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At UIIN, our work is underpinned by research. With 15 large-scale research initiatives currently running across various topics in the field of university-industry collaboration, we are excited to share our insights with you in our research projects blog series. Today, we are delighted to introduce SME Cluster Growth, an Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliance project, designed to empower SMEs in the engineering sector to innovate and grow, by connecting them with regional actors to support that growth through research, talent provision and access to facilities and knowledge networks.
With a team of nine partners from seven European countries, the SME Cluster Growth project kicked off in early 2021 and continues over the next three years. As part of the research phase, the team conducted several inspiring in-depth interviews with successful SMEs, to learn about good practices as well as the needs of SMEs who are experiencing successful growth. One such example is Geico Taikisha, a successful global SME based in Italy. UIIN had the pleasure of speaking with Daryush Arabnia, the new chairman, President and CEO of the company, about the importance of innovation, cooperation, and development trainings for long-term growth.
Geico Taikisha is a world leading family company specialised in the construction of turnkey automated auto body paint shops. The company was originally founded as an SME in 1963 by Giuseppe (Pippo) Neri and Giancarlo Mandelli. Shortly after it was established, the first major partnerships were formed, giving place to an exciting period of constant growth but also challenges and changes they had to tackle using an innovative, future-oriented, and collaborative mindset.
Understanding Geico’s growth: Innovation as the key
Current CEO Daryush Arabnia attributes the company’s growth to its adaptable and fast-learning nature. Geico’s growth has been driven by challenges, where since their establishment they have had to search for innovative ways to overcome external challenges, using them as an impulse to go for more.
Geico’s growth was propelled by unfavourable circumstances that came up over time and that forced the company to learn fast, adapt, and adopt new strategies. After overcoming periods of external threats such as economic crises that brought down many bigger and older companies, they realised that the key for Geico’s success and maintenance relied on establishing an innovation culture within the company. Within this culture, the Geico team always tries to look one step ahead and ensure that all employees share an innovative mindset, capable of changing quickly and coming up with new ideas when needed the most.
In line with this, one of the key strategies Geico applied for achieving the success they have today was to heavily invest time and resources in promoting research and development within the company, despite the fact of being immersed in a period of economic global crisis. During this period, Geico bought intellectual property (brands, patents, etc.) and invested in technology as well as in personnel training and development. Taking this risk in a period when other companies were doing exactly the opposite allowed them to gain competitive advantage when the crisis was over and to keep ahead of the competition with new products and services.
The importance of Cooperation & Collaboration for growth
Throughout Geico’s path of growth, cooperation has been critical. Following their culture of openness, Daryush states that Geico is up for collaborating with everybody, especially since they are exploring new projects in which they do not have the expertise needed inside the company. As part of this journey, they have collaborated with start-ups, universities, and various companies. Additionally, the Geico team takes part in networking activities organised by the European Union, such as start-up matchmaking, for which they go to different countries in the search for potential start-ups to collaborate with.
Geico also collaborates with universities, mainly with Italian technical institutions in terms of research and development. According to Daryush, there is still a lot to be done to improve university-business cooperation in this realm, especially since there is a big gap regarding the vision and culture between academia and businesses. In his opinion, universities are structured as boxes which are challenging to get into without knowing in advance who to contact and whether they would be interested in the same challenges as the company. Therefore, he affirms there is a need of building bridges and more open structures and mindsets for these collaborations to improve.
A look into Future Skills and training needs
As a result of their need of keeping up with the market pace and changes, constant training is critical, and Geico invests significant resources in it. Every two years, the company organises an event called “Organisational assessment”, where they present to their employees what changes the company has made as well as their strategic projects, to have a unified vision of the direction the company is heading towards. Furthermore, the company has developed “The Academy”, a six-month programme in which they train their employees in four areas: 1) Citizenship, which encompasses the general company courses according to the position the person holds, related to processes, management, projects, communication, etc.; 2) Leadership, in which they teach courses based on the company’s values of ownership, execution, delivery, communication, engagement, people management and growth, and customer fidelity; 3) Art skill, which consists of technical training in tools such as AutoCAD or Excel according to the role; and 4) Long term training, which includes courses not necessarily related to the company itself, but to general knowledge in areas that can be useful for employees and help them open their minds (e.g. Innovation Culture).
Geico offers in-class courses, guided by certified trainers that can be external or internal, but also a Netflix-like learning platform, where employees can find their courses of interest. Additionally, they rely on social media spaces such as Facebook Workplace, which they use for short daily training and questionnaires.
Daryush believes that critical skills for SMEs are more related to mindset training than to technical training. Of course, he mentions that although technical training is necessary, it is rather easy to achieve, while fixing the mindset of a company is something harder to accomplish as it influences every aspect of the company’s functioning. In the case of Geico, they have therefore chosen to work towards a mindset guided by openness and innovation, thus investing in establishing this culture as a reality that is represented through every company member, from top to bottom.
Authored by Viviana Rojas, Consultant at UIIN.