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Peter Florjančič — doyen of Slovenian innovators turned 100 years

March 2019

Peter Florjančič, the 100-year-old doyen of modern innovations in Slovenia, is convinced that the old Latin saying "No man is a prophet in his homeland" (Nemo propheta in patria) applies to many aspects of life. Florjančič lived abroad for the 55 most creative years of his life. He left his birth place, Bled, during the Second World War, when this part of Slovenia was occupied by Germany and he was afraid of being called up to serve in the German army. He returned to Slovenia at the dawn of the new millennium — not as a rich pensioner but as an indestructibly creative spirit, determined that he would, after many years of absence, continue to work in his homeland with undiminished will and energy, despite his advanced age.

Starting innovation and business career in Bled

His life story is amazing and very unusual in all respects. He was born in 1919 in Bled, a picturesque holiday resort town at the Julian Alps foothills in north-western Slovenia, his parents and relatives being the owners of several hotels. Although born into a hotel-owning family, Florjančič did not pursue the family tradition of life in the hotel industry but chose the education and training in the weaving and textile branch instead. Already in the years before World War II, he invented a weaving machine, enabling a weaver to work alone and independently; he opened and managed a weaving mill at Bled, which soon became the selected supplier of the Royal Palace in Belgrade. His sports achievements contributed significantly to his reputation since Florjančič was a member of a pre-war Yugoslav Olympic team of ski jumpers.
Even at a young age, Florjančič had a lively and restless spirit, with a keen technical and business acumen, which explains why his domestic provincial environment, particular during the German occupation, became too suffocating for him and not sufficiently inspiring for his capabilities to develop; his decision to venture abroad was also due to the increasingly dangerous circumstances in which he found himself. He took a skiing holiday in Kitzbühel, Austria, and from there defected to neutral Switzerland. To cover his escape, he made it look like he had died in an avalanche.

A rise to Monte Carlo's high society and his successful career pursued abroad

Florjančič met and spent time with all kinds of celebrities. Photo: Mateja J. Potočnik

In Switzerland, Peter Florjančič soon established a reputation by inventing a weaving machine, suitable for use by disabled people. In the post-war period, he lived in Switzerland as a successful entrepreneur. Destiny brought him to Monte Carlo and his short vacations there turned into a longer stay of thirteen years.

In Monte Carlo, the innovative spirit of Florjančič was given a new impetus; Florjančič found himself in the middle of the cosmopolitan society that accepted him in its circles, thereby enabling him to make a number of acquaintances with wealthy and reputable people, to convince them about his work and to make them willing to support his projects. A member of the Egyptian Royal Family, Hussein Ibrahim Pasha, and the former Egyptian king Farouk are said to have been his most generous patrons; he met and spent time with all kinds of celebrities from the world of contemporary politics, fashion, film, painting, among whom were Winston Churchill, Coco Chanel, Orson Wells, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayward, Salvador Dali and Frank Sinatra. Such an environment, made him feel like a fish in water; in all respects, he was able to seize the opportunities that were made available to him by entering the world of high society.

During his years in Monte Carlo, he came up with two innovations which brought him the most glory and money: a perfume atomiser and plastic slide frames. He cashed in on both of his innovations very well. However, he had less luck with some other innovations that he conceived successfully but did not manage to develop the products into a final stage. These are mainly safety airbag for cars and a plastic zipper; the innovations were his original ideas but he failed to pursue and develop them all the way through to the manufacturing stage.

A return to Bled and establishment of the 'Peter Florjančič' Innovation Development Institute

Photo: Mateja J. Potočnik

After bidding farewell to Monte Carlo, Florjančič made some stop-overs in Europe and America, his longest stay being in the neighbouring Villach in Austria; however, most of the time he spent travelling. He describes his life as having had five citizenships, owned forty-three cars and spent twenty-five years in hotels, four years in cars, three years in trains, a year and a half on ships and one year on planes.

He would not settle in Bled until 1998 and his return was not to enjoy the retirement he deserved, but to continue his work with undiminished energy. Bled was the place where he established Inovacijsko razvojni zavod 'Peter Florjančič' ('Peter Florjančič' Innovation Development Institute)  and under his auspices he created a team of temporary and permanent associates who help him to develop his ideas.  Despite his age, he never runs out of ideas that attract the interest of Slovenian companies, in particular smaller ones; since for many of these enterprises innovations are the only possible way of surviving fierce global competition. Recently, his licence agreement with the paper tissue producer Paloma has attracted the most publicity; based on his innovation, Paloma will produce a patented paper product used as an accessory for serving food to customers. The product is a napkin with added value, which is to help customers feel better while reducing the costs of caterers; this innovation is expected to increase Paloma's total revenues by one tenth.

Peter Florjančič's innovation achievements have become famous in Slovenia and abroad

Florjančič's life and work were also reported by BBC News. Photo/source: BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/)

His aforementioned innovations and inventions round up, but certainly do not conclude, Peter Florjančič's seven-decade long career in the field of innovations. The total number of Peter Florjančič's innovations and inventions hovers around 400, only a tenth of which have become commercially viable. Florjančič himself admits that the idea of each innovation, no matter how promising, is best abandoned if in one year the right market cannot be identified.

As already mentioned, nowadays Florjančič is no longer an unknown figure; in recent years, several articles about him have been published along with a number of interviews and, last but not least, his life and work were also reported by BBC News. The rich and exciting life and career of Peter Florjančič have been documented in a film made by the director, Karpo Godina, entitled 'The Story of Mr. P.F.'; the film was shot in 2002 and is available on DVD. Furthermore, his life and work were also disclosed by writer Edo Marinček in his books Skok v smetano (Jump in the Cream) and Ideja za milijon (Idea for a Million), which were written on the basis of a collection of material from Florjančič's talks and memories.

The lifetime and creative credo of Peter Florjančič

Peter Florjančič remains in good and creative shape despite his 90 years; his spirit is vivid and penetrating, his health is good, with the exception of his eye sight that has almost failed him. Florjančič believes that the secret behind his long, lively and often adventurous life is his untamed and curious nature, his tendency to enjoy and focus on egocentrism which he is not at all ashamed of; his 'petercentrism', as he calls it, has been a guide to his long life which, as he himself says, has never lacked ticklish and erotic adventures — with no destructive effect on his long-term marriage and family happiness. His life stance, bringing him happiness, recognition and success all of his life, would be most appropriately described by the French equivalent: joie de vivre.

Text by Albert Kos, Sinfo, June 2011