The success story behind Lincotek, with Nelso and Linda Antolotti
During the commemoration of the Lincotek Group’s 50th anniversary, we had the pleasure of meeting Nelso and Linda Antolotti, the Founder and Group Vice President, respectively. While looking back at the significant milestones of the past and envisioning the future, we engaged in an interesting conversation where the DNA of Italian creativity merges with a family culture and a strong connection to the local territory. It’s a success story that not only imparts invaluable lessons but also outlines a strategic blueprint for enhancing the competitiveness of Italian companies on a global scale.
1. Could you tell us about your early steps in building Lincotek as it is today?
Nelso: To talk about the beginnings of Lincotek, I must refer to my father, the person who guided me on this path, to Emilia, the incubator of this project, who helped it grow by assisting me in finding the right people and technologies, and to luck, which is always and necessarily a qualifying element. According to the Emilian spirit, luck must be sought, but in the end, it must find you.
The story begins at the end of the war when my father decided to buy a GMC truck and start a small transport company. During that time, I was working in the engineering office of Fiat’s tractor division, and later, I moved to the Dallara’s company, and worked with Mr. Dallara, who would become famous years later for building Formula 1 and Formula Indy cars. Despite my appreciation of those jobs, I kept the desire for work autonomy that I inherited from my father.
The opportunity to take move in that direction came in 1973 when my father decided to retire and gave my brother and I a cheque for 10 million lire (approximately 5,000 euros) with the words, “Do something on your own!” At first, we didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do. I was thinking of opening a lathe workshop, but a friend of my father pointed me in the right direction: “There’s too much competition in turning; you need to do something more sophisticated.” He showed me a METCO gun that performed heat treatments as an example. So, I contacted that company, bought some guns, and tried to understand the market.
After a few months, in a garage, we started our adventure with Flametal. Two years later, Dr. Monteverdi, the sales manager of Metco, joined us, became a partner, and managed the sales department until the 1990s.
Initially, we dealt with coatings for tractor crankshafts because I had knowledge of tractor designs and knew what we needed. Gradually, we expanded our field, branching out into other sectors, and eventually entered the medical sector in the 1980s through a collaboration with Cremascoli.
In 1999, my brother and Monteverdi decided to leave, so we sold Flametal. With the proceeds from the sale, I opened Turbocoating, which can be considered the forerunner of Lincotek, since it served the same markets from a business standpoint.
2. What has been the winning element of your companies in these early years?
Nelso: Starting from the experience with tractors, the key factors that distinguish Lincotek are service and technology, particularly the use of technology to improve the service provided. With the expansion into other sectors, we learned about our customers’ needs and were able to leverage technology to solve emerging problems. For example, in the orthopedic sector, the need was to improve the prosthesis-bone interface, but with limited investments because the market was green. We had a brilliant idea: acquiring a company specialized in industrial coating machines and focus on orthopedic solutions. In this way, we were able to provide products with superior coating at a competitive price, in turn becoming market leaders first in Italy and then worldwide. We followed the same successful approach in all other sectors, and we continue to do so. Currently, we are launching a project called Target 500 in the turbine sector, where we are seeking technological solutions to extend the turbine maintenance interval from the current 40 hours to 500 hours. Our competitive strength lies in the fact that technology helps us solve practical problems.
Linda: In the evolution of the company, the combination of technology and innovation to solve customer problems has remained a fingerprint. In the 1980s, the main goal was to find innovative technological solutions to meet market needs, but today, supporting companies to achieve operational efficiency has become crucial. This means adopting more advanced technologies to improve the production chain, as my father emphasized. Another radical change is the increasing importance of people. We have transitioned from a very small team to nearly 2,000 employees. With these dimensions, it becomes essential to find people who share the company’s philosophy, who understand and perpetuate the service culture my father spoke of, otherwise, it becomes impossible to continue growing. So, people are a fundamental element today. Another key aspect is sustainability in a broad sense. Every decision must be sustainable over time, considering environmental, social, and economic impacts.
3. You mentioned earlier about your growth geographically. Can you tell us about the geographical expansion of the company?
Nelso: This is where the combination of technology and service adds the ability to seize market opportunities. Our motto is that the success of our customer is our success, and, in our journey, we always stuck to it.
