When we last wrote about Santi Falcone ("Piano Man," January 1987), his Falcone Piano Co. was four years old and riding high on its reputation as one of the finest young manufacturers of handcrafted pianos. Today, the Haverhill, Mass., plant is putting out 10 to 12 pianos each month. But Santi Falcone -- technician, designer, and builder -- is no longer there. Instead, he's making and selling chocolates from his home, reflecting on how it was that he got pushed out of his own company.
What it comes down to, predictably, is cash flow. Falcone Piano was never profitable, and by early 1989 had run into serious money problems. One of the company's backers was amateur pianist Bud Greer, who had read the Inc. article, bought a Falcone, and promptly invested $1.5 million for a 50% interest. When the company hit the wall last year, Greer offered to put up working capital in exchange for increased ownership. By early April he had purchased the remaining 50% of the company's stock, and Santi Falcone had resigned.
Falcone says he surrendered his stock believing no management changes would be made -- and was immediately offered a demotion to marketing and product development. Says current president Jerry Keppler, "Santi was a great PR person, but running a company was not his forte." Greer's investment company tapped Lloyd Meyer, a former president of Steinway & Sons, to be Falcone's COO.
"It's sad, more than anything else," says Falcone today. "I don't see how Greer thinks he can produce Falcone pianos without me. It doesn't make sense." For now, he and his wife and sister are making chocolates in their new cottage industry, Dante Confections. The business, he says, is profitable. Greer's company has gone on to acquire Sohmer Corp., an old-line manufacturer of high-and midpriced pianos under the Sohmer and Mason & Hamlin names. The plan is to do some of the manufacturing in the Haverhill plant, next to the Falcones. Meanwhile, Santi Falcone says that by February, he'll make a final decision on whether to start a new piano company.
-- Leslie Brokaw* * *