THE GHELLA FAMILY’S FIRST CONSTRUCTION PROJECT
Domenico Ghella, the founder of the family, was born near Milan, in Noviglio, in 1837. As early as 1850, at the young age of 13, he left for Marseille, where he worked as a miner. The boy was not lacking in initiative and spirit of adventure. He stayed in France until 1867 when he learned that the Suez Canal was being built in Egypt, a project that would change the course of world history, and - if he seized the opportunity - his own as well. Determined, courageous, and forward-thinking, like every "explorer," he didn't hesitate to set out. With his small business, he contributed as a subcontractor to the realization of the grand project. Just three years later, Domenico was in Turkey, in Istanbul, where he participated in the construction of the Pera-Galata funicular railway tunnel. In 1877, at the age of 40 and after a lifetime of sacrifices, he finally returned to work in Italy on the Novi-Acqui-Ovada railway line. He enjoyed the work; he was a true adventurer. His belief in Egypt was well-founded: it was the experience in which he cultivated that adventurous spirit, halfway between an entrepreneur and a technician, which he would instill in the future Ghella Company, and which still guides all the decisions of our company to this day.
THE BIRTH OF THE SOCIETÀ GHELLA E FIGLI
Alongside Domenico, there is his son Adolfo, born in 1877 in the province of Turin, in Colleretto Castelnuovo. Following in his father's footsteps, he spent his summers visiting construction sites. Even from a very young age, just like his father, he showed a great passion for a truly tough job. In 1894, Domenico founded the Ghella and Sons Company. By that time, there were already construction sites in India, Persia, and the construction of a part of the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia. However, it's the end of the same year when the father passes away. Adolfo inherits two thousand lire with which he can complete two years of study to obtain a diploma as a surveyor at the Pinerolo Institute. Immediately afterward, he will visit the construction sites his father built in Turkey and Egypt. He has a desire to learn and improve excavation techniques, his first passion, but he wants to be well-prepared. Even today, at Ghella, we believe that practice is what truly helps to learn and grow. However, having an updated theoretical foundation is essential for directing efforts better, facing the unexpected challenges of experience, and improving more quickly.
In 1901, Adolfo embarked for Australia. There, he reinvented himself as a lumberjack, shepherd, miner, and gold prospector. He crossed the continent both on foot and horseback but did not engage in construction work. However, he learned English, and the experience enriched his understanding of people. Three years passed, and he returned to Italy, where he began working on the Sempione Railway line to Switzerland. In 1905, he set off for Tonkin, a territory in French Indochina, where a company was planning and constructing a railway. He was assigned a section of the line. After the latest pestilence caused by tropical diseases, such as malaria, which caused the death of thousands of local laborers, the company suspended all work. Adolfo immediately set off, on his own, for Hong Kong. At Ghella, the example set by Adolfo stands to this day: the cultural wealth represented by our collaborators is considered a highly valuable resource. It provides the opportunity to apply one's knowledge to future situations that we may not yet know or predict. Learning is always worthwhile, even when we don't immediately perceive its utility or future relevance.
During that period, an English company was constructing a complex railway in Hong Kong, but the work was delayed due to particularly challenging excavations. Adolfo Ghella visited the construction site daily and developed a personal relationship with the director, who offered him a subcontracted job for the construction of the shaft. Adolfo reorganized the site, gathered a new team, drew upon the experience he had gained since his youth working with his father and refining his skills in subsequent jobs, and the work progressed rapidly. He received well-deserved recognition and his first financial success. In 1909, he secured the port work in Kowloon. These successes were followed by years of profitable work along the Canton railway line, advancing toward China, where he also obtained the contract for building the dam on the West River. Initiative, determination, experience, self-confidence, and a healthy dose of courage. These are values that still describe us perfectly today.
Following the Boxer Rebellion, Adolfo returned to Italy, where he married Domenica, the woman who would be his lifelong companion. Domenica's father is Giovanni Bertoglio, who would be Adolfo's partner in a thousand enterprises. It is thanks to Giovanni, a prolific writer of letters and postcards from around the world, that we have managed to faithfully reconstruct the dates of many journeys and construction projects. In 1912, Domenico Ghella, the firstborn of Adolfo and Domenica, was born. The following year, Adolfo returned to China for a brief period. The Ghella Company is now internationally renowned. Adolfo decides to return to Italy but does so by crossing the American continent. His arrival in San Francisco is even mentioned in the local press. He barely makes it back in time for the birth of his second son, Giovanni. Even today, at Ghella, being explorers means constantly seeking new "lands" to discover and conquer. Adolfo exemplified this by choosing to land in the Americas during the company's greatest international expansion.
IN THE RUSSIA OF THE TSARS
It's time to return to Russia once again. Adolfo settles in Tbilisi with his family, where he constructs a railway section between Kars and Erzurum. The war of 1915 catches him there. He sends his family back to Italy and travels to Moscow to persuade the client to continue his work, but without success. He seeks support from the Italian embassy, which helps him obtain partial payment for the work done and some fiduciary missions, effectively keeping him in the service of the embassy.
