The man who transformed the invisible into a business
–by Marco Lombardo
His company calibrates magnetism. One day, Dario Zanon read a book about Steve Jobs: “I knock on Apple’s door, and…”
Click. You think this daily occurrence is nothing special: closing a computer, driving a car, sealing a bag. Its ease is beautiful to behold, but you never imagine that what you do not see is what makes the difference.
[…] In a small industrial district, in one of these factories, they take a “nothing”, shape it and turn it into the motor of our daily life. This “nothing” is the power of invisibility. This “nothing” is magnetism.
Nerviano, near Rho, just outside Milan, Italy. […] The building is white; outside there is a very simple sign that reads “Laboratorio Elettrofisico”: […] a company born and grown as a family business that measures and calibrates magnetism. Magnetism is not a visible object: it is something you cannot see; it is precision, maximum precision. Dario Zanon is the head of this little factory: the passion he inherited from his father who founded Laboratorio Elettrofisico in 1959, and then he added more ideas to it. After reading a book. It was 2013: “I was coming back from the Maldives by plane, and I picked up the biography of Steve Jobs. I was impressed. When we landed, I immediately said to my partner, “We have to go introduce ourselves to Apple. He thought I was crazy.”
The Zanon family heads a kind of specialized factory for which the world is made up of trade fairs, and whose daily work is the business. The business is doing quite well and in 2004 a partner joined to manage Laboratorio Elettrofisico’s financial department. Around twenty employees, a white building–an Italian story. Perhaps only the drama is missing. Until 2013 and that flight from the Maldives. The first contacts with Apple occurred during an exhibition in Orlando, Florida. The day that Zanon actually showed up in Cupertino, they looked at him and were a bit bemused: “You’re good, but aren’t you a little ‘small’ for us? You’ve got some nerve…” Reply: “We have strong nerves and plenty of courage. And we have the equipment, which you will not find anywhere else.” Let’s begin. Click.
Apple starts sending its technicians to Nerviano; the collaboration becomes close, life changes. “And it changes completely, when you have to absorb a request for 25 million units. Do you know what I mean? The production cycle is turned upside down.” The philosophy changes as well: “We had a traditional way of working, but becoming Apple suppliers changed our perspective. Example: We made our calibration machines less imposing, more pleasant to look at. I asked my employees: “Would you keep one in your living room?” You can imagine the answer. Yet today they would say, “yes.” At Laboratorio Elettrofisico, magnetism became a way thinking and doing: “We were not used to teamwork or to working in pleasant surroundings. We furnished the offices so that coming to work did not feel like a chore, eliminated the time card, added the cafeteria and a small terrace for relaxation. We found a kind of wall paint on which people can write to share their ideas. We enlarged the concept of family. It was not easy: to put in background music, I had to argue with my father for six months. But it is normal. In another era, it would have been strange for me too…”.
The result: today , 35 of whom are engineers. It has an office in Michigan and one a few miles from Cupertino, “for emergencies, so they don’t have to go far”. In 5 years, the company increased its revenue from 4.8 to more than 10 million euro and opened a branch facility in China: “We have become so specialized that we are well known there too; at this point it is useless to make our customers come all the way to Italy. And then the government launched the plan to make 10% of cars electric in 2-3 years. Do you know how many sensors and magnets there are in a car today? About 120. Think of us when your steering wheel or windshield wipers go back to their rest position.” Or when we turn off our Mac by closing it gently, neither too fast nor too slow. “Today Apple is 20% of our business. We receive at least 5 requests a week from companies like TRW and Bosch asking us for the most unlikely things. But there is really no one like the people from Apple: their attention to detail is mind blowing; even closing the laptop must be an extraordinary experience for them. They taught us that failure is an opportunity. And, above all, that courage pays.” Or rather, that courage is life. It is, after all, the magnetism that comes out of nowhere.