in China having such access?
So in China, they are more vulnerable to that syndrome. I think that there, there is a bigger risk that the process will go in a way that doesn’t give value and that they will not be able to identify what is a good thing and what is a bad thing. So to work with social networking in that area will be a functional thing and we have to understand how to do it. We have already started to analyse and we are going to China in February to analyse who will be our partners in social networking there. We have to make our contribution to the process to make it better. You cannot just complain and stay in your home, so we are going to see what can be done. I think there is a big opportunity with a lot of risk, but all of us have a crucial responsibility.
I think the future will bring a lot of benefits, but the risks are globalization and huge countries where people are really hungry, so they are absolutely available for one dollar to spend more hours working on machines, more so than in Italy or in the United States. Now you can say that this is not fair, and I agree, but at the same time it is legitimate. Because if somebody was living somewhere in China, eating just some rice in a small village without even streets and has the potential to participate in life, in Shanghai, even if he’s in the factory but he is going out in the streets where there shops and where there are people, he is available to do it by having work and some food and a place to rest and some money and this is less than what you pay in Canada or what we pay in Italy, it is understandable. It was what Italy was like in the 60s; Italy was like this. There was a low cost of labour; that is why everybody moved everything to Italy at that time. Now that Italy is less hungry and there are other people who are, is this fair? No. Is it correct? I’m not sure. But in a sense I have to accept that these guys cost less than us and this is the brutal reality. Brutal for us; good for them. We need to face this reality and understand how to deal with this situation. We can’t just complain and say, “Argh, the bad Chinese!” There are 1.5 billion people there who need to be fed. But also the fact that more people are growing in their capacity to have a good life there also creates opportunity. First for risk. There is risk that they will copy our products for less price and this is happening in a very bad way. And at the same time there are people, who five years could never think of buying one of our products, who are thinking of buying them now. In everything there is the good and the bad. You have to be extremely dynamic, extremely careful, but always try to see the opportunity.
We cannot refuse confrontation. We think everything is finished because the Chinese are coming? No.
Where do you see the industry heading, with the global economy such that it is?
We were impacted in 2009; it was the big fall, especially the company that we have in Spain that does architectural lighting. That segment was extremely impacted because it is totally connected to real estate. But we have already reacted and 2011 was a fantastic year. Europe will definitely not be the most exploding area of the world – that’s why we are spending now time, intelligence, money and energy to understand how to penetrate even better in North America, Asia, South America – but, you know, it is what we are up against. Sometimes there is Europe down and North America up, and sometime the opposite. We will deal with it in a proper way. We have to be extremely dynamic and extremely fast.