1969-2017: Angelo Speranza memories


Angelo Speranza: the origins.

The first contribution to a "confidential history" of Catas could only come from Angelo Speranza, an engineer, born in 1941.
He was the person who took up the challenge of a territory, of a productive area and of some public realities that had well understood that the future of the "chair triangle" would have been strongly dependant from the creation of a well-organized scientific and technical structure.
He was the first "curator" of Catas, he practically invented the Institute and he was its managing director until December 2006, when the well-deserved pension arrived and he became the CEO, a position he held until 2017.
At the San Giovanni laboratories, however, he always binds with a life of discoveries, satisfactions, sacrifices and commitments.
It was a pleasure to share his memories and try to condense them on paper ...
"In my opinion, the direct contact with companies has always been crucial, a relationship that Catas has sought since the early days of its history. I remember that we immediately took action to organize technical seminars, workshops, presentations of particularly innovative products or processing. I remember, when we were still in the narrow spaces of the first headquarters of San Giovanni al Natisone inside the Public Professional School (IPS) of Cividale del Friuli, all the efforts to find the necessary space for testing machines and equipment. It was also hard to demonstrate that such equipment was useful for the companies of the territory... it even happened that, to demonstrate a new technology, we turned out all the electricity from half the village!
I remember very well that in the first Catas headquarters - thanks to the engineer Vincenzo Pagnozzi, owner of the Wde Maspell of Terni - we have demonstrated the potential of one of the very first vacuum dryers that the company produced! ".
"How was Catas born? The project took shape in the Chamber of Commerce of Udine, thanks to the exceptional views of the president and Italian senator Vittorio Marangone who took up an idea of ​​Count GianCarlo di Maniago, who had preceded him to the presidency of the institution. In those years, it was 1969, there was already the Gessef, "Friuli Chair Exporters Group", a consortium for the promotion and sale abroad of the chairs produced in the Friuli district. It was the result of a strong vision, which preceded many other similar initiatives ...
Well, it was thanks to the Gessef spaces in Manzano that a small testing laboratory was set up for companies, increasingly engaged in foreign markets that required certification, a "proof" of the actual quality of the product; I also remember that the first test equipment was bought in Denmark ...
The experience immediately showed some limitations because, as it is easy to understand, a consortium of companies appointed to "test and assess" the work of others was not much appreciated; hence the idea of ​​involving a "third party" - the Chamber of Commerce of Udine and the professional institute - for the management of the laboratory with a third-part point of view.
It was the real birth of Catas, presented in the region as "Centre for technical assistance for companies in the wooden chairs sector", one of the seven or eight special agencies of the Chamber of Commerce created in different sectors. The official date of the birth of Catas dates back to May 13th, 1969, the date of the approval of its creation by the Giunta of the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region".
"I graduated the year before, in 1968, in electrical engineering. I was just married and I was teaching at the IPS professional institute in Cividale del Friuli, now IPSIA Antonio Mattioni: in those years it was not easy to find "teachers" for technical institutes and I remember that I had started this collaboration even before I graduated. The degree, however, convinced me to look for other opportunities and, after some interviews, I was hired by OM Officine Meccaniche di Brescia; a wonderful reality and a great opportunity for a young graduate, but unfortunately some family problems convinced me that it would have been better to stay in Friuli to teach.
I must say that the school played a fundamental role not only in my life, but also in the birth of Catas: for some years, in fact, a branch of the Cividale IPS was active in San Giovanni al Natisone, preparing the students for the chairs production industry , an extremely flourishing sector in those years and strongly looking for skilled technicians.
The director of the institute, engineer Michele Tedesco, had promoted the creation of a small chemical and physical laboratory even before the birth of Catas. At that time, I was teaching, as I have already mentioned, in the Cividale school, but as soon as I learned that in San Giovanni they were looking for someone I ran to manage it.
At this point the stories came together. The director of the school talked about the project in the Chamber of Commerce and Mr Marangoni approved this idea because me and Mario Cabas, another teacher of the school (a genius of woodworking), were involved: Catas had a site and a small one though organization".
