Let’s share my story: On the Business of Italy, the UK, and a Strong Brexit.

Dr Maurizio Bragagni is an entrepreneur and risk-taker. That may sound at odds for a CEO who leads the UK arm of an Italian global business owned by his family, but he is one of the reasons Tratos Ltd is Europe’s leading independent cable maker — and flourishing.

An ability to find and value the right people has been pivotal to the company’s success — that and a culture of innovation where mistakes are seen as a valuable contribution to the learning process and commercial gains as the right solutions presented themselves.

Then there is that twin-nation hub to a global business. Dr Bragagni has strong feelings for and about both. He says: “England is my wife and Italy is my mother — don’t ask me which I love more!”

After finishing a law masters’ degree at the University of Pisa he arrived in the UK almost two decades ago as a Tratos employee. Up until then he’d spent his whole life in Northern Italy and spoke no English.

It was at the company’s UK manufacturing base in Knowsley, Merseyside, he found a source of highly-skilled specialist talent — a remnant of the area’s previous cabling industry — and a hunger for jobs.

Falling in love with his adopted country he quickly learned the language and saw huge potential for closer working relations between the UK and Italy. The aspiration was global and the possibilities were plentiful.

His first steps within the business in Italy were taken with a strongly-held view that ‘you can’t inherit respect’.

The young Maurizio Bragagni set about earning the respect of his colleagues starting on the factory floor, helping make cables. “It was a very important lesson for me. I needed to understand how things look to our people and understand the challenges and frustrations — as well as the satisfactions — from the ground up.”

Later, as CEO and living in London where Tratos has its UK HQ, Dr Bragagni took the decision to study for a masters’ degree (EMBA) at Cass Business School; completing his studies and dissertation in English.

Cass Business School MBA, City University of London

“If you want to run an international business with a British base it helps to be educated locally. What I was missing was the pragmatism of the British people. At Cass they teach you things you can apply to your own business — and that learning has been invaluable. I was able to see my own business from a different perspective, and be better placed to work with its people to achieve a culture change that is benefitting us, our customers and their customers. I was managing the business during a time of great change and the EMBA work was invaluable.

‘If things seem under control, you are just not going fast enough.’

Mario Andretti

“Other insights into the British business culture were useful too. One of the things that struck me about British people is their willingness to take risks. You fight for something, and you fix it. The ability to calculate and then take risks, in business, is to be valued.

“There is a lot I admire and respects about the UK. Britain has had some standout leadership. Whatever your views about her, Maggie Thatcher was strong and focused and ‘in charge’ and Churchill had more than just conviction — he felt a calling, that he was THE man to lead Britain to freedom. I am an unashamed Anglophile. I love everything British down to the clothes I wear and the events and clubs I have attended or joined.

“I have always felt compelled by British culture. As a child while my school friends were playing football, I took up fencing. The reason? I loved pirates; the British fighting the pirates for world fairness and liberty! In history and through a generation of epic films that spoke of the honour of the British Military and how a gentleman must conduct himself I became besotted. I admired all of this so much I decided to fence, drink tea and attempt to understand this culture, this world.

“I am fascinated by British politics, its structure and its heritage. I would describe myself as an Italian Conservative and have been fortunate enough to have some of my own political thoughts published on Politicsmeanspolitics.com.

Alessandra Romeo, Maurizio Bragagni, Theresa May

“My time at Cass Business School taught me how to be an Italian gentleman with a British education in business globally. The love affair continues!”

Applying the best of the Italian and British thinking he was surrounded by, he took the decision to react in a very different way. As all around him competitors cut cost, and consequently quality, as they shipped their manufacturing bases out to developing countries, he continued to exploit every opportunity to bring the two countries closer together for mutual benefit.

Tratos’ own strategy was to compete on quality instead — and the company thrived with Dr Bragagni looking after the running of global operations (outside Italy) under the eye of his uncle, Tratos Cavi’s president Albano Bragagni. He also took the decision to gain control of the company’s raw materials’ supply — something that continues to pay dividends.

A business selling across multiple countries is no longer a simple one. That’s another reason Dr Bragagni sees the importance in Tratos being ‘local’ everywhere — from finding and educating the best people to ensure they have the right skills and product knowledge. The company’s network of offices across the globe guarantees there is always help on hand for Tratos’ customers.

The cable-maker has been successful in attracting local and national government investment in the UK and Dr Bragagni has led the company through major investment in new facilities, creating much needed employment and state of the art centres of excellence for manufacturing and developing next-generation cables.

Investment Tratos’ Group

The company has also broken into new industry sectors with innovative products that improve performance, whether they help save cost thanks to faster, safer installation or solve problems and drive change for good. Tratos works alongside its customers on bespoke design projects and has become the ‘go to’ company for an elegant solution to the most pressing problems faced by utilities, transport, construction, ports, telecoms and fibre optic cables for broadband.

His aim is to lead by example and encourage senior team members to be inspired and inspire. The same can be said of the processes around Brexit. The country needs to be inspired by, and have confidence in, the leaders charged with conducting Britain’s exit.

Balance is the key to Brexit

“Balance will be the key to Brexit success. A compromise where one party is happy and the other is not is not a compromise. Tough negotiation is important, but those around the table will have to give a little to get a little.

