POZZOLEONE, Italy (BRAIN) — Riccardo Bigolin, who founded Selle Royal and saw it grow into one of the world’s premium saddle companies, died on New Year’s Day. He had turned 85 on Dec. 28.
“He was able to transfer his passion and his love for Selle Royal to all levels of the company,” Nicola Rosin, Selle Royal’s general manager, said Thursday. “If you come to Selle Royal, from the guy working inside the factory to top managers like me, we have all developed a deep sense of ownership and a passion for the company. Apart from the economic success, I think his biggest achievement was his ability to create this sense of ownership in the company.”
Bigolin launched the saddle maker in 1956. Rosin said he had his eye on the export market from the start.
“The first market was not Italy, but Germany and Holland. From the beginning, Mr. Bigolin understood the importance of going outside of geographical limits and making this a global company,” he said.
Bigolin was trained as a pharmacist. After graduating from college in 1953, he worked as a low-paid, temporary pharmacist in Bassano. Two years later he received an offer for a full-time job at another pharmacy but turned it down after he met a man who had been trying to get the job for years.
He went home to Bassano and began working with his uncle at a small factory that made felt for shoes and bicycle saddles. But when the Italian bicycle market plummeted in the winter of 1955, Bigolin realized a saddle company should not be so dependent on the home market.
By the end of the 1950s, Selle Royal received its first big order — for 15,000 saddles — from the German brand Puch. He was “so confused that he asked the customer whether the order was right or whether there was a mistake, since he was used to receiving orders for 100 to 300 pieces,” the company said in a news release
Bigolin pioneered the use of polyurethane foam in saddles. In the 1980s he patented the Royal Vacuum System, which allowed Selle Royal to create a number of profiles and shapes that had been impossible under traditional methods.
In the 1990s, Selle Royal began using gel in bicycle saddles after licensing the use of Royalgel from Bayer.
In 1997, Selle Royal launched Fizik, which has become a leading brand of premium saddles.
More than 15 years ago, Bigolin handed day-to-day management of the company over to his daughter, Barbara Bigolin, and her husband, Massimo Losio. He remained chairman of Selle Royal until his death.
Bigolin strongly supported his daughter’s decision to buy Brooks, the iconic British saddle brand, in 2002, Rosin said. Bigolin had been a big admirer of the company, which was a leading saddle brand when he founded Selle Royal.
“It was one of his dreams to acquire Brooks and help it come back and compete,” Rosin said.
Until about two years ago, Bigolin would visit Selle Royal’s headquarters in Pozzoleone nearly every day, Rosin said.
“He always had the time to stop and talk with the people, going along the corridors and stopping here and there to talk. For us, these occasions were of incredible importance,” Rosin said. “He was able to express, with few words, incredible power and a deep vision for the future.”
In retirement, Bigolin continued to deliver a traditional holiday speech to Selle Royal employees.
“This was the first year that he didn’t make the speech in front of the workers after more than 50 years,” Rosin said.
In addition to Barbara Bigolin, who remains CEO of the Selle Royal Group, Bigolin is survived by daughters Francesca and Lucia, who are shareholders in the company, and six grandchildren.
His funeral Mass is scheduled for Saturday morning in Veneto, Italy. Rosin said Selle Royal plans a memorial and prayer service for Bigolin on Friday at its headquarters in northern Italy.