"Heroic years, as we say: we carried out tests and we worked hard to bring the most important technical and technological innovations to the attention of the companies, even arriving - when Renato Cavassi was hired - to work for them, to build chairs or to dry wood with the oven (first traditional and then vacuum, as I mentioned earlier) of the IPS - which, like all other schools of this type, in those years had a certain economic and managerial independence.
We had to work hard to keep this reality standing: it is true that representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, the regional council involved, the industrial associations, the artisans, the school and several others sat on the board of directors of the special agency, but their contributions and the incomes from the test activities were not enough.
We immediately created a price list, offering to the local producers the opportunity to "subscribe to Catas", thus being able to have some interesting financial benefits. We knew that the economic aspect was important, and we organized a sort of "strategic marketing" already in those years!
Slowly the work began to grow, and we came to hire a chemical expert, Patrizia Treleani, to make analyses on solvents and coating materials that in the seventies were really a topic that to define "hot" is not enough. Very often companies had to deal with intermediaries that offered poor quality or extremely dangerous products and Catas became an important reference point for the quality of such products even before the stringent regulations were born in order to regulate this matter. It was at that time that we started a research project to compare all the adhesives sold in the "Chair Triangle", subjecting them to various tests from which values ​​emerged that would in fact create authentic quality and performance standards in the production of chairs".
"Our work, our choices allowed us to get more and more known in the area and at the same time we looked around, in Italy and abroad, ready to take any opportunity for growing.
We also started to build our test tools, real machines for testing products that, at that time, were already part of our culture.
An important milestone, which over the years would have become a fundamental part of our activity, was the contact with UNI, the Italian National Standardisation Body, and the beginning of our involvement in the various commissions dedicated to furniture. Catas, at that time, had a consolidated experience in our field and consequently we could play an important role, demonstrating the validity of our systems and coming to produce an important number of standards, especially in the emerging office furniture sector ... ".
"At the end of the seventies the premises of the school of San Giovanni were no longer enough: but luckily in that period some lands had been donated by the former mayor. That is still the place where Catas is based today.  The school could have larger spaces and we too. In 1979, three years after the terrible earthquake that hit our region, the work began on the construction of a new site using the same metal structures thanks to which emergency laboratories were built after the earthquake. Even today, a part of Catas still show this history, many years later”.
"The choice, already made almost a year after the birth of Catas, to address our activity to the entire furniture sector, the continuous implementation of our knowledge and finally the greater space available allowed us to live the eighties without the anxieties of the first period: Catas was now economically independent, the number of  employees arrived to 12 and we were a mature reality, ready to face new challenges.
So it was that, thanks also to a contribution of the Province of Udine granted with the interest of councillor Roberto Maida, we set up our first laboratory for fire tests.
In the early 1980s we also began to represent Italy at the tables of European (EN) and international (ISO) standardization on furniture: we hadn't taken much time to realize that we had to work at another level, establishing collaborative relationships with other laboratories and institutions all around the world.
There was an episode, an interesting certification of the Friulan chair, which at the end of the eighties made us understand that it was essential to imagine another further step, the constitution of a "limited liability company": wider horizons were needed, of more important involvements, all aspects strongly shared also by the heads of the Chamber of Commerce. Within a few years what was a definite sensation became the concrete transition from a special agency to a limited liability company: in 1994 Catas srl became operational and, in 1999, there was the final transformation into a limited company (SpA)".
"Some important facts occurred between 1994 and 1997. First of all, in 1994, the expansion of the laboratory premises in the structure that was built to become the "trade mart" (continuous chair exposition) for the sector. The following year the acquisition of the “Research and Development Centre - CR&S” laboratory by FederlegnoArredo in Lissone: the times showed, as I just mentioned, that it was essential to think to other dimensions and more collaborations. For us, it was not a problem to accept the FederlegnoArredo's proposal to acquire the branch of the Lissone laboratory, even though it was in a situation that was not exactly "simple". It was an epochal turning point, not only because of the undeniable important collaboration, but because we started to work in the Brianza area that represents so much the success of Italian furniture all over the world. It was not all so easy and simple: many companies wondered that these people coming from another Region (Friuli) were allowed to "prove" the quality of furniture produced in the great and famous Brianza. On the other side, being a company based in another region, we could not certain rely on contributions or "attention" from local public institutions.
