IN MEMORY OF Alberto Zevi
Alberto Zevi, founding partner of CSIL, was an extraordinary entrepreneur, an intellectual and an innovator with many and varied interests.
Born in Verona in 1920, and the son of a stockbroker, he graduated in economics from the Bocconi University. He always lived in Milan, except for the period of racial persecution during the last years of fascism when, being of Jewish descent, along with many others he was forced to seek refuge in Switzerland. It was there that he made some decisive encounters, from which were to follow some of his most important initiatives. From meeting Adriano Olivetti he developed an interest in technological progress and entrepreneurial activities in the field of industrial machinery; his association with Luciano Foà gave birth to a variety of cultural projects, including Adelphi, a prestigious publishing house of which he was president; from his friendship with the economist Giorgio Fuà he developed continuous contact with the ISTAO of Ancona and - in that sphere – he began research into the furniture sector. This research was then continued at CSIL, which was founded by Zevi in 1980 along with Massimo Florio and a small group of his old and new friends.
The underlying theme in all these projects was a great curiosity for anything new, a creative drive that used a variety of working tools, constructing and dismantling at such a pace that he often bewildered those who were slower than him, which meant almost everybody. Ever since the Fifties his companies, particularly Elmag in Monza (Milano), have offered small and medium-sized Italian firms in traditional sectors such as furniture, modern production systems conceived abroad and fine-tuned in Italy, often with improvements that translated into further innovations that were in turn likely to be exported. This importing and exporting of ideas, well before that of plants and machinery, has contributed, and sometimes considerably, to Italian supremacy in the furniture sector.
Some of the fields in which Alberto Zevi has made a decisive personal contribution are: the diffusion of technology for particle-board panels in Italy and the creation of new systems for the production of thin panels; the generalised adoption of an edge-banding line as the heart of the modern production cycle for furniture, doors and other panel-based goods; the invention of original systems for treating coated surfaces, in particular with UV radiation systems that reduce polluting emissions to a minimum. One could say that there isn't a single Italian furniture factory of a certain size that does not show some sign of Zevi's activities: a machine produced by one of his firms, a solution imported from abroad thanks to the work of his collaborators, or perhaps an imitation and subsequent development from one of his numerous fierce competitors. For Alberto Zevi this endless, Schumpeterian process of innovation-imitation-innovation was not an academic notion, but his day to day work and his raison d'être.