2020 began with results that were more than encouraging and a number of important milestones achieved, starting from the approval of the merger between Industrie Chimiche Forestali S.p.A and ICF Group S.p.A. – a company listed on the AIM Italia Index, organised and managed by Borsa Italiana S.p.A, which is amongst the leading operators both nationally and internationally in the planning, production, and marketing of high-tech adhesives and fabrics. The aim was that of further simplifying the company's organisational layout, while achieving greater efficiency in the management of the Group’s costs. The consolidated results of the Group for the 2019 fiscal year were more than positive, with a consolidated revenue equal to 71.7 million euros, of which 67% was generated abroad (79.7 million euros in the 2018 fiscal year), EBITDA equal to 9.1 million euros, up +6.6% compared to 2018, an improved average margin of 12.6%, an adjusted net income of 4.5 million euros, and a net debt reduction at 31/12/2019 equal to 4.4 million euros (compared to the 9.3 million euros recorded at 31/12/2018). Additionally, it obtained IATF certification, allowing it to become a fully approved supplier in the automotive market, while also adopting the new IAS / IFRS financial reporting standards. Simultaneously, Industrie Chimiche Forestali S.p.A. drew up its first voluntary Report on Sustainability, which was presented in Assembly with respect for the GRI Standards of the Global Reporting Initiative.
In this context of great optimism and positivity arrived Covid-19, with all of its well-known repercussions. And yet, the Group reacted promptly, by taking this crisis and transforming it into a competitive advantage. ICF, which has been active since 1918 in Italy in the field of Chemicals for the footwear, leather goods, and upholstery industry, and since 2005, in the automotive accessories and flexible packaging industries, in fact, developed a new line of products aimed at protecting and disinfecting people and surfaces. We are speaking of none other than the VIP & TOP line of products, specifically formulated to sanitize the hands for professional operators and domestic use, followed by the launching of GulP, a product that disinfects and sanitizes surfaces. If all this weren’t enough, the company also began producing and selling a line of high performance technical fabrics called FREEDOM M1, destined for the production of type 1, 2, and 2R surgical masks, which are compliant with UNI EN 14683 standards, in collaboration with the Finnish multinational corporation AhlstromMunksjö. This is without doubt a prime example of resilience and the ability to react and cope with a crisis, two qualities which today are more important than ever before. We spoke of this with Guido Cami, President and CEO of ICF Group S.p.A.
What are the origins of the idea for launching these new products on the market?
The first quarter of the year began quite well, and then unfortunately, starting in March, the spread of Covid-19 forced numerous operators in the supply chain to interrupt their activities, creating a significant and general slowdown in the sectors of reference, while indirectly impacting also our activity. As far as we are concerned, we immediately put our personnel in smart working – from sales to customer service, and from the administrative to the logistics department. Only the factory remained open with around ninety personnel working in three shifts. We tried to understand what the needs of the market in that moment were and how we could react to the new state of things. The idea arose from a concrete need: at the beginning of March, sanitizing detergents were difficult to find or completely missing, and so thanks to our 102-plus years of experience in the chemical industry and the efforts of our research and development centre, we were able to develop a new hydroalcoholic sanitizing solution. By March 15th, we had already registered the two products: VIP & TOP for hand sanitization, followed by GulP, a product that disinfects and sanitizes surfaces. In April, in collaboration with Ahlstrom-Munksjö, a Finnish multinational global leader in technical and high-performance fabrics, we developed a new filtering product for type 1 and 2 surgical masks homologated in accordance with the 14683 standard. The speed with which we reacted to this period of difficulty by conceiving, producing, and selling these products, rewarded us with the loyalty of clientele and a positive turnover.
Which changes do you believe this healthcare emergency has brought about in the productive system and in the market?
In just a short amount of time, a clear picture of the situation emerged, with all its flaws and strengths. That is to say if you look at employees, customers, suppliers, and competitors, it immediately became clear who was willing to roll up their sleeves and search for solutions to the problems, and who instead was not willing to go the extra mile to keep things running, while falling back on various excuses or problems. Fortunately, most of the people with whom we collaborate proved themselves to be serious and willing. Going beyond this, the general situation is without a doubt complex, there are still many fears, and the market is struggling to return to its pre-Covid rhythms. It will take time, but I am sure that very slowly things will return to normality, in the hopes that a resurgence does not occur. Most likely new assets and equilibriums will be created, with company mergers and the formation of large Groups, while remaining on the market will be those who developed a winning business model with valid products over the years.
In your opinion, what should change in our country’s system?
First of all, banks must start acting like banks and accordingly issue credit to those asking for it in the right amount of time. Additionally, the 90 days payment terms typically made to companies should be revised, because it’s possible to recognise credit to a customer for a month, but it’s not possible to substitute banks by ‘granting’ long-term financing. The same is true of public administration, which should start paying off its debts to businesses, or at least, act as a guarantor and pay the debts of the PA to the companies themselves. Up until now, none of this has occurred.