However, as our tradition, we accepted the new challenge and, step by step, build what is today Catas Brianza.
In the same year we obtained the accreditation from Sinal - the "Italian national testing laboratory accreditation system", now Accredia - for the Catas Brianza, being a "completion" of the accreditation of the San Giovanni headquarters already obtained in 1991, one of the first in Italy".
"Another important step on our journey was the possibility of moving abroad to create" Catas style" test labs.
We were in Mexico and Chile where in 1997, having been through many stages, we opened the Catas Chile laboratories, of which we held a 10% share. We had similar contacts and experiences in Brazil, in Algeria, in Tunisia and in Egypt; in this last country we have supplied equipment and know-how for a laboratory in Damietta. Everywhere we have put on the table our experience and what we are, an institute with great reliability and full competence in the tests and research for the wood-furniture industry. Catas - I say this with pleasure and absolute pride - has another primary strength: the relationships and the collaborations with companies from over sixty countries of the world, from Europe to Colombia”.
"Formaldehyde is a very particular and important chapter in our history and in some way it contributed to opening the way to the Ikea world: all started almost by accident, from the occasion that allowed us to become inspectors for a well-known German institute, the 'Otto Graf Institut, which sent its technicians to Italy for inspections at the panel manufacturers' premises. From there to the decision that we could also move independently the step was quite short and we started to collaborate with many companies, first Italian and then from all over the world.
Let’s talk about Ikea. It was interested just in these tests for its panels suppliers and it organized an interlaboratory test to which we took part, demonstrating our abilities and thus opening the way to this relationship, still important today for us. To be honest, things were not so easy: there was an important work of contact and assessment, we presented ourselves to them on several occasions and they came to know us and our organization. Sometime later they also organized a round robin test on surfaces tests and even in this case we were up to expectations.
In short, in the end we demonstrated our reliability and our competence, becoming for them a reference partner for all these tests and also for those on safety, performance and durability of furniture. I think I can say that having acquired such an important customer, with the commitment of many of us, was a new, strong demonstration that Catas had reached capacity, authority, notoriety and credibility even higher to our perception".
"Regrets? Certainly yes. The biggest one is not succeeding in joining at least some of the active laboratories in Italy or from other countries, so as to create an even more important reality, able to deal with the global players, real giants for dimensions and number of employees.
And perhaps also the failure to convince the current stake holders that we should open the doors to a shareholder with a different position from the entirely institutional one, especially now that those who would "take part" in Catas would be satisfied also with a partial participation ...: I refer to the proposals we received from big international institutes, highest level organizations that could take us to an even higher level from many points of view”.
"I was in Catas from 1969 until May 2017. My best memory, about which I sometimes talk to my wife, is that in one way or another I could always move independently, without any interference, obviously always operating within the way defined by the company board. This was possible maybe because at the very beginning no one believed in what was born in those few square meters. We were simply a couple of young men working with strange equipment; then, over the years, we become something no one could imagine before.
I was lucky to work with a capable and smart staff and external collaborators, who have always understood the Catas peculiarities and how these should be implemented, sustained, even if no one has ever given us anything.
In a sector like ours, however, you can’t expect recognition ... ".
"Catas is a noteworthy organization: calling it a big family is perhaps excessive, but we have always worked as if it were so, especially during the first decades ...
Certainly, we have come a long way since the Empress of Austria gave the citizens of Mariano del Friuli the opportunity to use the wood of a certain forest of Slovenia in order to build a church. They got a little more wood and began to produce chairs that, in a few decades, took the road to the world, thanks also to the railway that at the end of the nineteenth century came from Trieste to Turkey. Then the Austrians imposed a series of duties that were the main cause of the transfer of these industrial processes further to the east, in the current "Chair District", and here our story began to unravel, taking us much, much further than we wouldn’t dare think…".