The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. In a conversation with Dr Maurizio Bragagni OBE (Officer British Empire) I discuss his work-life balance vision and the secret to successful expansion. Tratos Ltd (a global cable innovator) Chief Executive talks about his ambitions for operating as a globally integrated enterprise, the future of the cooperation between the United Kingdom and China and a new taxation system which could help to achieve a green recovery of the global economy.
Max C. Meder: You have moved the production capacity of the Tratos group worldwide by establishing Tratos bases in strategic locations – China, Spain, UK, Switzerland and Belgium – making the company considered one of the most innovative and one of the largest independent cable manufacturers in the world. What’s the secret to successful expansion? How do you begin building this kind of global organization?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: It is difficult to point to a 21st-century technology that isn’t powered or enabled with cable. Cable keeps the world moving: Tratos is manufacturing cable for a moving world, but it is innovating to make the world better, too.
However, we never moved the production we still make cables in Italy and the UK and sell all around the world. We believe in local contribution so we have created local content in any countries we sell to improve the lifestyle and the local economy. Tratos is a family business that takes care of its own employees and local people. Tratos is opposed to offshoring.
Since its establishment in 1966, Tratos’ mission has been a sole one: to create jobs in the most deprived areas and with it, to continuously support the sustainable development of the local communities by reducing poverty, bringing prosperity and hope for a brighter future for the present and next generations to come.
The company is serious about playing an active role in achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Every day it innovates to help deliver them. A 2050 deadline for a vision that seeks to drive positive change on this scale can only be achieved by choosing the best-placed partner. World leadership – and a big contribution to a healthier planet – will be realised with next-generation thinking and technology.
Data assembly and the ability to analyse and visualize information is another skill I had to implement for the success of my company. Managing large data sets with the support of artificial intelligence is today an important requirement for a company to best judge its performance and make well-informed and sound decisions for the sustainability of the company.
From cabling for transport networks to a fusion for an energy project of world significance, Tratos’ technology is at the forefront of the world’s most significant power, growth, environmental and connectivity projects. Tratos has produced the superconductor for the ITER project, part of Fusion4Energy, via the consortium with ICAS.
Tratos not only develops innovative products for new markets such as the robust flexible cables used in Alternative Power Marine systems are known as “cold ironing” and a high visibility reflective and fluorescent cable to increase safety in such diverse applications as Mining and EV charging cables.
Built differently from other cable manufacturers, Tratos is proud of its culture of innovation. It won a 2019 Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation. Tratos invests in its people and their continued learning and plays an important part in developing next-generation engineers by opening the Tratos Cable Academy to universities’ engineering faculties.
That’s what distinguishes Tratos from the others and makes it a next-generation problem solver, offering its clients commercial and performance advantages ahead of incoming challenges.
Max C. Meder: What are the main practical benefits of operating as a globally integrated enterprise?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: Tratos has been able to successfully transform into a global business due to the harsh market conditions. The supply chain of the cable industry is global, so in order to survive the market turbulences, you have no choice but to play at the global level.
Tratos kept innovating in all sectors, without compromising local content and local benefits. For us, global means plain mind and heart. Operating globally doesn’t mean you have to compromise your values. It means you can be able to enter freely the global markets and the competition, be able to open your mind and offer global solutions, understand the differences between the cultures and adjust to the new business environments. For example, you must learn to not say “no” to your business partners in Asia. At the same time, you must be honest and true to yourself, so you have to find a way to satisfy your business needs without saying no.
Max C. Meder: With more than 50 years of experience in the cable industry, Tratos ’engineering expertise is behind the development of highly specialized products for a variety of sectors. Let’s talk about the structures of global business. How do you organize a multidomestic enterprise?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: Going global is all about mastering the process of adapting your business to the global business environment. To do so, you must clearly know your business’s native environment and then plan specific measures to learn how your business will react/interact with new/different environments.
You might need a series of brainstorming to assess the reality, inject agility and resilience into your existing business structures and have the determination to achieve the final goal.
Max C. Meder: Is there a CEO management style that best suits the global enterprise?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: I am a Chartered Director and Fellow Member of the Institute of Directors, so I exercise my duties in full compliance with the IoD Code of Professional Conduct. In doing so, I am keen to implement an appropriate governance structure within every organisation I work for, accompanied by robust financial management and firm control of leadership and strategy.
My legacy at Tratos UK Ltd is defined by a work of organisational change and expansion, which I provide by constantly presenting fresh ideas and an original perspective. Developing fresh and effective performance-driven strategies, and providing the strategic direction to guide the company to success without creating conflict is the main role I have as CEO at Tratos.