From 1917 to 1919, Adolfo witnesses the fall of the Tsars. He returns to his homeland in Piedmont. However, due to a lack of work, he promptly sets off for the Caspian Sea. But in Baku, the Bolsheviks occupy the ship anchored in the harbor. The bay is mined, but on a stormy night, Adolfo Ghella orders the ship to depart in a daring manner and miraculously manages to return to Italy.
In 1924, for the third time, Adolfo Ghella was forced to start over. He had lost everything in the Bolshevik revolution, except for his technical expertise and extraordinary determination. Upon returning to Italy between 1924 and 1934, he carried out numerous high-engineering projects, constructing works that still form the basis of the railway network connecting cities in the southern part of the country.
He competed for and won contracts for tunnel construction in Abruzzo and for the hydroelectric plant of Sagittario. Between 1927 and 1933, he secured contracts for various railway sections on behalf of the Calabro-Lucane Railways. In 1934, he relocated to Rome and obtained additional railway and road projects in Italy in the same year. Between 1930 and 1940, he built 130 kilometers of railway lines in the southern regions for Ferrovie dello Stato. All of these projects were consistently completed successfully.
If Ghella is now a highly solid company, it's because the entrepreneurial spirit of its founders left a lasting impression: always do your best, have no fear of failure, and above all, treasure the lessons learned from challenging situations.
In Rome, the Adolfo Ghella e Figli company was assigned the construction of the most challenging section of the subway: the stretch between Via Cavour, San Pietro in Vincoli, and the Colosseum. It was a true masterpiece of audacity, tenacity, and capability. The section, inaugurated to serve the Universal Exhibition, was suspended in 1940 due to the outbreak of the Second World War. The tunnels were converted into air-raid shelters with a capacity of approximately 50,000 people. Between 1939 and 1940, fortifications were built at the French border.
From 1942 to 1944, a forced conduit for the hydroelectric plant in Bressanone was constructed. In 1944, Giandomenico Ghella, the first son of Giovanni, was born. He would become the fourth generation of Ghella in the construction world and is now the President of the Ghella Group S.p.A.
In 1945, after years of suspension, work resumed throughout Italy. Adolfo Ghella was known as the "wizard of the tunnels" after more than half a century of continuous work and achievements. Earning a nickname signifies building a solid and shared reputation. That of Ghella, then as now, is not only based on punctuality, reliability, and competence but also on the special ability to face and conquer the most complex challenges.
THE 3RD GENERATION
Adolfo's sons, Giovanni and Domenico, began to share the workload with him. In the same year, they completed the entrance to the Apennine Tunnel on the Florence-Bologna highway, which had been previously destroyed by wartime events. It was also the year when work resumed on the Rome subway line near the Giovanni Lanza station. Italy was in a state of upheaval. Ghella's work was in constant growth: they undertook projects for hydroelectric plants, railways, highway sections, and structural reinforcements, all with a strong technical focus and a distinctive inclination for underground work. From the northern Alps to the Calabrian Apennines, Ghella played a role in the development of the new backbone of Italy.
In 1951, Enrico Ghella was born, the brother of Giandomenico, Marina, and Manuela. He is the youngest of the four siblings in the fourth generation and now serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Group.
Many entrepreneurial projects arise from a passion, often from a dream. This is particularly true in the case of family businesses like Ghella, where there is a strong connection between the values of the founders, the family, and the values that drive the company.
Between 1954 and 1958, in Canada, Ghella builds the piers of the Jacques Cartier port, along with improvements to the navigability of the St. Lawrence River. It was Giovanni Ghella who oversaw these Canadian projects. These projects were carried out in collaboration with the company Canit Construction, controlled by Ghella and their partner, Engineer Salvatore Randaccio, as reported in the Giornale di Sicilia article on May 3, 1958: "Seaway, the largest waterway." The work involved the construction of two locks in Beauharnois.
On May 1, 1955, Adolfo Ghella passed away, aware that he had passed on his own passion for work to the future generations. In 1957, young Giandomenico Ghella, at the age of 13, visited the Canadian construction site of the two Seaway dams with his father Giovanni. In the same year, the foundation works for the World Trade Center in New York were executed by the Icos company (an American subsidiary of the Ghella Group).
In Italy, between 1962 and 1966, a dam was constructed on the Cixerri River in Sardinia. This marked the highest point for the family business but also the beginning of its most challenging period. It would take all the tenacity and passion of the early days to start over once again.
A PASSING CRISIS
The company found itself under controlled administration with the subsequent suspension of some important projects. This is followed by difficult years, with few resources and even fewer financial means. However, the trust of clients and other companies in Ghella's ability to build tunnels remained unchanged. In 1967, a fresh start was made. With great dedication, the two brothers, Giandomenico and Enrico, began working as subcontractors.
If Ghella is now a solid and steadily growing group, it is certainly thanks to what can be remembered as an exemplary entrepreneurial lesson. In 1968, the company wins a subcontracted project for one of the largest Italian companies at that time and specifically for the construction of a tunnel for the Peschiera Aqueduct in Moricone (Rome). Ghella was one of the first construction companies to invest in technology and the TBM, tunnel boring machine. This recovery from the crisis is not only about tenacity. Believing in new technologies, especially in a moment of difficulty, demonstrates confidence.
