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Between the lines

Pirelli’s leading role in Italian innovation retraced by major Italian and international names and by leading lights in the world of business, research and culture
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A company lives and grows, as time goes on, if it manages to keep the tiller straight along the path of innovation, aware that it is playing an active part in change, in the fullest sense of the term. It is a responsibility that involves innovation in terms of products and production processes, and corporate finance linked to the real economy, as well as services and materials. But it also involves organisation, industrial relations, corporate governance and the languages of marketing and communication. So this is basically a form of innovation that comes from those who form the community that is the company and, of course, all its stakeholders
Marco Tronchetti Provera
Marco Tronchetti Provera
Executive Vice Chairman, CEO of Pirelli and Chairman of Fondazione Pirelli
Throughout its one-hundred-and-fifty-year history, Pirelli has always made innovation part of its identity, becoming a symbol of it around the world. It has done so by collaborating and investing in research and in young people. Trusting their ideas, and encouraging their projects.
Training, research and production need to be able to promote and encourage interaction between all forms of knowledge, whatever their origin or nature, because all innovation and knowledge comes about as the result of an encounter and interaction
Maria Cristina Messa
Maria Cristina Messa
Minister for Universities and Research
“Change is the only certainty in manufacturing and the fast-forward button is permanently engaged”, wrote Gillian Darley while investigating the theme of the factory. A definition that seems to describe Pirelli very accurately. Not just for the obvious automotive metaphor, but for the constant drive towards innovation that has always been at the heart of Pirelli: a company that is always able to renew itself, for which change comes through research and the ability to interpret the macro trends of technological development. An aspect that it has in common with universities and that is still anything but a spent force
Ferruccio Resta
Ferruccio Resta
Rector of the Politecnico di Milano
There is one important aspect that makes the relationship between the Politecnico University of Turin and the Pirelli Group truly special, and that reinforces their partnership, both present and future. Bringing together technological knowledge and liberal culture is a challenge that the Politecnico has increasingly taken up, in the conviction that, in order to meet the needs of the future, it is essential to have a new breed of engineers with a humanistic culture, who are able to understand and interpret all aspects of the world
Guido Saracco
Guido Saracco
Rector of the Politecnico University of Turin
Companies develop best in a network of beneficial relationships, both within the business community and through constant interaction with all stakeholders who have dealings with the company. A fundamental role in the history of Pirelli has been played by universities, from those in Milan and Turin to the other fifty with which research and development projects are carried out around the world. This is our multi-disciplinary culture – where science, technology and culture come together. Creating an industry on a human scale
Antonio Calabrò
Antonio Calabrò
Senior Vice President of Institutional Affairs and Culture and Director of the Pirelli Foundation

Digital Nomads of New Works

Sir Geoff Mulgan
Sir Geoff Mulgan
Founder of Nesta and lecturer at University College London
Most of the work is done as a team. I am fascinated by the new field of collective intelligence, which is becoming much more scientific in its understanding of the mechanisms that mean that some teams work and others do not. One of its most important messages concerns the benefits offered by diversity: heterogeneous groups in which everyone has a voice are often much better at solving problems or producing valid ideas than homogeneous groups. I expect this knowledge to become more widespread and I believe it will lead to a better understanding of how to achieve harmony within teams (with people being able to align their ideas and actions) and synergy (where people play complementary roles).
Many analysts predict greater demand for professional problem-solving capabilities, creativity and communication, the very skills for which machines are not properly designed. To take an optimistic view, this will encourage elite professions, start-ups and parts of tomorrow’s digital economy to tend towards a greater emphasis on purpose, fulfilment and enjoyment in order to attract and motivate the most talented and brilliant people.

Pay attention

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan
I think of science and literature as forms of investigation. Their ways of knowing the world are profoundly different, but they share common ground in the beautiful clarifying call to pay attention. As we look with amazement and horror at the climate catastrophe we may be walking towards, we will need the strengths of these two great endeavours to guide us if we are to make it through. When we wonder about the future, it is worth taking time to reflect on the past. In contemplating the beautiful revolutionary act that science represents, it is useful to call on the resources of literature. Therefore, let the imagination fly back 2367 years, to a pristine lagoon on the Mediterranean island of Lesbos, where a man in his late thirties stands on the shore staring into the shallows at the teeming animal and plant life there. For the next two years, he will study it and record his observations and will found a subject that will come to be known as biology.

Technology's Future

David Weinberger
David Weinberger
Technology has always been about making more things possible: Iron ploughs made new tracts capable of being farmed; accurate clocks made ocean navigation far more reliable; the steam engine brought power to where it was needed, rather than having to be located at the source of its energy. But now we are facing two technologies that not only make more possible, but that are changing how we think about possibility itself. And that in turn means these two technologies are changing how we think the world works and how the future happens. That’s a big claim, but the two technologies are truly revolutionary: the Internet and artificial intelligence in the form of machine learning.
There is a constant thread through the various ways we humans have thought about the future. Whether our culture’s conception is of the future as cyclical, linear, progressive, destined, or open, at least since Paleolithic times we have tried to manage the future by anticipating it and preparing for it: we made a stone hatchet because we anticipated a need for it; we learned to save seeds from this year’s crop in anticipation of next year’s growing season.

