Looking Back to Glance Ahead

Looking Back to Glance Ahead


The presentation of the Fall/Winter collection, the first of the new course at Les Copains, was among the last to take place during Milan Fashion Week in February 2020, just days before the general lockdown. "The presentation went well in our showroom, but the repercussions of the health emergency soon emerged: sales for the collection ended about two weeks ahead of schedule, since foreign buyers stopped traveling and placing orders."
Rodolfo Zambelli, a Bologna native with a Law degree and a Master's from SDA Bocconi in Organization and Personnel, is the new CEO of the clothing brand, but did not have time to enjoy the start of the new course for the historic fashion brand, acquired by BVM spa through the family newco Super at the end of 2019, since he was immediately thrown into the quagmire of the Covid emergency. “In a few days we reorganized creative activities in remote working mode and reconverted our tailoring establishments for the manufacturing of face masks which we donated to the Municipality of Bologna in part, and the rest we sold at cost as contractors. It served more than anything else to keep the company active and to keep employee morale high, but we now are in a in a difficult predicament, with customers who want to defer payments for goods that have remained unsold because stores had to shut down, and suppliers who ask us to pay them advances in order to restart production".

No one had been trained to deal with such an unprecedented situation. As a manager, what kind of knowledge and certainties have you clung to in recent months?
As far as the financial situation is concerned, just a bit of extra help from the banking system would have been more than enough, but banks have largely proved  insensitive. Our applications for loans are put on hold with the justification that the clothing is a high-risk industry. Haven't we been hearing for years that the Made in Italy needed to be assisted and protected? Now don't be surprised if foreign investment funds go on a shopping spree targeting Italian fashion companies. And I am not talking only of the big brands but of all of the actors along the supply chain, like yarn, fabric and clothing firms which constitute the backbone of our sector and are changing hands without anybody saying anything about it. For the rest, I believe we have all done a great exercise in flexibility and a leap forward in innovation. For example, we quickly set up a virtual showroom to allow clients appreciate the quality of our creations and products also remotely. However, the ability to predict the knock-on effects of this situation remains crucial; it is not enough to react to the emergency, you need to understand what awaits you further down the road.

To glance ahead, it is sometimes useful to look back. Is having such an heritage a limit or an inspiration for a company needing to make a turnaround?
It is a responsibility. And therefore it requires a lot of attention and a lot of respect to understand what needs to be kept and reworked and what needs to be left in the past. This is why we looked for a fashion stylist, Yossi Cohen, who not only met the criterion of being consistent with the style of the brand, but also had already worked with Les Copains and knew well its past.

With your sister Camilla, who is brand manager, how did you apportion positions and tasks?
It ended up being easy, even though we had never worked together. She has always been in the fashion industry and close to product manufacturing and marketing, while I am passionate about business organization, so the perimeters of our respective tasks were almost spontaneously marked. In addition, there is always our father, Alberto, who gives us precious advice but also leaves us free to decide. Of course, every family lunch can soon turn into a mini-board meeting, but constant interaction is one of the good things of a family firm.

Besides style and creativity, who is the first manager you have brought on board to strengthen the executive team?
A commercial director, because our sales network absolutely needed to be reorganized. Italy is our first market where we initially aimed to get the same numbers in terms of sales as the previous management, but wanted to reposition the product at a higher price range. Europe, on the other hand, is our growth market and we are focusing on the DACH area (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) in particular, where organized retailing was completely lacking.

What approach do you think is right to have with licenses for a historic but recently modernized brand?
Licensing is important for brand awareness, in order to offer brand aficionados a bubble world in which, in addition to the total look, they also find accessories, from bags to eyewear, from perfume to luggage. And I do not deny that licenses are useful to increase turnover. However, they must be managed carefully, with scrupulous control over final output. because the name of the brand is what matters and the style must represent us. We do not want to rush down this path or be enticed into signing a licensing agreement today which we could later regret. I believe it is wise, when starting a new course, to take the time to choose well your partners among those who already work with the best in the industry.

Short Bio
"My family always pushed me to do something that I liked and that, one day, could bring added value to the activities of the family business group. For this reason, after graduating in law in Bologna, I chose to look at the world of business organization, an area that has always attracted me because it offers the possibility of influencing the structure of a company and checking the quality of its work day by day". Rodolfo Zambelli, today CEO of Les Copains, thus arrived at SDA Bocconi for a Master degree in Organization and personnel, a diploma that opened the doors of Parmalat and other multinationals until he arrived at the role of business partner for the EMEA area and North America in Maccaferri. "It was a wonderful period, lasting 4 years, in which I traveled a lot, living for several months abroad, from the United States to Russia to South Africa. However, when, in the summer of 2019, the negotiations for the purchase of Les Copains by the family business came to fruition, I realized that it was time to go home and manage this newco personally. "
"My family always pushed me to do something that I liked and that, one day, might bring value to the family business. For this reason, after graduating in law in Bologna, I chose to specialize in business organization, an area that has always attracted me because it offers the possibility of deciding the structure of a company and checking day by day how you work is faring." Rodolfo Zambelli, today CEO of Les Copains, thus arrives at SDA Bocconi for the Master's Degree in Organization and Personnel, a degree that lands him a job tat Parmalat and other structured multinationals before taking the role of business partner at Maccaferri for EMEA and North America. "It was a beautiful period, which lasted four years, because I traveled a lot, lived for several months abroad, in the United States, Russia and South Africa. However, when in the summer of 2019 the negotiations for the acquisition of Les Copains by my family came to life, I realized that it was time to head back home and manage the newco personally".

by Emanuele Elli

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