We interviewed Mario Marsili, a young entrepreneur frorn the Marche, currently running the company founded by his father Aldo whose name it bears. Many customers saw in him the humility that characterises the great personalities of Italy’s small but enterprising industries
Journalist: Has your family always been involved in this sector?
– My father’s uncles started with the first agricultural engines, and in the plumbing field they designed a local fountain with a lever mechanism; then naturally the first motorboats gave a boost to their activity; my father assembled and tested engines for fishing boats; he told me he got to know a lot of people but the work was very tiring; his motto, «remember you must collaborate with everyone», fascinated me since I was a child: the simplicity with which he managed our collaborators and how he managed to get the best collaboration setting an example in first person.
Journalist: How did you pass from engines to steering gear?
– It seems like a fairytale! My father liked to listen and to read; he listened to the fishermen who said «At the helm it’s too tiring, and the helmsman can’t follow the fishing, it’s like being a man short!
My father knew of companies in northern Europe that produced steering gear, but it was expensive to import and there was not much written about it.
Around the mid-50s a friend of his who had a fishing boat brought up in the net a watertight box from the sea bottom. In it were books on hydraulic systems in submarines. He gave it to my father who had the books translated bit by bit and read and studied them all, under the stairs of the family farmhouse at the end of his working day he experimented using drawings in the books, verifying in person what they said.
Under the same stairs in 1957 the Oleodinamica Marsili Civitanova Marche company was created, and the production of hydraulic steering gear systems for fishing boats began. In those days they all used mechanical steering gear.
I never found out whether the first product ended up on his friend’s fishing boat, maybe as a free prototype probably.
He often went out on fishing boats to check the system in person and modify it, sometimes to meet requests from the fishermen, real feedback from the customer that we still use.
Journalist: The company has a different name now?
– My father started out with an Autobianchi Bianchina, supplies and deliveries followed personally all along the Adriatic coast, in Sicily and in some parts of the Tyrrhenian; the car was cleaned up for use on Sundays.
With his simple “you need to collaborate” philosophy he let his collaborators propose new ideas and technological solutions, but he asked them to test whether they worked and develop them to make production increasingly competitive.
In the mid-70s came the first ìndustrìal factory, traditional semi automatic machines, honing and grinding machines, a welding department, work shop, lathes and milling machines, an assembly department with a test bench, the dispatch department with hoists and a huge overhead crane.
– Then my father invested in “Marsili Aldo”, a one-man business that had already made its mark in the fishing sector and was expanding into yachts and Superyachts; in 1978 he exhibited at the Genoa boat show for the first time.
At the beginning of the 80s, a young technical staff and the first CNC lathe made their mark in production; the design office collaborated with the leading Italian naval design studios and with leading shipyards. The company was destined to become a leader in the large yacht and sailing yacht sector, in work boats, merchant and military vessels, and then the pleasure boat sector.
Journalist: So everything was going well?
– Well, the economic crisis at the start of the 90s created problems, but at the time my father was aiming to save everyone’s jobs and went personally abroad, to Spain, Algeria, Tunisy, Morocco and northern France where the penetration of our products on fishing boats was very strong, he even went as far as Venezuela. The Marsili Aldo company is the only one in the sector that is Italian, in all these years it has relied solely on its own production, design and managerial capacity. My father invested in more CNC machines, without borrowing from the banks.
In 1992 he visited the METS Show in Amsterdam, and came back enthusiastic, he talked a lot with the design and production departments. Here I felt I had found out what I would do when I grew up.
Journalist: Carry on your father’s work?
– I started alongside the workmen with encouragement instead of wages, getting my hands dirty on all the machines, working with everyone, and my father drove me hard, saying «you’ll see, you’ll learn»: he was inflexible on the job but at home acted like a father, and from him I learned curiosity, the thirst for knowledge and respect for people.
In the design office I drew by hand with set squares, sometimes the designers let me use the drawing board, sometimes they backed my ideas ar solutions. I went with them to the trade fairs, I saw the continual flow of technicians and engineers from important yards, all for medium to large boats.