Portrait of a Pioneer

Ernesto Ferrero
He had chosen the fledgling industry of elastic rubber, or of “caucciù”, as it was known in Italian, with the cheerful, slightly child-like sound of the word. It was an amazing new discovery and promised countless applications but there were no factories in Italy that could produce it. It was, or would at least become, elastic, resistant, waterproof, and insulating. While he was still a student, Pirelli was struck by the story of a French engineer, who had worked for the Italian railways on recovering the Affondatore, an ironclad that had been damaged during the Battle of Lissa and that had sunk in the bay of Ancona. He had mentioned that there were no rubber hoses for the pumps that were to lift the hull. They were not made in Italy and had to be imported from France. The tale had remained in the family as a sort of founding legend. The idea of devoting himself to the rubber industry had not been clear-cut and definitive from the outset. The newly qualified engineer prepared to study the latest trends in the new world of industry, but his teacher Colombo, who had a profound understanding of the manufacturing sector, convinced him to reject textiles, which was already too crowded, and to aim for a new and rapidly expanding sector, however many difficulties there may be to be solve.
Giovanni Battista Pirelli

The Industrial Elegance of Rubber

Giuseppe Lupo
Writer and university professor
Just over five years after the founding of the company, its key characteristics were already becoming clear, with its broad range of interests, its urge to innovate, and its research in the chemical field. All of this would contribute, on the one hand, to satisfying the needs of a nation that was still very young but already aspiring to become a leading force in European history and, on the other hand, it needed to win the trust of the Italian government so that it could gradually replace foreign companies in the supply of rubber-coated telegraph wires, submarine electrical cables and other products for civil and military use. “Our industry is by its very nature progressive, everywhere” wrote Giovanni Battista in a report in 1880, on the eve of the National Exhibition, the great event put on twenty years after Unification, in which Milan confirmed itself as the moral and economic capital of Italy, the “most city-like city in Italy”, as Giovanni Verga wrote. “Progressive” is a term that perfectly captures the spirit that reigned in the factory in Via Ponte Seveso.
Luca Comerio, Workers Leaving the Pirelli Factory in Via Ponte Seveso
Luca Comerio, Workers Leaving the Pirelli Factory in Via Ponte Seveso, 1905

Restarting in the Aftermath of the World Wars

Monica Maggioni
Journalist, writer and documentary-maker
There is a reason why, when speaking of the relationship between Pirelli and innovation – as well as with the country – one cannot fail to devote such a large space to Alberto’s political and diplomatic activities. He had an uncompromising approach, strenuously defending the national interest, and yet he was also cosmopolitan and open to the world, which tells us a lot about his way of “doing business”. Pirelli had a close eye on the world, on innovation, and on the stimuli that also come from settings far removed from the industrial circles of Milan, but he was able to find a balance in his relationship with national institutions and politics. Vision and pragmatism coexisted in him. And this may indeed help us understand the complexity – and the significance – of the later stages of his life.
Alberto Pirelli and his son Leopoldo
Alberto Pirelli and his son Leopoldo, 1960s

The Strain of Manufacturing Growth

Claudio Colombo
Milan is at the centre of everything. A quintessentially open and inclusive city, it is a metropolis where cultures intersect, with a virtuous convergence of literature and industry, theatre and finance, music and science. Milan and the Milanese emerged from the darkness of reason by going to cinemas and theatres again, but also to intellectual centres such as the Pirelli Cultural Centre, where ordinary people could interact with writers, musicians, scientists and film directors. And they could follow the many publications that flourished in those years. In November 1948, the first issue of Pirelli magazine (“Pirelli. Rivista d’informazione e di tecnica”, to give it its proper title) came out. Founded by Giuseppe Luraghi, the editor-in-chief was the “poet-engineer” Leonardo Sinisgalli: an open place for work and study, a training ground for brilliant thinkers, a perfect fusion of the multi-disciplinary culture to which the greatest minds of Italian and European culture would offer their genius for a quarter of a century: writers, scientists, poets, musicians and Nobel laureates such as Eugenio Montale and Salvatore Quasimodo. In the magazine, they interpreted the zeitgeist, narrated the processes of economic and social development, and built bridges between business and culture.
Advertisement for the Pirelli Rolle tyre
Advertisement for the Pirelli Rolle tyre for the Fiat 600, 1955

