Carlo Panzeri started in a workshop below his home; today the lights with his name on them are sold in over 60 countries.
For the class of ’25, the call to arms for the Second World War was more of a certainty than a possibility. But the ability of Carlo Panzeri in a workshop was such that the German company for which he worked at the start of the ’40s had no wish to let him go and arranged for him not to join the army. For this reason, we can affirm that his professional ability saved his life.
It was therefore destiny. Work saved Carlo from the war and it was work which was, as with many Brianza people, his life.
The beginning: the components for lamps.
His ability with mechanics was refined thanks to a passion for bicycles and motor bikes, his first passion. Carlo became very clever at converting his, and other people’s, ideas into concrete reality. At a very young age, he showed himself to be an excellent support for other people’s companies, as with that of Eugenio Rossini.
“Rossini often visited our home in the evening.”, Irene, Carlo’s wife, recounts “He and my husband used to discuss new projects to be created. They would draw sketches on anything; slips of paper, envelopes, pieces of cardboard. They exchanged opinions and at the end, Carlo made the prototypes, and also the moulds, because the vision was always forward facing, towards production, and not just to designing new lamps.”
It was for this very reason that passing from a supplier of components for lamps to working for himself was not difficult. Carlo even knew how to make the machines required for production and little by little, he came to build himself his own company. “And yet, he was better at production. Rather, it was I that had the entrepreneurial spirit” Irene commented.
So much work and so many sacrifices.
The beginning was difficult. There was little money and to convey the workers, a car was needed. That was a luxury in those days, but was also an instrumental asset for a business such as theirs. From Brianza to Milan is not very far, but in those days it seemed a great distance due to the condition of the roads and the financial constraints. “With great difficulty, we bought an old and banged up Topolino, but at least for a while, it did its duty” Irene recounts.
The Topolino soon became too small and with further great sacrifices (“I also invested the severance money from my previous job” Irene recalls) the Panzeris managed to buy a Giardinetta. So much effort, but over the years, the work brought us many rewards. The first plot of land was bought in 1961, then came the construction of the first industrial shed (1963). For twenty-five years, step by step, more space was always needed. Thus, even the adjacent plots were bought to guarantee a convenient expansion of the factory.
Work and home were bound together and, indeed, the Panzeris lived above the workshops of that first historic business. “We often worked on Saturdays and Sundays as well. If Carlo had an idea come to him, he would go own into the workshop, even at Christmas!” Irene says.
The patents and the first lamps.
The inventiveness and depth of knowledge of mechanical components allowed Carlo Panzeri also to register his own patents. As in the case of a particular ‘rise and fall device’ for lamps. “That cost us a lawsuit from an Italian company“, Irene recalls, “They accused us of having copied from them. We won, thanks also to an international verification on the American market. In any case, our model in metal, worked much better than theirs…”.
After having been valued as suppliers to companies such as Rossini, Marinoni and Elettrovolta, here was the first product completely manufactured in their factory, the T100, in the ’70s. That was only the first of a long series.
Lamps and chandeliers of their own production side by side with those of other brands; this was the formula with which Panzeri opened up its own commercial spirit. ‘Antares was the direct sales shop of the first son to be involved with the company, Norberto. Production was driven forward by the second son, Enzo, who more than any of them resembled his father Carlo due to his manual ability.
The fifteen years of Antares were the starting point of what is today the Panzeri Carlo Srl, with the first real experience of direct marketing of the products, and their personalization at the request of clients.
The second generation; the children in the company.
All Carlo and Irene’s children today work for the company. Irene explains the management of passing down the generations: “I wanted for them all to study and then I left them the freedom to choose for themselves. They could work in the family business, or choose another path. But I did remind them that in the outside world, they would have been people like any others but here, on the other hand, they could have a leading role and to shape something of their own“.
Norberto and Simonetta Panzeri, after their studies at the university of Bocconi, are respectively dealing with Research and Development, and the Financial and Appraisal aspects. Enzo Panzeri, after studying architecture, went into the workshop and is the one who has most closely followed the tracks of his father. Between father and son, there were the usual generational contrasts at the beginning. Irene remembers how every once in a while, her husband would grumble: “‘When I am no longer here in this workshop’…But today, he would be proud to see how the products made in this factory are sold all over the world, and how Enzo has even been awarded prizes for his work“.
If we ask Irene which lamp from their range she liked the best, she replies by pointing out the very one designed by her son, the one which has attracted various prestigious prizes. “Jackie! It is certainly very beautiful, and it would have pleased Carlo as well” but she proudly adds that “many of the lamps we have made in our time are beautiful even today, they are timeless“.
Internationalisation and the third generation.
Irene Panzeri is 85 today but has most certainly not ceased to live for the business. Even today, she can be found in the workshops, she herself involved in some task beside the workers. Would she ever have thought that she would see a Panzeri branch abroad, as happened in 2016? “Absolutely not. Our world was here in Brianza. Milan already seemed far away. And anyway, how cold it is in Munich! But I won’t just stop here. In a short while, I shall also go to the United States“. Indeed, Irene wants to attend the degree ceremony for one of her grandchildren at Columbia University, and says so with the usually huge pride she shows when speaking of her family.
After having set out the path for her children, she today tries to tempt the third generation of Panzeris with lighting made in Brianza. “Federico (Norberto’s son) is already with the company. Where he worked previously they let him slip, but they would like him back. However, it is already too late. He is well established in the business and looks after overseas marketing“.
After having met Irene, I wouldn’t bet that Federico would be the last Panzeri to come into the company.