In the 1970s, a new partner joined the Ghella family: Domenico Nigro, a man of utmost trust to Giovanni Ghella and a person of extensive experience. Their partnership worked seamlessly. Among the numerous projects, the tunnels connecting Piazza di Spagna and the Villa Borghese parking facility in Rome are certainly the most recognizable. Now was the time for the fourth generation to follow the tradition and find their own path abroad. In 1977, the company worked for the first time in Venezuela, where it carried out works for the INOS (Instituto Naciónal de Obras Sanitarias) on the regional Tachira Aqueduct. In 1979, work on Line 1 of the Caracas subway began. In 1980, Lorenzo Ghella was born, the son of Giandomenico. With Lorenzo, the company reached the fifth generation of highly specialized underground excavation experts. Today, Lorenzo is the Vice President of the Group. Numerous projects have been simultaneously carried out in Italy and Venezuela. Thanks to their forward-thinking approach to technological advancements, Ghella has always been a pioneer in mechanized excavation techniques. They are General Contractors by definition but miners by passion.
THE EXPANSION INTO CENTRAL AMERICA
The 1990s marked the era of the new economy. The way of doing business changed, with a focus on foreign investments, internationalization, and sustainable development for local economic systems. Ghella, drawing on its longstanding international vocation, was one of the pioneering companies in this new economic model. These were years of the company's growth in Central and South America, thanks to its technical capabilities and a typically Italian commitment to quality.
In 1991, work began in the Dominican Republic, and in 1994, in Guatemala, a country trying to return to normalcy after the civil war in the 1980s. Ghella also worked in Venezuela, Honduras, Haiti, and Costa Rica. Notably, it constructed healthcare facilities in these regions. In the rest of the world, Ghella definitively specialized in high-engineering projects, especially in underground work. The company focused on new technologies, becoming a true training ground for an entire generation of technicians, surveyors, and miners. At a critical juncture in its history, Ghella invested in two of its core values that still characterize the company today: people and innovation.
In 2005, nearly 150 years after the first project completed by the founder Domenico, Ghella returned to France, making a significant contribution to the High-Speed Railway between Turin and Lyon. In 2007, the company completed a section of Line 1 of the Turin metro, Italy's first fully automated metro system. The following project saw Ghella involved in the construction of Milan's new metro route, Line 5. In Venezuela, works on Line 2 of the Valencia metro were carried out.
In 2008, the company worked in Argentina for the first time completing the Maldonado project in Buenos Aires which involved 14 kilometers of tunnels. The same year, the company also worked for the first time in Brazil, where it constructed a significant tunnel, part of a 5-kilometer-long gas pipeline. This marked a new entrepreneurial adventure aimed at expanding into the renewable energy sector.
At that time Italy was the ideal place for investments in the development and management of photovoltaic facilities. Ghella initiated the construction of 25 photovoltaic plants in the Central and Southern regions of Italy. By venturing into renewable energies, particularly photovoltaics, Ghella expanded beyond its core business but remained faithful to its vision of leaving a better world for future generations.
A RETURN TO AUSTRALIA AFTER 110 YEARS
Exactly 110 years later, Ghella returned to Australia with a significant highway project in the city of Brisbane, known as the Legacy Way Project. This project, a new success, and a source of great pride for the company, received several awards. The most significant one, awarded in 2013, was the "Best Tunneling Project in the World."
Greece was next, where Ghella started working on the extension of Line 3 of the Athens metro from Haidari to the Port of Piraeus. Then the Hanoi metro in Vietnam (in partnership with the Hyundai Group) and the high-speed rail tunnels in Norway.
But most importantly, there is Lorenzo, son of Giandomenico, representing the fifth generation of this entrepreneurial dynasty and that has come a long way renewing the same passion and vision that began with Domenico over 150 years ago.
In 2015, Ghella returns to Brazil to build Line 2 of the São Paolo metro.
The company reinforces its presence in Argentina and is involved in the construction of drainage tunnels for the waters of the Riachuelo River in Buenos Aires, and with 40km of tunnels below the current Sarmiento railway.
Norway is a promising new market. This time the challenge lies in managing simultaneously 4 TBMs during an excavation that spans 40km for the construction of the Follo Line project in Oslo. It is the most important railway project ever to be built in the country.
In Vietnam, in the capital of Hanoi, work is under way to build a new metro line: Line 3.
In Costa Rica, a hydroelectric power plant has been built that will bring light to more than twenty-three thousand families.
The company wins the contract for the new metro line in Sydney, Australia and this only goes to confirm the quality of the company. The construction requires the operation of 5 TBMs under what is one of the world's most prestigious bays.
In 2016, the company is awarded the contract to build the Brenner Base Tunnel in Italy for a total of 60Km which will be executed with the use of 3 TBMs.
In the United Arab Emirates Ghella is exporting its experience in the field of energy conservation gained here in Italy, creating a 16km2 photovoltaic plant aimed at energy independence for Dubai’s Expo 2020.
The future is yet to be written.