The slice of the market occupied by pleasure boats, although there were good customers, was small; we had some good products but we saw them as just completing our range.
I realised that I needed to make this sector grow. I pushed the production towards the only market sector where we were weak, I got a taste for improving products and enlarging the range of hydraulic cylinders, also from an aesthetic point of view using anticorrosion materials, stainless steel for the rods, brass for the cylinders, bronze for the cylinder heads and supports.
Let’s say it was my personal contribution to the growth of what was by now Marsili Aldo & C. S.r.l.; certainly I was always by my father’s side, day by day he transmitted to me his experience, believing in what I was doing and making me realise I could continue on the path I had chosen. My father was by my side until the last day of his life.
Journalist: Tell me about your special production
– In the 80s we perfected the FolIow-Up hydraulic system, adopting the master-slave concept between the motor on the bridge and the electrical pump unit, using also proportional distributors we had specialIy designed and prepared, and in some cases manufactured. We designed a centralised unit with the hydraulic components already installed and connected, tested and ready to be installed on board, as if it were a normal electrical panel, and this saved shipyards a lot of money. We were the first to use electric steering pumps in Load-Sensing to save energy, the absorbtion of the electric motors is in function to the torque required by the rudder shaft.
We have made bushed and roller bearing rudder supports, steering systems complete with rudder post trunk, garage doors and even lifts for motoryachts that could load and unload a Rolls-Royce; almost all the motor yachts built in the Adriatic use our equipment, in the Tyrrhenian many sailing yachts use our steering gear. In the medium- sized merchant ship sector; also ferries and motorboats for the Venetian lagoon and lakes; military support and war ships. We do all we can to favour ltalian commercìal products.
Journalist: The pride of your current production?
– A large series of hydraulic cylinders for all kinds of vessels, a series of manual pumps to be used rationally taking in to account the speed and easiness of the manoeuvre, the reliability of hydraulic seals adopting double seals with a low coefficient of friction on the rods, stainless steel rods surface chromed to eliminate any damage from corrosion or worse from galvanic current.
We have a huge assortment of electrohydraulic units with Autopilot/On-Off Joystick control.
For some years we have been supplying the leading producers and distributors of autopilots; we also produce units for handling gangways and flaps.
Journalist: What sets you apart?
– None of our customers, from the smallest to the largest, is ever neglected. Rapid delivery is a point of pride for me, and I assure you that it requires organisational and economic commitment.
Our flexibility is recognized by our best customers, and it is made as competitive and reliable in designing and producing custom steering gear for any vessel, large or small. We are continually contacted by naval design studios to collaborate on projects.
Journalist: And for the future?
– About a decade ago we perfected the electric Follow- Up system, in line with the hydraulic system, using all our know-how for the hydraulic power units and collaborating with partners under our direction we perfected the Full Follow-Up system which got us known also in the on board automation sector; we supplied interface units for Dynamic Positioning on vessels serving offshore oil platforms.
Then our design department has produced the pride of our products: we were the first to develop a special steering system for Sailor Yachts, ‘Tactile Feedback’, which was created and tested on our test benches with qualified partners who were interested enough to join our pioneering venture. This system allows you to steer a large sailing yacht and feel feedback on the wheel; the helmsman is no longer a motoryacht captain but a true skipper who trims the sails and sets the course according to the pressure he feels on the wheel. This pressure can be adjusted and adapted to the demands of the skipper.
Journalist: So Tactile Feedback is something new?
– Yes, new but already produced and working to the satisfaction of our customer and the owner.
In fact it was an idea the design office had been treasuring for years, it had been talked over at length between my father and the designer. I was just starting out and I listened dreaming of the day we would make it; my father saw the prototype working on his old test bench that he had developed in his youth under the stairs. And he smiled again and dipped into his pockets to finance another goal for Marsili Aldo & C. S.r.l.
Part of interview with the Manager of Marsili Aldo & C. S.r.l
Interviewed: Mario Marsili 39 years old successor of the founding father Marsili Aldo.