Q&A: La Cimbali's tradition of innovation

Cimbali Group President Maurizio Cimbali speaks to 5THWAVE about his company’s founding principles and how a dedication to quality, attention to detail and learning from the past has propelled the iconic brand’s innovation for over a century

Cimbali Group President Maurizio Cimbali pictured with a late-1940s Gioiello espresso machine


Your company is experiencing rapid growth, as is the industry in general. Do you think this growth is going to continue?

The espresso coffee equipment sector has been showing dynamism for many years. There are many companies – several of them Italian – that have experienced positive performance and growth, as well as establishing themselves on the global stage.

The recent period is testament to an important evolution within the industry, which has become consolidated into groups. This will soon lead to a change of pace, with complexities and opportunities that we will need to face up to with focus and optimism.

In your opinion, what are the factors that have made the Cimbali Group the most successful coffee machine manufacturer in the world?
First of all, the quality of our products has always been our absolute priority. As a result, we’ve continually invested in research and development – not just on the technical side of things, but in terms of design and aesthetics too.

Another important area of focus for our company is customer service, which we’ve always dedicated great attention to. The Cimbali Group has been exporting for over 70 years, and we’ve always committed to being represented as efficiently and broadly as possible across the 100-plus countries we operate in.

“MUMAC was our way of celebrating and paying tribute to a symbol of Italian manufacturing”

Looking back at the history of the sector, how different do you think the world of coffee is compared with 15 years ago?
In recent years, coffee has become the subject of great attention from the big multinational companies. More significant financial operations have been completed than ever before, with new groups entering the coffee industry as a result. This shows just how attractive the sector is within an increasingly extensive, demanding market.

What are the most important trends in the world of espresso coffee machines right now?
There have been lots of transfers of ownership and significant developments in the traditional and super-automatic coffee machine sector. Big new competitors have entered our market, which means that the sector is continuing to offer new growth opportunities for everyone, but within a more demanding scenario than has been the case in the past. The market has also broadened to include countries that were once seen as emerging nations but have now become key players.

What do you think the most important factors will be in terms of ensuring future success in a highly competitive market?
The traditional and super-automatic coffee machine sectors are both presenting concrete growth prospects, albeit with different characteristics and details. Product reliability and simplicity will be crucial, as will marketing and communications activities, which must be more incisive and broader.

Customer relations will continue to be fundamental: listening, nurturing relationships and working alongside them as part of strategic projects and partnerships.

A customised Faema E71e at Faema’s flagship store in Milan

Is there a product or a particular moment in the history of the Cimbali Group that you’re most proud of?
I’d go right back to 1962 and the Pitagora – the only coffee machine to have won the Compasso d’Oro prize. It represented a sea change both in terms of aesthetics, due to the first use of innovative materials, such as stainless steel and painted iron, in our sector. A new simplified construction method also made it possible to industrialise production, enabling La Cimbali products to be mass-produced.

In terms of Faema, special mention has to go to the iconic E61. It is considered a cult object, both on account of its unique, unmistakeable design and its thermosiphon system. The E61 has inspired a series of products over the years, not just from the Cimbali Group, that have brought innovation and positive change to our sector.

More recently, in 2012, the MUMAC Coffee Machine Museum was opened to mark the company’s centenary. It was our way of celebrating and paying tribute to a symbol of Italian manufacturing.

What can you tell us about the objectives and vision of MUMAC Academy? What have the main results been?
MUMAC Academy was launched shortly after we opened our museum, with the aim of creating a cultural and training centre targeted at coffee lovers – whether they are clients, industry professionals or just aficionados.

It provides an extensive range of training options, including technical packages, sensory programmes and experience-led activities. The team at the academy features both in-house teachers and trainers from all over the world. MUMAC Academy is an SCA Premier Training Campus and works in collaboration with the leading training centres in Italy and around the world.

Large numbers of industry professionals and coffee gurus from all over the world have passed through our centre of culture, training and knowledge exchange, and we’re really proud that our network of training and cultural centres is being bolstered by Faema’s flagship Art and Caffeine store in Milan, and the Faema pop-up store in New York’s Lower East Side, which opened in June 2019.

“I wouldn’t change anything. Mistakes help you to grow and do better”

As an independent, family company, what challenges does the Cimbali Group face? And what are the advantages of being a family business?
The Cimbali Group is now in its fourth generation of our family. We’ve always put people at the very heart of our company. There are many people who joined the company at a very young age and then found both professional development and personal fulfilment here. The Cimbali Group offers opportunities in Italy and abroad, together with an exceptional welfare package, which includes education support, training and international career mobility.

At the same time, several years ago, we decided to entrust operational management to external professionals, though the family has always maintained a constant role in company decisions. Our CEO and his management team provide the essential technical skills and executive abilities to ensure good business development.

There have been a lot of large acquisitions in the coffee sector recently. Do you think the Cimbali Group will join that trend?
I think that in a context where our competitors are large groups with big structures the Cimbali Group needs to focus on continuing to grow while preserving and strengthening its unique characteristics as a family business. That needs to happen, not just internally, but also by evaluating any possible agreements and acquisitions that can make us more competitive in both traditional markets and newer ones where there are bigger growth prospects.

A vintage 1955 La Cimbali advertisement (left) and the ground-breaking Faema E61, first launched in 1961

With hindsight, do you have any regrets? Is there anything you would have done differently at Cimbali?
Obviously, when you look back at the many decisions you make there are going to be mistakes or times when you could have made more suitable or advantageous decisions. That said, I wouldn’t change anything. Mistakes help you to grow and do better.

When decision-making is a big part of your work, mistakes are allowed. But it’s important that you use mistakes to learn, make fewer mistakes and do better. Ultimately, the best person is the person who makes the fewest mistakes.

What advice would you give ayoung person moving into the coffee sector?
First of all, I’d say that study, preparation and in-depth understanding are vital if you’re going to get off to a good start in the world of work. Then I’d make it clear to them that being a good professional is important, but it’s not enough. You have to put heart and enthusiasm into your work and not forget that personal and professional aspects are both important sides to the same coin.

How do you take your coffee? When do you drink it and how often?
I have a double espresso at home in the morning and an espresso when I get to work.

From an article originally published in Issue 3 of 5THWAVE
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