Some considerations on the occasion of Soaptec’s 20th anniversary
Exactly twenty years ago, an Italian company was born that would quickly achieve significant international success. It was on 18 July 2003 when Soaptec went from being just a project of a group of technicians in the soap industry to becoming a company that was able to secure its first contract even before its official launch.
In the course of this twenty-year period, Soaptec has faced and overcome many challenges and obstacles to secure the leading role it holds today by supplying state-of-the-art soap-making machinery and plants all over the world. However, on the occasion of this important anniversary it is more to the successes that have made us who we are and to the plans for the future that we want to focus, and to do so we have decided to share with all the readers of our official blog an interview with Boris Radic, one of the partners of Soaptec who has been involved in this incredible adventure from the very beginning.
Here is what Boris has decided to share with us.
Boris, could you give an account of the last 20 years?
It is still difficult to distance yourself enough to see the situation clearly. The feeling is that we are constantly fighting to create our own space, but if you look back objectively the truth is that we have done pretty much everything in our industry, achieving every goal we originally set ourselves and many others we never imagined. It says it all that we are among the few companies in the world – less than three! – that are at the top.
How did the idea of founding a company specialising in the design and manufacture of machinery and plants for soap production come about?
It was a very natural progression… We were technicians who found ourselves in a peculiar situation, with a great desire to do and make a mark.
What were the main obstacles you had to face during these 20 years and how did you overcome them?
Certainly, as we have very long production cycles, there have been periods of cash shortages, despite the constant presence of incoming orders… And luckily we have always received orders! There are a couple of other little problems that should be mentioned, which were not due to us or the nature of our business, but rather to external forces, but we prefer to overlook them on this happy occasion.
Can you tell a significant episode or anecdote that has particularly touched you during your entrepreneurial experience?
We could write entire books with possible answers to this question! The first thing that comes to mind is our first contract, with Unitata. They signed with us even though Soaptec practically did not yet exist because they had been advised to buy from us because of our honesty and they were therefore sure they would have no problems.
There would also be the incredible story of a contract in Mauritania, where in a single morning we secured a 1 M contract. But really, I would have hundreds of such stories.
What have been the most successful and satisfying moments for your company?
The many start-ups that went off without a hitch. When you start up a line, a machine or a plant in a few hours or minutes and everything goes even better than expected… It really is a wonderful feeling. A great satisfaction.
How have you dealt with technological evolution over the years, and what innovations have you introduced in your machinery and plants?
We have always been very curious, so much so that we have often found ourselves looking for ‘problems to apply to solutions’! We have always innovated, but in the right sense, ensuring reliability and ease of use above all else, because we know that our products are used in an industrial context and in conditions that are often very difficult. We are good at using traditional – and therefore reliable and well-known – systems in innovative combinations so as to create new and unexpected synergies.
Then, there is always the technological context and consequently updates in that sense: electric axes, linear motors, robotics, vision systems and other such things that make our products state-of-the-art.
What is your approach to environmental sustainability?
Our plants have been almost completely decarbonised for some time now: this means little or no steam and zero effluents. We have achieved this partly by innovating and partly by shifting the balance to electric.
How have you differentiated yourselves from the competition?
Firstly, because we are also nice, honest and good people! Joking aside, let’s say that we are very focused on our work and our goals; all of us founding members are technicians in the field and many of our customers really like the direct approach we are able to put in place. They can discuss almost all sides of the deal with very few people, which happens much more rarely than you might think. Then, we also have a very comprehensive offer of quality machines and equipment with a price/quality ratio that is certainly unattainable for our competitors.
What are your goals for the future of the company and what strategies do you have in mind to keep it competitive and growing?
We are planning to expand vertically so that we can create several companies that can in some way be linked to Soaptec, while having an ‘independent life’ and their own customer base. But in addition to this there are many new projects that we would rather not talk about yet, also out of superstition!
How have you managed the relationship with your employees and how have you built your team over the years?
The founders are the foundation, the employees are the backbone of the company. We all know that it is very difficult to meet the right person and even more difficult to be aware of it. One must always ask the right questions, give confidence and be patient. Laws are unfortunately like traps that make you pay for inevitable mistakes in a draconian way. For me, this is the first and most serious problem. In short, you have a hard time building a team and it is much easier to make mistakes than to get it right.
How has your company contributed to the global soap industry and what are your plans for international expansion?
We are already very international! We export everything!
Among the founding members, how did you divide roles and responsibilities within the company? How did you handle any differences of opinion or conflicts over the years?
Initially there were three of us, all technicians. Almost immediately, we found ourselves dividing up different tasks: one was mainly in charge of the commercial side of the company, the other of the technical/production side, while the third managed the administrative and personnel side.
Working with three people can create that dynamic of two against one; it’s almost inevitable that it happens… The important thing is that it’s not always the same two against the same one!
What has been your greatest source of inspiration at work?
A desire for freedom, in a way. We all knew that you don’t get rich making machinery, but we wanted the freedom to be creative, of course, but not only that.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking of starting a business in this sector or in general, what would it be?
Don’t do it! Joking aside, you have to be prepared to make big sacrifices and accept a life with few certainties.
What is your wish for the future?
That the second generation will carry on what we started by multiplying our achievement many times over. I hope – I also believe – that a solid base on which to build is already there.