The Experience of a Lifetime
Riccardo Azzoni, owner and president of Atlantic Machinery Corporation, New Milford, Connecticut, was born in Milan, Italy and helped in his father’s import and export business since the age of 15. Out of high school he attended Istituto Cardinal Ferrari in the city. “I received an accounting degree and minored in foreign languages, which in Europe is very important. I became fluent in English and French,” said Azzoni.
He was able to travel throughout Europe on vacations and visit his father’s distributors in France, also helping with communications in English with U.S. companies and bridge the language differences. His father soon became the exclusive distributor for the Olin Corporation in Stamford, Connecticut, for whom he sold their chemical fertilizers throughout Italy and France. Another large company was WR Grace, headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, whose chemical catalyst technologies and materials technologies improved customer products.
Azzoni joined the army for 15 months, which is mandatory in Italy. But upon his release, he was offered an opportunity to go to the United States and work at the Olin Corporation on a training program visa. This was the first time that he was part of a 2,000-employee corporation and it took him some time to adjust. For the next six months, he worked in various departments and was exposed to a tremendous amount of business knowledge.
When he returned to Italy, he received an offer to work for a branch office of the Bank of Tokyo, in Milan. He held a position in the import/export department with documentation which fell in line with what he learned in college. Two years later it was a bad time in Italy, unemployment was high, the red brigades were creating havoc, and with a young wife and small child, Azzoni decided to return to the United States in 1976. While he was waiting to land a job at the Olin Corporation, he accepted a position as the international credit analyst in the international division of a local growing bank, Union Trust Company.
“This position turned out to be very interesting in that I was able to analyze and write detail reports on major companies and banks for loans and acquisitions,” Azzoni said. He stayed there for two years until one of the major clients of the bank, American International Hardwoods, with two world locations, Brussels and the United States, discovered that Azzoni had written an analysis on their company. They interviewed him and hired him on the spot. Within two years he became the office manager in charge of administration and finance. The company imported plywood and lumber from the Philippines and served do-it-yourself centers nationwide. “I learned a lot working at that company; it was my first introduction to the woodworking industry.
“During this time, a friend of mine approached me and said that he had bought into Zinken, an Italian manufacturer of five-in-one combination woodworking machines. He asked if I could join him at the Atlanta show to help introduce these products to the United States market. What I didn’t realize is how involved he wanted me to get. Within months I was selling these machines to the DIY centers I had gotten to know with my current job!” Azzoni sold so many machines that he started importing the machines in containers from Italy.
Over the next few years, Azzoni became a very popular name among Italian woodworking equipment manufacturers and he introduced their products into the industrial woodworking markets in the United States. He was so busy he couldn’t continue to sell Zinken in the DIY market. He realized that in order to grow as an importer and represent his manufacturers to the fullest, he needed dealers throughout North America to reach and service the customers.
Azzoni joined the WMIA and attributes most of his successes in this industry to his membership in the Association. “Early on I understood that if you want to sell through distribution you have to rub elbows with the distributors,” stated Azzoni. “Where can you find a venue where you can meet 20,30,40 distributors under one roof for three to four days? There is no other place than the Woodworking Industry Conference (WIC).” He continued saying that distributors are busy with customers at the shows and it’s difficult to get their full attention there. When he would meet with them in their office, there were too many distractions between the phone calls, employees interrupting, and time limitations.
“At WIC, it is a toned-down venue where you can sit down by the pool, have a beer, and talk about business. It is a great way to get to know each other one-on-one and potentially increase business.” Azzoni would always talk about WIC to potential new members because it is the venue they needed to attend and meet the people they wanted to do business with.
While Azzoni was a member, George Force, president of the WMIA at the time, told Azzoni that he should consider becoming a member of the Board of Directors. And so he did. That move culminated in 1997 when Azzoni became the president of the Association himself. At that same time, he was asked to be a member of the IWF Board because they needed a small importer to be represented on the Board.
In 2010, Azzoni was nominated as Chairman of the IWF show. “That was the worst year for the show!” he said. “It was at the beginning of the recession and the large exhibitors were pulling out of the show and the small companies didn’t want to be there without the big ones. It was the poorest show year ever for a number of exhibitors and attendance but we still made money, so it was at least positive in the end.
“The IWF experience was by far the best experience I ever had in my life,” stated Azzoni. “I got to know a lot of people and we were dealing with both the WMMA and the AHFA as partners in the show. We had many, many discussions at the Board level regarding various issues about the show.”
At the end of 2010, there was an abrupt change of administration at the WMIA. This was happening at the same time that plans were being drawn-up for a transfer of ownership of the IWF show. “I was asked by the president of the Association to consider assuming the position of executive vice president because of important upcoming projects and my involvement with the industry. Others were interviewed but I eventually was offered the job.”
This was during the time that the economy was sluggish and Azzoni accepted the position while leaving a crew at Atlantic Machinery to continue to sell spare parts and offer technical assistance.
After four years, on May 1, 2015, his contract as executive vice president had expired and Azzoni returned to Atlantic Machinery with an experience of a lifetime. Today, he has built his business back with machinery sales throughout North America. He is focusing his efforts, and the efforts of his distributor network, to include the woodworking market and niche markets beyond woodworking. Some of Azzoni’s manufacturers in Italy have developed specialty machines for woodworkers and other industries such as aerospace that are used for composite materials and aluminum. The opportunities are exciting, there is very little competition, and profits are very good. Business outlook is promising.
Azzoni has two grown children, and a 5-1/2-year-old grandson. “He is my little Tasmanian devil and keeps me young.” Both his kids live in Brooklyn, New York, and both attended the University of Massachusetts. His son is a partner in a company in the music industry and his daughter works for a software company and is married to a Michelin Star chef.
The future? First and foremost Riccardo plans on staying healthy. He is passionate about the work he does and enjoys fishing, boating, and basically anything outdoors. He plans on working another 5-6 years and will then implement his exit strategy.
“I will continue to stay a WMIA member because I believe it is a fantastic organization.” Azzoni has made many friends in the industry because of WMIA. “I have always loved that the Association came from nothing in the late 1970s and early 1980s with little money, to today, where it is a giant in the industry,” Azzoni said. “Look at all of things that WMIA is doing, like Boot Camp and so much more. These are tremendous advancements and they continue through today and on into the future.
“I have always told people that if they are a distributor, importer, or any type of representative to the industry they should belong to the WMIA because it is the source of knowledge like no other.”
- 1.WMIA News – August 2017
- 2.Member Profile: Atlantic Machinery (October/November 2017)
- 3.Member Spotlight: Riccardo Azzoni, Atlantic Machinery (October/November 2017)
- 4.President’s Message: October/November 2017
- 5.WMIA News: October/November 2017