It was 2008, the year of the global financial crisis when the economy was faltering, and so were our orders. The head of the sales department came to me with an order from Siemens worth 5 million euros, but due to the crisis, it was certainly going to be reduced. I decided to bluff with the Siemens executive: “We are available to do this job, but it’s too small for us; we need to increase the volume.”
His response surprised me: “We can increase it to 15 million, but you have to produce in the USA.” “No problem!” I replied. It was not true, but I had committed myself, so I had to find a solution. A few days later, we received an order worth 15 million, and we started: we opened a plant, moved the machines and personnel, hired more people on-site, and began production. We were so knowledgeable about coating and had such a deep understanding of the technology, that we certified the products in just three months. The client was amazed because our competitors had asked for a year and a half!
From this plant, we entered the medical field, winning by changing the service paradigm: we adapted to the customer’s needs, not the other way around.
The entry into China was different. In that case, we followed a customer who wanted to open a large production plant in that country, and we went ahead.
When, due to various reasons, the customer had to abort the project, we found ourselves in China with a fully owned plant… without the customer. But we did not give up: at that time, there was an explosion of local manufacturers in China who were starting to meet a huge market demand. We sold to Chinese manufacturers because we had unique technology.
Linda: I joined the company precisely during that period. I can say that in this phase of geographical expansion, the human factor was crucial. Without a strong, cohesive, and competent team, it would have been impossible to achieve the results we have obtained. Because there are cultural elements that can become insurmountable barriers. When you internationalize, whether through a new plant or an acquisition, you should consider that you are going into someone else’s country, and you may encounter a culture that is different from yours. So, you must try to understand it and find ways to create synergy between your culture, your way of working, and the local culture.
4. You have often mentioned the human factor. How important is “Lincotek’s culture” in your success?
Nelso: Over the years, we have worked extensively on the cultural element because, as Linda said, these results cannot be achieved without a strong, cohesive team that shares the company’s objectives and philosophy. Since 2010, our expansion has also involved acquiring companies in the United States and China.
These acquisitions were made because we wanted to achieve a strategic project, but without compromising or disrupting the family culture that characterizes us. In fact, the companies we acquired were family businesses that may not have found generational continuity, so they chose us to continue that project. This is very important to us.
Linda: In a way, this family culture continues with me: a way of approaching problems, managing human resources with familiarity, as it used to be. I am proud that wherever you go, from the United States to China, from Trento to Rubbiano, you can still breathe this familiarity. For me, learning the company culture has been a journey that has lasted many years and has been exciting. Many people have helped me on this journey, starting with my father, the CEO, the CFO, and the production and sales managers. Today, I fully understand the company’s logic and can contribute to the growth of this beautiful enterprise.
5. So, what are the next steps for Lincotek?
Linda: We started as a service provider, working on parts supplied by companies and improving them with our technology. Later, we became contract manufacturers, integrating more services, building semi-finished products, and offering a complete service from start to finish. The next step is to become a solution provider, offering complete solutions to our customers in all three sectors in which we operate.
Nelso: In the medical sector, we cover all stages of ideation and engineering with the aim of solving our customers’ problems. Worldwide, new regulations on registration, quality, and clinical data collection have made innovation a costly process that requires economies of scale to be profitable, leading to product and organizational streamlining. We support our customers by providing a “turnkey” product, helping them achieve economies of scale and enabling them to maintain a comprehensive and innovative portfolio at competitive costs.
We started this activity in additive manufacturing and learned a lot from our experiences and customer needs. We believe we have contributed to the success of many orthopedic companies by assisting them in the production of spinal components and small, low-volume parts.
The next step will be to provide a finished product, where we will also be the legal manufacturer, taking responsibility for FDA registration or notification bodies or the TGA. We don’t sell directly to hospitals because it is not in our philosophy or within our expertise, but we help our customers, following our motto.
In short, we are always forward-looking. We must plan today for what we will do in 10 years. For example, we are working on an aerospace project for the design of special engines that will go into production in 2035. I hope to be able to see those engines running from a boat while I’m fishing in some sea because, at 74 years old, my goal is to dedicate myself to my hobbies. But the company must have that perspective.