Forging Ahead, Without its Leader

After the death of Fabio Buzzi in September, his family is carrying on with his company, FB Design
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Twelve hours after designer and builder Fabio Buzzi died in a powerboat crash in Venice, Italy, last September, his wife, Brunella, and daughters, Misa and Ebe, were at the headquarters of his company, FB Design, in Annone di Brianza, Italy.

“It’s something that we consciously did because we wanted to communicate to the people working here that everything would go on exactly the same,” says 39-year-old Ebe Buzzi. “When they saw how hard my mom was struggling to keep going despite the tragedy of losing the man she’s been with for 40 years, they were wonderful.”

Fabio Buzzi, along with powerboat racer Luca Nicoletti and Erik Hoorn, who was representing engine manufacturer FTP, were killed when they hit a breakwall attempting to set an endurance record from Monte Carlo to Venice. A fourth passenger, Mario Invernizzi, survived.

Since the accident, Nicoletti has taken over as CEO of FB Design, which also has locations on Milan’s Lake Como and in Venice. The company was established in 1971 and is best known for its high-performance boats powered primarily by diesels and the Trimax surface drives that Buzzi invented.

Nicoletti, 72, and Misa Buzzi, 38, had been working at FB Design before the accident, and Ebe Buzzi came on board afterward. All of the directors are long-term employees of FB Design, which has about 50 workers, most of whom have been with the company for more than a decade. “People tend to arrive here and stay for a very long time,” Ebe Buzzi says.

Fabio Buzzi amassed victories and set many records on the liquid racetrack. FB Design has won more than 52 world championships, taken the Harmsworth Trophy seven times and set 56 world speed records. The boat in which Buzzi set his final record, the former four-engine Superboat La Gran Argentina, was the one he piloted to multiple world titles in American Power Boat Association and Super Boat International competition. On the sport’s biggest stage, the world championships in Key West, Fla., he and Argentine politician Daniel Scioli dominated the Superboat class. Ebe says the boat’s cockpit was redesigned to accommodate more people than the original enclosed two-person capsule, but the bottom was the same. The boat, she says, was her father’s favorite.

Stepping away from offshore competition in the late 1990s, he focused on developing his work with military clients. He expanded the FB Design headquarters in Milan, constructing two buildings and adding space for research. Today, the facility occupies about 129,000 square feet. “This was a major turning point, to engage the military market,” Ebe says. “He understood he needed to do a lot of work in research and development.”

When Fabio Buzzi stepped away from offshore racing, he refocused FB Design on military contracts.

When Fabio Buzzi stepped away from offshore racing, he refocused FB Design on military contracts.

Today, the company has at least 10 employees working on technical research, and all the boats are built for military clients. The list includes Italy’s Guardia di Finanza, Hong Kong police, Turkish customs, the Swedish Coast Guard, Armscor in South Africa, Gilbraltar customs, the Philippine National Police, the Rwanda navy, the Royal Oman police and special forces, the Hellenic navy special forces, the Republic of Cyprus navy and the Spanish customs agency Aduanas. “The boats are very highly specialized, and the military became an ideal client for the company,” Ebe says.

Most of the boats are rigid bottoms with partial or full inflatable collars. FB Design built 16 boats in 2019, which Ebe says was the company’s best year. Because so many employees were long tenured, the company has continued with its positive trajectory despite the emotional loss that came from Buzzi’s death. “My father was a really great teacher,” she says. “All the right people were in place and were really well trained.”

Regardless of a boat’s intended application, Buzzi strove for perfection and pushed the technical envelope. When Union Internationale Motonautique rules allowed for a higher-horsepower diesel that provided a significant advantage over gasoline power, Buzzi designed and built the Seatek engine. He then designed the Trimax surface drive, which is now built in partnership with ZF Marine.

“When you start to design a boat and you want to achieve a certain type of performance, you start to realize you need an engine and the transmission and the seats,” Ebe says. “His perspective was to try to design everything because he knew this was the only way to provide the type of performance he wanted to achieve.”

Moving forward, she adds, “We really look forward to improving in 2020. It’s a big heritage we are trying to tackle here. We are here. We are ready for tomorrow.”

Spoken like a true Buzzi. 

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.

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