As an example, while studying for my MBA at Cass Business school, I developed a strategy that in 10 years’ time has brought my company to get a five-year cable supply framework contract for Network Rail just a few months ago.
My assignments to various positions at the board level and other public bodies have sharpened my business and interpersonal skills. This has helped me to have carefully planned, chaired, and committed to multiple boards alongside my own at Tratos.
Max C. Meder: What lessons can other companies learn from the Tratos experience?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: Since its establishment in 1966, Tratos has taken great care of its employees, as well as shown great responsibility for the environment. Tratos products are fully recycled and made in respect of environmental standards. It is proud of its environmentally friendly cables that are connecting and powering the world.
In 2019, Tratos has launched its first integrated sustainability strategy, based on the 3Ps: People, Planet and Prosperity. In implementing this strategy, Tratos has committed itself to adopt high standards, often going beyond legal requirements, on the sustainability issues that matter to our business, employees, the communities that host us and the customers that buy and use our products.
Tratos not only attempts to make a valuable contribution to the world by minimising the environmental impact of its products, but it also attempts to spread its vision of a sustainable business model among its clients, partners, and followers to embrace a more environmentally friendly approach.
Tratos has been Tratos firmly believes in innovation, as without it any business cannot survive. The successful exploitation of new ideas is crucial to a business being able to thrive, improve its processes, bring new and improved products and services to market, increase its efficiency and, most importantly, improve its profitability.
Tratos is proud of its culture of innovation, where innovation is driven by more than just need; it is driven by ‘better’. Within Tratos’ culture, ‘better’ covers every step of a cable’s journey. From setting desired outcomes for improved performance, reliability and quality to the sustainability of production, materials, delivery and installation.
Never stop innovating.
Max C. Meder: You’ve had tremendous success in your career scaling businesses from local markets into global ones. You took the decision to cut out middlemen and directly secure Tratos’ source of raw materials allowing the company to control cost and guarantee supply. Can you share with us a few pitfalls for businesses to avoid on their path to growth?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: Any growth strategy is derived from a simple answer to 3 questions: who, what, and how. However, it is more important to know the answer to the alternate questions: who not, what not, and how not. In other words, Strategy comes from observing the environment of the market.
Not only do you need to be specific in your offer but you also need to make sure who are not your clients, and what and how you are not offering. This is the most pitfall any entrepreneur finds in his lifetime.
Building an innovative, unique proposition is the job of any entrepreneur, finding opportunities, and niches and building a monopoly is the key to success. Any business to be sustainable needs to achieve a dominant position and keeping that position is the key to success.
Say no to easy fast money is not easy but it is necessary if you do not want to risk the strategy and the long term of the company.
Another major risk is the selection of the top five people who will contribute to the business. They will create the company culture, so their choice will affect the life of the company. The selection must be based on the best for the position, but more important who really shares with you the vision and the dedication to implement it.
Max C. Meder: You have published a number of White Papers, covering issues such as the hugely negative impact of fake cable for Britain’s smart motorways and the businesses that rely on them. Could you please explain this problem to our readers in the UK?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: Tratos is not only producing the best quality cable, but through Safer Structures Initiative it has been lobbying for increasing the safety standards for all cables used in buildings. The key problems associated with defective cables – the reduction of copper in cables and the dangerous results such practices can present.
Tratos and other cable industry experts say that substandard and counterfeit cable, labelled with fake official standards and accreditations, is one of the biggest kicks to the UK economy, and, worse, a potential killer.
While cable failure can cost £ million when re-fitting large and complex projects, more importantly, it can cost lives. Installers and suppliers are victims too. Buying as specified in good faith and carefully matching specifications to labels and cable markings often mean nothing. Despite their best efforts, installers’ and suppliers’ livelihoods and reputations are at stake.
While house fire causes are often recorded as a ‘faulty appliance’ – there is every chance a fault could lie with the fake or under-specified cable fitted.
So where does the problem lie:
- Standards aren’t wholly adhered to in the UK.
- There are too few checks on imported cables.
- About 70% of cable sold in the UK is imported and, of that, Approved Cable Initiative believes half doesn’t meet a recognised standard.
- Some distributors encourage the under-specification of the cable by manufacturers.
Contractors have little interest in standards and while many in the supply chain operate legitimately, some distributors and wholesalers resell cable products that don’t meet UK safety standards.
And in a post-Brexit Britain, buying British may not avoid all the pitfalls. While the majority of the suspect cable has been manufactured outside of the UK this is not always the case. The UK has its fair share of fakers with some distributors actively encouraging the manufacture of undersized and inferior cable (often unmarked and untraceable) in return for better margins and keener prices.
