With close to a century of activity under its belt, Bardella is the oldest industrial machine and equipment company in Brazil and a leader in its very broad field. To keep ahead of the pack, visionary president, Claudio Bardella, not only stays on top of, but also insists on being an innovator in the cutting-edge technology that gives the company its edge, as Michael Sommers reports.
Bardella likes to claim that it has kept pace with all the major steps towards the modernization and industrialization of Brazil’s economy. But the truth is that it has also played an integral role in this process. The company first came into being in 1911 when an Italian immigrant by the name of Antonio Bardella arrived in São Paulo and founded a small equipment manufacturer with industrial machines and boilers and, shortly after, a foundry. Already a pioneer, in 1927, Officinas Bardella, as it was called at the time, entered the history books by manufacturing the first overhead crane ever made in Brazil. Following hard times in the 1930s, the company went public in 1942, yet it was intermittently plagued by troubles until Antonio’s 33-year-old grandson, Claudio Bardella, took over the company reigns in 1971.
By that time, Brazil was in the midst of a military dictatorship that had begun in 1964 and would last until 1985. However, the third-generation Bardella was less interested in politics than he was in resurrecting the ailing family company. Under his determined and savvy leadership, Bardella rapidly grew and branched out, developing and perfecting new technologies and equipment for sectors ranging from metallurgy, energy, and oil and gas, to material handling. Aside from making and maintaining light-, medium- and heavy-duty factory equipment, it also moved into the production of rolled and drawn steel bars.
When, in 1970, Claudio Bardella inaugurated the company’s state-of-the-art 646,000-square-foot plant, located on a 1,292,000-square-foot site purchased in the São Paulo suburb of Guarulhos, he sealed his reputation as one of Brazil’s leading captains of industry by founding one of the state’s first major industrial parks. Riding high on the “Economic Miracle” of the 1970s – a period when, spurred on by government subsidies and incentives, the Brazilian economy grew enormously, with industries thriving and annual GDP rates reaching levels of 12 percent – Bardella managed to consolidate its reputation as a leader in virtually all of the sectors in which it operated. Expansion was so rapid that in 1973, Bardella began construction of a second 323,000-square-foot plant on 1,076,000 square feet of land in Sorocaba, São Paulo.
At this time, Claudio Bardella had become such an important figure in Brazil’s industrial sector that not even the military government, in its most oppressive years, dared to sanction him when he spoke out against government policies he viewed as inimical to the development of Brazil’s economy. In 1972, for example, he led a Brazilian delegation to visit Communist China, a visit that, while condemned by the military government, was instrumental in opening up diplomatic and economic relations with the Chinese. And in 1977, Bardella was one of the authors of the “Documento dos Oito,” a protest signed by the nation’s heavyweight industrialists that criticized increasing nationalization of key sectors to the detriment of private initiative and called for the opening of Brazil’s closed markets.
The Technological Difference
By 1979, the “Economic Miracle” was already beginning to experience a decline, as was the military government, but Bardella was unstoppable. The company had long been a pioneer in hydro-mechanical equipment, manufacturing everything from floodgates, conduits, and suction tubes to its specialty, overhead cranes; all of these were designed in its own laboratories. But in 1980, it designed and manufactured what was to be the largest overhead crane in the world – with a 1,000-ton capacity – for the Itaipu hydroelectric dam, located on Brazil’s border with Paraguay, and considered by Popular Mechanics to be one of the so-called “Seven Wonders of the Modern World.” A major milestone in the company’s history, the sheer magnitude of the feat had global repercussions and succeeded in putting Bardella on the map internationally.
From that point on, Bardella became a leader in the power sector, not just internally, but abroad as well. In fact, after having participated in other major Brazilian hydroelectric projects such as the Lajeado dam (2001), it began making incursions into the rest of Latin America, supplying cranes and other equipment to power projects in other South America countries.
Says José Roberto de Moraes, sales manager for energy and services, “We have already proved ourselves, both in Brazil and overseas. Bardella’s goal now is to continue development and consolidation of the markets in which we are present, which aside from energy and giant cranes, include oil and gas, siderurgy, mining, and port services. And the way we are staying on top is by prioritizing the technological aspect.”
Indeed, Bardella has invested heavily in technology. At its Sorocoba plant, aside from platework, welding, engineering, machining and assembly, there is an impressive Research and Development Center for Hydraulic and Structural Studies, one of the most important in Brazil. Here, with the aid of reduced structural models, engineers carry out simulated testing of hydro-mechanical equipment. Meanwhile, aside from investing in its own equipment and work force, the company has avidly sought out partnerships with foreign companies for technology transfers and investments. “For a long time,” says Moraes. “Our focus was always on the domestic market and with bringing international technology to Brazil to set ourselves apart from competitors.
Now, however, things are starting to change and we are the ones exporting our own technology, primarily to other parts of Latin America. This has been especially the case in terms of cranes and other equipment related to the energy sector, an area in which we really dominate.”
Staying in the technological vanguard has paid off in terms of growth. Over the last few years, the company has experienced stable market position and the plants in Guarulhos and Sorocaba reaching a combined production capacity of 2,500 tons per month.
Meanwhile, an important aspect of Bardella’s growth philosophy is investing in human resources, both within the company and society at large. As part of its social commitment, the company participates in a program called Formare, in which young people from disadvantaged backgrounds spend time at Bardella’s facilities, visiting both the Guarulhos and Sorocaba plants and doing internships in various sectors. Says Moraes enthusiastically, “We stimulate them, and they, in turn, stimulate us. The best and most motivated of these adolescents are contracted by us and end up really contributing a great deal to the ongoing development of the company.” Like many of Bardella’s strategies of late, it’s a win-win situation.