Prioritising familial closeness to the same level as growth and prosperity in business has seen the Arrigoni Group thrive over three generations.
Arrigoni began as the entrepreneurial project of three brothers who emigrated from Italy in 1953, bringing their advanced metalworking techniques to Santiago, Chile. In their suitcases, they chose tools over clothes, and in their business, they chose the bond of family to forge a Latin American steel industry powerhouse.
They passed the company and the values that built it to their children – cousins who became sisters and brothers in business. The second generation capitalised on their solidarity to expand the business, securing manufacturing projects on the national stage while diversifying beyond the bounds of the steel industry.
Today, the Arrigoni Group offers comprehensive services in mining, energy, industry, commerce and infrastructure in Chile and abroad. The business’s third generation pays homage to family unity and communication, part of an inherited value system central to the company’s nearly 70 years of success.
In this interview with Tharawat Magazine, cousins Sofia and Gianfranco Arrigoni reflect on their experience growing up in such a tight-knit family, the opportunities represented by intergenerational transfer and the impetus behind Arrigoni Environmental Management, their latest collaboration and the newest addition to their family’s group.
What was it like growing up in the family business?
Gianfranco: We inherited a passion for steel from our parents. Steel has certain qualities – an immediately recognisable smell, for example – that meant something significant to us from a young age. Growing up, I worked a decade of summers with my father in the office, making photocopies and answering the phone. For one month of the year, however, I was in the metalworking plant, getting to know the employees and the rhythm of our operation. In this way, I became acquainted with both sides of the business.
We inherited a passion for steel from our parents. Steel has certain qualities – an immediately recognisable smell, for example – that meant something significant to us from a young age.
Sofia: For me, joining Arrigoni was more complicated. I studied law and wanted my involvement in the company to go beyond merely vetting contracts. It took time to find the right role, but I never doubted its existence – I always knew I wanted to join the family business.
Like Gianfranco, I am passionate about our family’s background and the business our grandparents and parents grew. It was a dream of mine to work alongside Gianfranco and our other cousins, and that’s how our environmental management venture was born.
Did your relationship change once you started working together?
Sofia: Not really – Gianfranco and I have always been close, and we started developing this project together long before we officially launched it. Through the early phases, we were continuously generating and evaluating ideas. Its ideation required a considerable amount of give and take, but because we’ve always been generous with each other, ego has never been a problem between us.
We can move a project forward even when we don’t categorically agree because we trust in each other’s vision. We are an excellent team.
As third–generation family business members, how do you keep the entrepreneurial spirit of the founders alive?
Gianfranco: The closeness of our family plays an integral role. Our grandfathers and their brother not only worked together but were also neighbours, practically sharing the same backyard. Their progeny, the second generation, worked together every day and gathered every Sunday to unwind as a family.
We became acutely aware of their proximity when we were little. Slowly, we came to realise the extent of our family’s historical efforts, their bonds to each other and the tremendous opportunities this afforded us. The first and second generations instilled in us their values and a sense of humility.
Sofia: It’s that fundamental closeness that enables values to transfer from one generation to another. Our affinity for family, along with the entrepreneurial vision of our grandparents’ generation, will be transferred to our children as well.
How did your family’s love of Chile influence your decision to start an environmental business?
Gianfranco: It all began four years ago when Sofia and I were seated next to each other at a friend’s wedding. The conversation turned to Chile’s new wave of environmental legislation, and Sofia told me that complex regulatory measures now controlled how chemicals were stored and transported. I was intrigued.
Our environmental business has a double bottom line; it’s a business opportunity as well as a way to contribute to the country’s well-being.
Sofia: We wished to branch out from our family’s base in the steel industry and start a project oriented towards the future. As the third generation, we must build on the work of our predecessors with an eye to sustainability. The environmental industry, vital for our children’s well-being, is a high-growth segment that addresses sustainability in multiple ways. Gianfranco and I identified the need for engineering in this niche as well as the ways that we, and the next generation, can develop and scale the business.
As the third generation, we must build on the work of our predecessors with an eye to sustainability. The environmental industry, vital for our children’s well-being, is a high-growth segment that addresses sustainability in multiple ways.
How was this business idea received by the rest of the family?
Sofia: When we presented our proposal, they asked us some difficult questions. The arduous vetting process made us extremely thorough in our research and strengthened our resolve. Our family may have been evaluating our business instincts to a degree, but they were also testing our resilience.
We persisted, and in the end, we made it clear that we would pursue our endeavour with or without their involvement because we believed in the project. Our passion won them over, just as their passion enamoured us with the family business when we were children.
Despite it being a very challenging year, the multigenerational interaction between different arms of the businesses has had a positive impact. We are optimistic, and we transmit this optimism to our parents, our team members and our children.
What do you hope your generation will achieve for the family business?
Sofia: Our family motto is, “L’unione fa la forza”, which means we are all in it together while also different in our own ways. We take this motto to heart: working as a team of individuals allows us to address challenges in a far more dynamic way than we could if we were all the same.
We wish to inspire our cousins to tackle the challenge of transformation – the defining feature of our age. At Arrigoni, we love fresh ideas, innovative solutions and ground-breaking businesses that safeguard against the uncertainty of the future.
Gianfranco: With our business, the first generation started something and passed it to the second, who made it grow; now, we are transitioning to the third. We have inherited an immense challenge, which is to take what the second generation gives to us, grow it further and pass it on to the next generation.
Our responsibility as stewards of the family business goes beyond operational aspects like income and expenditures; we must live up to the same togetherness that defined the first generation of brothers. The second generation of cousins became like siblings, and their closeness was essential to Arrigoni’s prosperity. Ensuring continuity when it comes to these family ties is our most important duty.