Cables enable electronic display signs, speed enforcement, surveillance cameras and vehicle sensors – the neural networks that manage traffic flow. But what if the cables powering all of this are not up to the job or, worse, undiscovered fakes – bringing unforeseeable problems.
In its Highways White Paper, Tratos has explored the cables purpose‐designed to help keep our motorways moving and are losing out to cheaper off‐the‐shelf products. Lower spec cable that is not designed for (and will fail in) the highways’ harsh operating environments is a real threat to UK PLC, clogging arterial routes and triggering economy‐damaging delays.
Highways England, which has an imperative to cut costs, is paying more, not less, for a built‐to-fail network ‐ but it is not to blame. As it pushes forward with smart motorways, the organisation’s network of contractors manages on a supply and fit basis. Some are being cross‐sold cheaper cable when their preference is not in stock with the reassurance that the replacement ‘does the same thing’. That too is correct, it does, but not for long in a particularly harsh environment it wasn’t designed to cope with.
Max C. Meder: In your Safer Structures Campaign, you draw attention to fire safety standards for cables used in public buildings and residential houses. How important is it to keep the balance between business development and the safety and quality of the products&services?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: Did you know? About 30% of all electrical fires are attributable to faulty wires and cables. In October 2017 the BBC published evidence from an investigation carried out that exposed the fact that a cable manufacturer, has sold 11 million metres of cable to the UK which poses a deeply concerning fire risk.
Finding a balance here is important, but I must underline one thing: SAFETY FIRST. In the Grenfell Tower disaster, the UK has witnessed one of the most shocking failures in building safety. What happened isn’t a random incident and, as subsequent product testing has revealed, it could happen again, if we don’t implement higher CPR standards and stricter testing.
The people have the right to live and work in safe buildings. The UK is a key market for distributors of counterfeit and substandard electrical cable; it is already seen as an easy target in that there is a lack of enforcement to stop rogue importers.
Safer Structures Initiative supporters are pushing for more stringent safety standards for public buildings, offices and homes. Tratos is actively supporting and working with other stakeholders to raise cable standards for safer buildings across the UK.
Max C. Meder: China seeks to become the world’s superpower with the world’s largest economy (on a purchasing power parity basis), manufacturer, merchandise trader, and holder of foreign exchange reserves. At the end of 2017, you received The Big Ben Award, one of the most prestigious awards of the Chinese business community for business leadership. How do you see the future of the Chinese economy and cooperation between the UK and China?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: I have been working in China since 2001, Since then I have been working with the same clients and the same people. Doing business with China is equal to any market.
Honesty and dedication are the secrets to success in any sector. You must respect their culture and you must be honest and have integrity.
From a business point of view, it is evident China and the UK have huge opportunities to explore and cooperate.
From the political point of view, and leaving aside the additional difficulties arising from the ongoing war in Ukraine, China and the UK have a lot of differences and I believe the UK has an immense job in defending and promoting democratic values.
Max C. Meder: You propose the introduction of a new taxation system which could help to achieve a green recovery of the global economy. Can you please tell us more about it?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: I have been so vocal among the government and business circles about the absolute necessity of reforming the carbon tax, as it is paramount to achieving sustainable development and transforming our traditional economy into a circular one. As an entrepreneur, leading the transformation of Tratos UK Ltd to a carbon-neutral company, I am confident, that the knowledge and technology are already available.
The carbon tax has provoked criticism and fierce discussions on how to implement it right. If implemented right, it would be a great asset in fighting climate change and boosting economic recovery and sustainable development.
The truth is, that while everyone has to pay tax, and a carbon tax is a preferred option, the truth is that some more prominent companies go to extreme measures to minimize their contribution where they are based and where they sell.
The new thinking I am introducing is that the new carbon tax must be calibrated against C02 levels created during production and mandatory end-of-product-life recycling.
It would put the Government on the front foot by forcing through a more enlightened and joined-up approach to understanding the ‘real’ cost of goods production. Then, that cost can be repaid, and damage repaired.
That drives two things; both are financial incentives to comply.
First, it is a very persuasive encouragement for companies to look at cleaner ways of producing and disposing of their products, and second, it is a compelling argument for making products that last longer. The tax follows the product where it is made, sold, and recycled. For a circular economy to stand a chance, this kind of thinking has to be looked at.
Tax avoidance by large corporations would be very difficult under this system, so the Government could offset the negative impacts of less affluent members of society who were faced with increased costs for some items.
Unless we act boldly on reforming the carbon tax, and as soon as businesses resume their normal activities, we are risking undoing the temporary reduction of GHG emissions and miss the achievement of the sustainable development goals.
