Infallible instinct

Weinheim, March 23, 2016. Business instinct, that special gut feeling, and the courage to make ideas real – with his keen grasp of what makes markets tick, Alberto Lombardo does not waste any time deciding whether a business opportunity has potential – and that is exactly what he has been doing for decades. Long-standing colleagues respectfully call him the "business diviner". The energetic sixty-six-year-old has a unique knack when it comes to searching out market opportunities all over the world. From export manager and managing director to Board member for foreign joint ventures at Freudenberg Home and Cleaning Solutions – Lombardo has accomplished a great deal in his career. He has a huge network in the company, too: for Lombardo, March 31 marks 50 years of service with the Freudenberg Group.

"My bosses gave me plenty of space to shape business. And I took on the responsibility to turn those business ideas into reality. So right from the start I was my own entrepreneur and could make decisions. The goal was to establish trustful cooperation with my business partners," Lombardo says, describing how he believes his work for the company has been so successful for half a century.

He still has vivid memories of the day in 1966 when, at the age of 16, he began a commercial apprenticeship at Freudenberg. Lombardo's family has German-Italian roots, and he was already familiar with Freudenberg because his German grandfather had worked there for over 40 years. The young man was impressed by the company's values and social achievements. He was aiming for a career in export, but he started out as an apprentice and trained in the tannery. This was the period when he also met his future wife at Freudenberg. Today, he has three daughters and a son, plus five grandchildren.

In the early 1970s, Lombardo embarked on his dream career as an export manager with Household Products. At that time there was a modest range of Household Products' goods in Italy. Lombardo, who is very familiar with Italian culture, saw great potential for Freudenberg's Vileda brand. "Italians are very brand- and quality-conscious," he says. "The objective was to build up the Vileda brand and develop the market. I wanted to do that in partnership with local companies and via a network of distributors." A skeptical discussion with the owner of the envisaged partner company soon turned into a constructive dialog and culminated in successful cooperation and a decades-long friendship.

Later, Lombardo organized the production of wet mops and buckets at another partner company in Italy. Today, an Italian company specializes in the production and marketing of Vileda products. Over the years, Lombardo has followed the evolution of the Freudenberg Group from a medium-sized tannery to an innovative technology group operating in 60 countries all over the world. "Being part of that evolution and proactively engaging in developing new markets has been a challenging task that has never lost its sense of excitement," he says.

Lombardo took on more tasks, he was given responsibility for Southern Europe, North and South America, and later also the Asia/Pacific region as well as Russia and India. The model is a simple one: distributors handle local sales and marketing of the products, earning an appropriate margin, and Freudenberg manages the brand itself. That means the company is close to both the market and customers.

Alberto Lombardo sits at his desk in the Vileda House at the Weinheim location. He works less now and has delegated responsibility. "In my career, my guide has always been my intuition and understanding of markets," he says, and smiles. "On top of that, I had the courage to make ideas real, and faith in people and partnerships. We have gone a long way with that." Over the last 50 years, Lombardo has achieved a great deal for Freudenberg: he has sought out new markets, helped develop innovative products, and established long-standing respectful relationships. That has played an important role in the success of the Household Products division. And people are certain to seek his advice in the future, too.