Interview: Pilosio – the 50-year old start-up

04 August 2014

Pilosio CEO Dario Roustayan

Pilosio CEO Dario Roustayan

Pilosio is perhaps not the first name that springs to mind when it comes to formwork companies. Most of the giants of the industry are based in the Germanic countries and make a point of having a big and visible presence at exhibitions like Bauma.

Yet the Udine, Italy-based company has a long history in the industry, having been founded in 1961 by the Pilosio brothers. For most of its history, the company focussed on its domestic market, but this started to unravel post-2008 when the slowdown in Italian construction activity in the wake of the global recession threatened to bring the company to its knees.

But in 2010 came the appointment of Dario Roustayan, who was tasked with rescuing the company and turning it around.

“When I arrived I found a company that was very near to bankruptcy, because it concentrated on the Italian market and selling to dealers, the assets I found were a wide range of products manufactured to a high quality.

“We had products that could compete with the big guys. So we had to put that together with a business model to transform the company more into an engineering company. We had to create a reputation as a solution provider for complex projects.

“After six months it was clear that we had to shift in three directions. One was geographically, one was to more complex projects, and the other was to a different type of customers, towards big construction companies,” he said.

And this approach has not only brought the company back from the brink, but driven impressive growth at a time when markets around the world have been lacklustre. “From when I came in to today, we have grown 30% per year every year. We have come to a point where there is a need for more resources to become a global player. We have the competence, people and organisation to be a real competitor in some of the markets.

“We have a history of 50 years from one point of view, but from another we are a start-up. We are going to the market with people who have ability and competence, but there is a fresh energy there,” said Mr Roustayan.

And some of the successes Pilosio has had along the way have been remarkable. Its biggest single order to date came last year when it won the contract to supply formwork and scaffolding for the Holy Mecca City expansion project, in Saudi Arabia. This enormous project will see the mosque’s floor area increased by 100,000 m2 to 465,000 m2 to allow it to accommodate 1.2 million pilgrims per year.

But as Mr Roustayan explained, there was a lot of time spent putting in the groundwork with its local dealer, Arabian Roots Scaffolding & Formwork, and local contractors before sealing this monumental deal.

“We were frank and straight-forward with our customers,” he told iC. “We said we didn’t want to burn ourselves, so we started with smaller projects like the parking structure at Jeddah Airport. But it was still different to what we had done before because the engineering was much more complex than we were used to.

“The experience we gained with those smaller projects gave us the confidence to do more complex things. But the more complex schemes brought the demand for a completely different structure inside our company. We were shifting from product to projects and project management. The heart of our business is projects and project management and the profitability of the company depends on that.”

Other major formwork companies also offer engineering and design services, a fact Mr Roustayan acknowledges. However, he said the company’s approach to doing business went deeper than that.

“From one point of view, this business is about competence. If you are sitting in front of the project manager on a big scheme, he will know within 30 minutes whether you know what you’re talking about.

“But after that comes the relationship, and we can offer something different from the others. I believe in being customer-centric. We have to understand what their needs are. If you keep that as the central objective, then your approach, the way you deal with customers and your internal processes will be different, because your focus is always there,” said Mr Roustayan.

New owner

This year could see a new chapter opening in Pilosio’s history following the acquisition of a controlling stake in the company by private equity firm Columna Capital from loader crane manufacturer PM Group. The deal comes following the acquisition of the heavily indebted PM Group by US crane manufacturer Manitex International and according to Mr Roustayan this should mean more funds are available for Pilosio’s expansion plans.

“The deal with Columna Capital will mean an injection of capital,” he said. “More than that they have experience and will be able to help with acquisitions, or setting up subsidiaries or new production plants.

“We want to increase our direct presence in growth markets. That means technical, commercial and logistical capabilities. We are already in Canada and South Africa, and we will reinforce our presence there. Then we will look to other countries.

“Now we have the resources to commit more and be more effective.”

Another initiative that has made Pilosio more visible to the outside world is its annual Building Peace awards, which are now in their fourth year and will take place in Venice in September. It is a grand title, and the event has a scope far beyond the norm for a company in the construction industry.

Previous winners have included architect Mario Cucinella for his work on the “Green school for Gaza” project, while last year Cameron Sinclair was recognised as the co-founder of, Architecture for Humanity, an organisation dedicated to the reconstruction of Haiti.

Explaining how this initiative came about, Mr Roustayan said, “Construction is an engine of development in every economy in the world, so we have a responsibility to tackle other problems that people have around the world. Construction is responsible for the type of housing people live in for example, so you can improve people’s lives with better structures, and that is not necessarily about spending more or less.

“We wanted to look at construction from a different point of view. So we wanted to recognise a person or organisation for improving, in a significant way, the quality of life of a population. Since we are in the construction business, we have always chosen a building as a symbol of that. So the name that came up was the ‘Pilosio Building Peace’ award.”

This year’s ceremony looks likely to take another step towards the grand aim of the award as it steps outside the construction industry.

“The winner is different to previous winners, who were architects and construction people. Samia Nkrumah is a woman who will be running for the presidency of Ghana, and she is the daughter of the first president of free Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. The Nkrumah Family Library –the building we are focussing on –is a place where they want to collect the culture and heritage of Ghana.

“Africa is a continent that gives us a lot of hope for the future. If there is a big growth market for the future, for sure it will be Africa. So we wanted to chose a person who symbolised growth and hope for the future in Africa. It has to be growth with hope, otherwise you end up with somewhere like Nigeria.

“For all these reasons, we chose Samia Nkrumah. We wanted to go beyond the architects and construction companies,” said Mr Roustayan.

It is of course a marketing activity for the company, a fact Pilosio embraces. But Mr Roustayan is quick to dismiss any cynicism about the event’s tone and lofty ambitions.

“We are not hypocrites. We are doing this for a business reason, but I would like to do business with people that have values similar to my own. I think most people would say these are important values. It also gives me, and other people, a spiritual gratification.

“If you were sitting in these awards, I would ask you after the event, ‘What do you think about Pilosio now?’ The reinforcement of the brand is very significant. The networking is also very important,” he said.

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