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What Finmeccanica Stands To Gain, and Lose, With New Name

October 31, 2015 (Photo Credit: Leon Neal/ AFP via Getty Images)

ROME — Finmeccanica will start 2016 by dropping its name and adopting an all-new “short and memorable” title,  said its CEO said as the Italian firm follows the example of other European defense companies that have rebranded as they restructure.

Without dropping hints about what the new name might be, CEO Mauro Moretti said on Oct. 23 that on Jan. 1, Finmeccanica will be given a moniker evoking “the sense of deep roots and a great future.”

“Finmeccanica is an obsolete name, we will truly change it,” he told reporters.

The prefix "Fin," used by Italian governments to denote a state-controlled financial holding company, reflects Finmeccanica’s creation as a holding company that gathered together numerous small firms.

That is the past Moretti seeks to leave behind as he shifts the company to a divisional structure on Jan. 1, reducing the autonomy hitherto enjoyed by units such as Alenia Aermacci and AgustaWestland.

Moretti said the restructuring will also prepare Finmeccanica for future mergers in Europe.

“I don’t know when there will be a new, rapid process of consolidation in the sector,” he said. “I have the duty of creating a strong industry from the financial point of view and to create know-how to be ready for the appointment with consolidation.”

By changing the name now, Finmeccanica risks losing brand recognition built up over the 15 years in which it has become a global force in the defense industry, analysts said. Often considered an unwieldy title by Finmeccanica managers, that unwieldiness has actually helped the name stick in the memory.

“I'm surprised by the planned name change — Finmeccanica is a well-known brand in America, like Fiat and Ferrari,” said Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia. “It will be challenging to rebuild brand recognition in the US once the Finmeccanica name is dropped, given the company's modest presence in the US market.”

Favoring the name change is the series of scandals that have dogged the firm over recent years, including the probe into suspected bribes paid for helicopter sales in India, which ended with the acquittal at trial of senior managers in Italy but is still under investigation in India.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group of Fairfax, Virginia, said a name change makes sense. 

“After all the setbacks, scandals and other difficulties, there just isn't that much brand equity left with that name,” he said. “It also sounded like a state-owned Italian company, rather than a global, market-focused enterprise.”  

"If you want to be seen to be whiter than white, then the name change is justified since the Finmeccanica name may now be tainted with allegations of wrongdoing — a new identity would not be unhelpful after a few turbulent years,” said Alexandra Ashbourne-Walmsley, the director of Ashbourne Strategic Consulting.

Moretti said that under the new title, he would keep active the group’s best known sub-brands, citing Aermacchi and Galileo as examples.

Aermacchi, a private company that became a Finmeccanica unit, develops jet trainers. Galileo Avionica is the historic name for Finmeccanica's avionics activity, which was recently phased out in favor of the Selex brand.

“Finmeccanica was a complicated word for non-Italians, while some of the brands have great identities, like Alenia and Galileo,” Ashbourne-Walmsley said.

Moretti said there were brand names now in use that he would drop, describing them as sounding like “little soaps.”

His reference was likely to Selex, which may have been introduced to describe Finmeccanica electronics activity in 2005, but is also by chance the in-house brand name used for products by an Italian supermarket chain.

The Selex brand also suffered because Finmeccanica constantly tinkered with the name, introducing endless variations to describe various units in the UK and Italy as they integrated.

“There was so much confusion in the UK over the changes in the names of the Selex brands,” said Ashbourne-Walmsley. “Maybe Moretti is thinking ‘let’s start over,’ but the firm needs to make a decision and then stop tinkering.”

Ashbourne-Walmsley warned that a new name would take “five to 10 years to bed in, especially in Italy, where the old names have long histories,” noting that BAE Systems is still often referred to by its old name, British Aerospace, on the BBC.

She also said that previous name changes by European firms offered examples of what to do and what not to do.

“The new name should be a real name, rather than a Thales or QinetiQ,” she said. “When Thompson became Thales in 2001, no one could pronounce it and I think, today, that it was unnecessary. Why not keep Thompson?

“BAE had more reason,” she added. “They were going global and diversifying and saw 'Aerospace' and 'British' as too limiting. EADS was a poor name. Was it pronounced EEDS? Airbus is easier.”

The name change will also be expensive, just as Moretti is trying to trim budgets.

There is also the tough choice of the new title.

“It will need to be Italian, but understandable in English, and it will be hard to find something not covered by copyright already,” said a corporate communications expert in Italy, who declined to be named.

“They will have to be careful about how the new word translates,” Ashbourne-Walmsley added. “The Typhoon was nearly called the Cyclone until someone realized a two-seater might be called the Cyclone B, which, in German, sounds like Zyklon B, the gas used by the Nazis in the gas chambers.”

Email: tkington@defensenews.com

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