“Italian Icons of China” – Copan Italia S.p.A
This article was originally published in Italian in Panorama on 19th September 2023.
Please note that this is a courtesy translation of the Italian language article originally published in the Panorama Magazine Issue at: https://www.panorama.it/economia/italian-icons-of-china-copan-italia-spa
To provide our readers with an in-depth overview of Italian companies operating in international markets, including China, we initiated the article series 'Italian Icons of China.' In this series, we conducted interviews with key figures within the most prominent Italian companies present in China. We aim to illustrate their brand's history, business expansion, successes, and offer valuable insights and recommendations for multinational corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises, and entrepreneurs interested in international markets, based on their investment experiences and industry expertise.
In this article, we engage in an exclusive interview with Mr. Michele Bianchetti, General Manager of Copan China and, more recently, Copan Vietnam.
Copan Italia S.p.a is a leading company in the development of cutting-edge, high-quality sample collection products for infectious diseases, along with high-level workflow automation. Mr. Bianchetti began working for Copan Italia S.p.a in 2015, dedicating his efforts to the production site in Shanghai, China, where he established COPAN's first manufacturing hub in Asia. He served as the General Manager of Copan China from 2016 to 2022.
Since 2022, Mr. Bianchetti has relocated to Hanoi, Vietnam, to oversee and lead Copan's growth project in Vietnam. In his role as General Manager of the local branch, his primary responsibilities include establishing the company and overseeing the expansion of the entire project.
Below, you will find the contents of the interview with Mr. Bianchetti, whom we thank for his time and willingness to share his insights.
Q: Could you provide us with an overview of Copan, focusing on what Copan does & its presence in the Asian market?
Copan, the world leader manufacturer of high-quality and cutting-edge sample collection products for infectious diseases, human genomics, environmental and forensic applications, along with high-end automated workflow solutions, spreaded outside of Europe in the 90’s landing its first manufacturing site in California. American market has always been the traction for sustaining our growth throughout the last two decades and only more recently, in 2011, Copan incorporated the first company in China.
In 2016 the first Chinese manufacturing plant was established, followed in 2018 by a trading company in Japan and, later, in India and Australia.
The growing demand of the Asian market due to demographic, economic and political landscape changes, reinforced Copan’s intuition to further expand operations in Asia, where a new manufacturing company has recently been incorporated in Vietnam. Currently, the group comprises approximately 1400 employees, with an annual turnover of 250 million euros.
Q: Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself, including your educational background, professional career, and the journey that brought you to your current position?
I graduated from IULM in Public Relations and Corporate Communication. Before graduating MBA in 2016 from Bologna Business School, a moment of pause from my working career begun eight years earlier as business developer, I landed my job in Copan Italia. I was swiftly relocated to China to set up the construction and operations of the first manufacturing facility in Asia for Copan. After leaving China in 2021, I relocated to Vietnam where I’m currently in charge of the same operations I was appointed while in China.
Q: What were the factors that led Copan to invest in China, and how has the company's experience been in the country so far? Within China, are there fundamental differences in the difficulties faced by foreign companies when compared to domestic companies or are they universal?
China, for medical devices, it’s a one-of-a-kind market that needs extremely specific knowledge and skills in dealing with local authorities, notifying bodies, and distributors.
Copan, to impose the presence in such market, felt that a more established reality than a trading company was needed. Hence, the 2016 incorporation of the first manufacturing company in Asia previously mentioned.
After few years of start-up procedures, many more than anywhere else due to the overmentioned specific criticalities of China, the company is currently expanding its sales forces, marketing efforts and leaning of the manufacturing procedures. In China, Copan did not experience any disparaging treatment condition, compared to the same local industries.
Of course, and this is a typicality of the Chinese “modus operandi”, local businesses can boast deep connections with local authorities, on which they rely to sharpen their competitive hedge. Local companies today are well-prepared in managing relationships with local government entities, which can provide an advantage in procurement bidding processes and in the selection of qualified human resources. Provided the foreign enterprise is located and invested on China’s grounds, the competitive advantage of the local companies can be mitigated thru specific activities that the management team can locally apply. Although my current experience in such role is based in China, I believe the same challenges are present in any other country but in China are possibly more visible.
Q: Can you tell us about Copan's investment in Vietnam, including the company's goals and current situation in the country? Why focus on this market in particular?
First, Copan is not investing in Vietnam to focus solely on its market. We are establishing a 20.000 square meter manufacturing facility to supply the whole ASPAC region. Our Asian markets are already currently ranging from Japan to Australia, India to Philippines.
We strongly believe that mimicking the American expansions, building a factory that is completely autonomous and acting also like a logistic center for all the Asian’s operations, will be critical to uncap the growth of the group worldwide. Such efforts brought several ideas to the table but the project itself has not been significantly modified. We have a clear vision of the products we want to market. Currently, we are mostly focusing on how to set the proper distribution channels and sales force around Asia.
Q: Was Copan's decision to invest in Vietnam also influenced by the much publicized "China +1" policy that has been adopted by many companies in recent years?
Given the aforementioned criticalities and the recent geopolitical conjuncture, it’s by no surprise that Copan, like many other companies around the whole World, is adopting such policy.
Q: Could you share with us Copan's future development plans in Asia, with a particular focus on China and Vietnam?
Copan’s vision is to bring to every part of the world the best possible devices for the collection and processing of human infectious diseases. The installation of the manufacturing facility in Vietnam is crucial to shorten the supply chain to our distributors and lessen the operational burden on both sides. China will be constantly fed with raw materials from Vietnam facility, manufacturing specific products for local markets, while the rest of Asia will source directly from Vietnam the finished product. Lot of thoughts are devoted currently to a deep market analysis of the whole portion of this world which uncapped potential is astonishingly vast.
D: What advice do you feel like sharing with managers or investors who are considering investing in Asia?
Given that it's now possible to incorporate new companies almost anywhere in the world with relative ease and cost-effectiveness, investors will have a wide range of choices. Today's criteria are partly influenced by the political agendas of Italy and the host country where the new company is incorporated. Therefore, choose populations with strong governance, regardless of the existing political model. Political stability is a significant asset but quite rare in Asia. The workforce should be sufficiently qualified and cost-effective for the company's objectives. These are straightforward indicators available to any serious observer. However, what is often not perceived is the speed with which the company will need to make decisions and implement strategies. Enter the market early, as soon as possible. Every month that passes, land costs or lease agreements increase. It's important to secure them as early as possible. If you can, even just for opening offices, have an Italian employee who has grown within the company. The most challenging part isn't choosing where to invest or simply opening, as I mentioned at the beginning. It's the ongoing work of connection, communication, and operational facilitation that your person in the foreign office will be able to implement, sealing the success of the business.
From the interview with our icon, it can be deduced that emerging markets and the 'China + 1' strategy play an important role, which has emerged in light of the numerous changes in the global socio-economic landscape and with a view to reducing business risks for foreign investors.
However, turning away from China, the world's second-largest economy, is not advisable, as this market possesses enormous untapped potential. European companies, therefore, need a strategic plan and dynamism to find good opportunities even in challenging periods, including the selection of reliable local partners.
That being said, in our series on Italian companies in China, we will continue to offer our readers the experiences and insights of the main Italian players in the Chinese market.