“So the parting probably should be bitter-sweet — on both sides.”

Britain’s constitution is a fine example of the benefits of balance and one that Aristotle would recognise and applaud, says Dr Bragagni. Indeed he was at pains to point out the benefits 300 or so years BC. It’s this approach to balance that should come into its own as the UK navigates its way out of Europe, says Remain supporter Dr Bragagni.

Aristotle proposed constitutional forms that would yield the most balanced and productive system for rule.

His approach balances the interests and controls of the dominant wealthy classes with those of the poor and ensures that the interests of the middle classes, those in between the two, have an equal voice.

“The UK uses Aristotle’s model. Balance is in Britain’s DNA — perhaps we should consider looking forward to a strong Brexit, rather than a hard Brexit.”

‘There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. Aristotle

Italy and the UK — a Special Relationship

Passionate about his industry’s ability to drive world-stage progress in customers’ industries; from faster, safer and more efficient processing at the biggest trade ports to super fire-resistant cabling in metro networks, he is just as committed to fostering the best relations between Italy and the UK.

Late last year (2016) Dr Bragagni’s work was recognised with the Keynes Sraffa Award from the Italian Chamber of Commerce for the UK — for ongoing commitment to promoting greater co-operation between the two countries.

Rt. Hon Alberto Costa, Amb. Terraciano, Dr. Maurizio Bragagni, Dr. Leonardo Simonelli

Dr Bragagni has also been a keen and active supporter of the drive for constitutional reform in Italy, and introduction of a two-house system that closely mirrors governance in the UK.

Ahead of advanced Brexit negotiations he brokered an introduction between British-based businesses and former Italian Senate President, Senator Marcello Pera, President of the Italian Senate (2001–2006), who told the gathering that the key to the country’s stability and growth lay with well-executed change.

Dr Bragagni is a member of the worldwide Fiorentini Association. His membership sees him take his place within a large and diverse international community dedicated to keeping Florence and its sons and daughters at the centre of fresh thinking on business and economics while promoting the city’s arts, culture and more.

Dr Bragagni was fortunate to be among those who met with HRH Prince Charles during his recent visit to Florence, where he confirmed the importance of trade relations and his love of the country.

That meeting, and newspaper headlines at the time, prompted Dr Bragagni to raise a perspective ignored by the media.

“I wanted to explain why I thought it puzzling that Italy backing the European Union in its stance on Brexit negotiations should be heralded as headline news? The European Union has a duty to back its member states and their interests first, but one of those interests must be continued trade with the UK. The UK is a key market for many Italian industries, and likewise Italy for the UK.

“While Angela Merkel has made it clear that the UK can’t expect the same rights as EU members going forward, she was also at pains to issue the reminder that Germany and other member states did not want this exit — but will deal with it.

“The headlines followed remarks made by Italy’s junior minister for European affairs, Sandro Gozi. What he actually said seemed closer to an argument for reasonable negotiations where mutual gains were possible. He also added that he felt ‘sure the UK is interested in having an orderly and efficient negotiation.’ He went on to confirm his confidence that the UK will know how to pursue its interests, as the European Union would pursue its own.

“He talked about commitment from both sides in limiting any potential damage in the relationship between the two nations. Immediate priorities included the status of Italian residents in the UK and the financial bill, but alongside these was the desire to continue to enjoy ‘a strong relationship to the UK on security and trade.’ As the head of a business with one foot in the UK, one foot in Europe and customers world-wide, I was keen to read between the headlines.

“Many countries outside of Europe trade with those within it — China and Japan for example. Surely the understanding gained from 40 years working as a partner nation should be better used to ensure that Britain stays fit and in the frame for business and international talent during negotiations and after them.”

Dr Bragagni is behind a number of campaigning initiatives to drive better business in the UK for this Italian-owned company, and improved outcomes for customers and their customers. These include a focus on winning support for breaking BT’s broadband monopoly (a process now underway), introducing faster connectivity for UK PLC, and a White Paper on the hugely negative impact of fake cable for Britain’s smart motorways and the businesses that rely on them.

Tratos is one of the foremost industry adopters of new Construction Products Regulation for cable and has gone one further, announcing that all Tratos cable will exceed CPR minimum standards.

He is a board member of PEMA (Port Equipment Manufacturers Association), a member of BCA (British Cables Association), ANIE Federation (representing the electrotechnical and electronic companies operating in Italy), EEF (The Manufacturers’ Organisation) ACI (Approved Cables Initiative), IOD (Institute of Directors) and Oil & Gas UK.

He is also a non-executive director of UK mobile personal health monitoring start-up siHealth Ltd as well as a devoted patron of the arts. Dr Bragagni is behind a new charity Esharelife which provides a sales-platform connecting artists’ work and customers — with a share of sales benefitting good causes.

And there is more to come from Dr Bragagni, in some respects he is just getting started and as an entrepreneur and risk taker you possibly would expect nothing less.

‘When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.’

Lao Tzu

Dr Bragagni has been married to Alessandra since 2003 and together they have four daughters. Dr Bragagni splits his time between working in the UK and his trip around the world.