Reforming the carbon tax is paramount to achieving sustainable development and transforming our traditional economy into a circular one. The knowledge and technology are already there. All we need is the determination to catch the momentum created by the Covid-19 pandemic and act boldly.
Max C. Meder: You’re a busy person, there’s no doubt about it. How do you maintain work-life balance? Do you like to practice: work-life integration?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: I have one life and I live at the highest speed I can. All are part of my life and I try to take all the pictures. Personal life is a part of the official and working life, sharing the two worlds is a thought job, but honesty helps to be yourself.
Max C. Meder: How do you define empowerment? How do you empower yourself and others daily?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: Education. education, education. I am a permanent student, and I encourage my people to carry on to lifelong learning. I have initiated the work for setting up the Tratos Academy, which now is fully functional and is driven by the company’s commitment to people development. Investment in people is the foremost way to deliver success for the people and the business in a rapidly changing market.
Max C. Meder: In your opinion, what characteristics make for a successful leader?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: As a Chartered Director, I follow the 7 key principles of public life. All of them are equally important and apply to a successful leader. If you want me to select just three characteristics of a successful leader, I would say:
- Act with Integrity: Be yourself. Do not Compromise. Accept what your conscience tells you. Accept to give an apology, even if not voluntarily. Timely declare and resolve any conflict of interests and relationships.
- Lead by example and be open-minded.
Max C. Meder: Where do you propose business leaders start to think about how to build a global business enterprise? To do that properly, will we need to have a global mindset and a value system that transcends geography?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: If your business is going global, be open-minded and learn fast how to embrace/accept the differences in cultures.
It’s not an easy process. Speaking from my own experience, I was forced to transform Tratos into a global company, as the cable supply chain and our major clients, i.e ports, terminals, and telecoms, are all over the world. Tratos had no choice, but to become global in order to survive in a tough business environment.
The decision to go global or remain local depends on the business environment where your company operates.
Max C. Meder: You support Matt Hancock’s Dyslexia Screening Bill which seeks to ensure that young children have their dyslexia picked up earlier, and can begin to get the proper support they need early in their education. As it stands, an estimated four in five school children leave school with their dyslexia unidentified, meaning that they enter university and the workplace without receiving the support they need. How to help people diagnosed with dyslexia?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: I have my own battle with dyslexia. At that time, it was not recognised as a disease and was wrongfully labelled as laziness. With the help of proper teachers and doctors, I found people that understood my difficulties and helped me to find motivation in my studies and boost my concentration.
We must support children by turning what is wrongly perceived as a weakness into a strength. Making studying as enjoyable as possible for children is a good start.
That’s why I’m supporting Matt Hancock’s Dyslexia Screening Bill, as the earlier we pick up on dyslexia the easier it is to support children and reduce learning difficulties. This imitative will ensure every neurodivergent child can reach their potential and will require universal screening for dyslexia in primary schools.
Max C. Meder: According to international data, approximately 63,000,000 primary age children are out of school across the world. Often being in school isn’t even enough. A lack of properly trained teachers, physical punishment, and out of date learning techniques mean that many children aren’t receiving the education they deserve. You are responsible for launching Esharelife, a charity that raises funds to provide education and professional skills to children and young adults in Kenya’s worst slums. In which way can we help to transform the lives of children through education?
Dr Maurizio Bragagni: I strongly believe in the value of good quality education and only through it, it will be possible to drive positive change in the world.
Access to education and to good quality one is crucial in helping people to lift themselves out of poverty. This is the mission that Esharelife is striving to deliver in Kenya’s worst slums.
Founded on the principle of ‘giving back’, Esharelife Foundation is a charity with one mission – to share life in the digital era. Its goal is to create new, and enriching existing opportunities, for people living in the most disadvantaged areas of the world; to empower them to build a path towards a self-sufficient future.
Esharelife organises events that present the opportunity to all the participants to learn more about the concepts of “giving back to society” & “sharing life in the digital era”, as well as to contribute to delivering more charity projects.
Thanks to volunteers and donors, Esharelife continues to support schools and educational projects in Kenya and raise high hopes and chances for the children to have a brighter future.
Dr Maurizio Bragagni OBE (Officer British Empire) MBA CDir FIoD, CEO of Tratos UK Ltd, Freeman of the City of London, industrialist, public servant and consultant, involved in various socio-economic sectors in the UK and elsewhere globally. He is a philanthropist and has a strong interest in politics, history and diplomacy, on which he writes and publishes.
The interview was conducted by Max C. Meder.