Digital Technologies for Development

Pierangelo Misani
Senior Vicepresident Research&Development and Cyber of Pirelli
There is another challenge that we started taking up some time ago, and that is the matter of data sensing. This is another fundamental element that is being added to the change in skillsets required to deal with the world as it will be in the near future. Our project to place a sensor inside the tyre has a name: Cyber Tyre, which means producing a tyre that can provide performance, grip and safety, but that can also transmit data and information. How are cars driven these days? The person behind the wheel has what we could say is a physical perception of what is going on and therefore uses the wheel, the accelerator and the brake depending on what they see. With the arrival of autonomous driving, this physical perception will no longer be there. An autonomous vehicle works with the data, processes it and comes up with a complex strategy that allows the vehicle to move and avoid obstacles: whoever manages to take this step forward and work on the data will have a competitive edge. The ultimate aim will be to expand our skills in the world of electronics and our ability to create algorithms that can optimise performance.
Pirelli R&D laboratories in Milano Bicocca, the simulator
Pirelli R&D laboratories in Milano Bicocca, the simulator. Photo: Carlo Furgeri Gilbert, 2021

Changing Pace between Power and Control

Bruno Arpaia
In the 1980s, the market sectors the group worked in had had their ups and downs, and Pirelli had responded both by attempting to expand its size and its areas of operation through acquisitions and additions (which also aimed to increase investment in research), and by once again placing its bets on the quality and novelty of its products. In 1981, after the partnership with Dunlop had ended, the Bicocca-based company returned to Formula 1 after twenty-five years away, supplying tyres to Brabham, Lotus and Benetton. Formula 1 was the perfect test bench for trying out new construction processes, new tyre shapes and structures, and new materials and compounds, which could then be transferred to production tyres. The experience also fitted in perfectly with the work of the Bicocca research and development division, where the tyres, carcasses and compounds were tested in the simulator, with loads and traction levels even greater than those of racing cars. So, when it entered the world of rally racing in the 1970s, Pirelli developed the revolutionary P7, a “super-low-profile” tyre with a stiffer side wall and less drift, which managed to overcome all the limits encountered by other tyres at the time, as well as the prejudiced idea that a radial could never offer all that was needed from a racing tyre. After its success in rallying, the belted P7 was also used on the track, first in Formula 2 and then in Formula 1.
The driver Massimo Biasion in a Lancia Delta S4
The driver Massimo Biasion in a Lancia Delta S4, 1986

Corporate Values for Sustainability

Padre Enzo Fortunato
Editor-in-Chief San Francesco Magazine and Spokespersons for the Assisi Manifesto
Ermete Realacci
President Fondazione Symbola
“Italy started out from a disastrous post-war period, but went on to become one of the leading economic powers. No one can explain this miracle by pointing to a supposed superiority of Italy’s science and engineering, or to the effectiveness of its political and administrative management. The real reason is that Italy included an essential element of culture in its products, and that cities like Milan, Parma, Venice, Florence, Siena, Rome, Naples and Palermo, despite their very poor infrastructures, had a greater amount of beauty in their everyday lives. In the future, aesthetic quality will become far more decisive than the economic index of GDP in indicating the progress of society.” This is only a partial answer, because these were the years when the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Giulio Natta and Adriano Olivetti was at the height of his adventure, when the company’s liberal culture, its drive towards technological innovation and its focus on the community, workers and culture were all inextricably linked. This experience has all too often been considered as a one-off case, but it is actually just the tip of an iceberg, reflecting an approach to the world, and a way that many Italian companies and areas have of conceiving their own mission. They constitute the potential starting point for taking up the challenge of sustainability and the green economy. It we put our minds to it, we shall therefore be able to play an important role in Europe, taking up the challenge of the climate crisis and building “a safer, kinder, more civilised world”.

Industrial Sites as Cultural Heritage

Paola Dubini
Professor of management, Bocconi University, Milan
Urban regeneration projects – which involve limited, though not insignificant portions of medium-to-large cities – generally include emblematic buildings that are there to create new visions, to highlight the exceptional nature of the project, and to attract resources and interest for a sufficient period of time to allow for the works to be concluded and for a suitable number and variety of actors to be mobilised. The need to reuse spaces, to reverse the decline in population, and to transform the local economy is something that all major Western cities have in common. The presence of large abandoned areas has led to the rise of public-private partnerships that involve both international groups and real estate companies. An important role in the rise of creative cities and in the construction and evolution of urban visions is also played by archistars, with architectural firms operating at the international level, who put their names to the iconic building used for cultural purposes – such as an opera house, a museum or a library – that becomes a symbol of the entire redevelopment project for the neighbourhood and city.
Carlo Fulgeri
Photographer and Director

The Amazing Face of Raw Materials and High-Tech Simulators

I look at products, at materials, I observe their textures, colours, and shapes, and I smell them; then suddenly it all changes and becomes something else. It becomes a story, a sound, it becomes a painting, a sculpture, a city, people, it becomes a world that brings together thousands of hours of the work of engineers, scientists, labourers, and farmers, bringing together the visions of all the people who created that product, that material. And it is through photography that I am able to tell the story of that world. So photography cannot be objective because it is my subjective vision of things and it is just one of millions of other possible visions.
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