Sraffa Keynes Award – Acceptance speech (2016)

12nd November 2016

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, Good evening.

It is a very great honour to be here this evening, amidst such illustrious and inspiring company.

When I received the news from Leonardo that I would be awarded with the Sraffa Keynes, I immediately perceived the weight of  the responsibility. So many more illustrious gentlemen before me have received this awards. So I asked Leonardo, if he was sure of the selection? He answered  “Sometimes we can make a mistake….So I was realised by the weight…”

Always it is a pleasure to spend time with my Italian colleagues within the UK’s business, professional and academic communities.   It’s a great place to listen, and to learn.

This event celebrates success and it celebrates promise.  In recognising Britain’s Italian talent these awards are valuable because they’re also acknowledging that my colleagues here today are the ones to watch

I look forward to taking the journey with them, and anticipate with pleasure, the unexpected and the unusual that, together, will make a difference.

Why Tratos chose the UK

As CEO of Tratos UK I am incredibly proud to be part of a family business of 50 years’ standing.  I am proud of its successes, of its beliefs and its abilities, I’m proud of where we’ve come from as well as where we’re going.

This is a family-owned business, yes, but you can’t inherit respect.  The best family businesses make sure that they follow best practice for the best businesses.  There is a saying.  As appoint As, and Bs appoint Cs.  Our management board is made up of the right people with the right skills.

One of the reasons we chose to base some of our manufacturing factory space over here was down to access to a highly-skilled workforce.  Cable manufacture has been a dominant industry in the North West, and particularly Merseyside, for many years.  Much of yesterday’s new cable technology was born in those forerunner factories. 

We have a global business, with offices worldwide that keeps us close to our customers, but we manufacture in Italy and the UK. This is the evidence that it is possible to produce in developed countries such as Italy and Uk, and export all around the world.

Why is the company profitable?

Up there with this access to skilled talent – one of the biggest attractions for an innovation-focused company like Tratos – is the exchange of ideas and thinking. 

You see innovation isn’t always just about product – although that is a very big and important part.  Sometimes it’s about how you do business, not just what it is you make.

When looking for commercial advantage – so that you can enhance product and get a better deal for your customers – sometimes it’s about other kinds of access.

In the cable world, for example, raw materials, mineral resources – they are pivotal to our ability to produce and evolve.  In Tratos’ world it didn’t make sense to allow cartels to control the resources we rely on to deliver the promise to our customers and manage what we need.

So, now, we don’t deal with cartels, we don’t deal with middle men – we own our own resources.  It sounds simple.  It makes life simpler and delivery for a set price real.  It allows us to plan.  So it was about different thinking.  This was about thinking about innovating the business rather than pure product innovation.

We also very quickly realised that, just because other cable companies turn away from cable orders that go way beyond standard, we didn’t have to.  We have innovation in our blood after all!

So yes, we said two things to customers.  1.  If no one makes it, if you can’t buy it anywhere, come and talk to us and, 2. If no one makes it and you can’t buy it and you want to be involved in bringing the answer to market – work together with us.

Surely the best route to customer care excellence is availability, willingness, genuine interest, shared goals and a keenness to pitch in.  Keeping close to customers, understanding their needs and meeting them, sometimes even before they understand them themselves, has got to add value.

Why does this make sense for Tratos

For us all of this works.  Our customers are clear about budget and clear about the kind of help they can expect from us.  Long standing customers know also that the process of working with us is fun as well as a smart move for high performance and technologically advanced cable.

Businesses have to grow, and sometimes to do that they have to shift from their centre of gravity.  Sometimes things in the marketplace, the things they can’t control, happen and there are aftershocks that follow.  Shocks that shake the foundation of the business – well in my view these are not always unwelcome.  Reshape, reform, regroup and regain ground.

Look at the recent debate over BT and Openreach.  BT Cables makes huge quantities of one standard copper reliant cable.  It has remained too specialised and Britain’s broadband has been denied fibre to the home because it hasn’t suited the gatekeeper business.

Things have to change, or change will be forced.  Anticipating the appetite for change and being among its drivers, even if there is a big financial outlay at the front-end will win out over businesses that choose to remain welded to old technologies and block the new.

The compound negative effect of Britain’s broken broadband has set UK Plc back years.  Clever businesses have to work with growth or risk going under.

Tratos has a different business model.

We invest in cable making machines that can produce a wide range of products.

We lowered our investment in old technology (copper) and are investing in new technology (fibre).

Having several sites enables us to escalate production of a specific product on another site when needed and also change production at a site to a different kind of cable. This gives the company a future and its customers access to some welcome, responsive flexibility.

Big investment is not just brave; if it’s clever investment that’s well informed it’s insurance, it’s the future.

We see ours as a modern approach to manufacturing in a very traditional industry.  Its roots may be traditional, but its future is as it always has been, in empowering, connecting and communicating.

Tratos’ multidisciplinary facilities enable us to be competitive and move to where the work is.  Cable production has been a declining industry in the UK, Tratos recognised this and learned the lessons.  We are changing our approach to the way we run our business.

Lots of factories working in silos will never have the ability to switch to manufacturing the cable of the moment. Tratos is nimble and organised, so we have the capability to produce more than one cable product from the same machine.  So, we can build what customers want, when they want it.  Cables – but tailor-made.

British success is in more than just great style and quality.  It’s substance too.  I would argue that manufacturing will once again play a pivotal part in making Britain great again, and I’m sure that everyone in this room would agree that there’s never been a more exciting time to be here and contributing to the country’s rise.

The UK has been beset by problems in our industry.  Substandard cable has been an issue that has dogged its reputation and caused knock on problems for the projects that unwittingly relied on it.

If we, in Britain, go back to manufacturing our own products then we will own those standards again and will lock out the fraudsters.  We already have quality products available here in the UK. Standards, quality and price are interlinked and we need to return to a fixed price for the standard and quality that is demanded.  If we buy without checking the quality – of absolutely ANYTHING – then it is our own fault when mistakes are made.  We have to own and adhere to the right check to maintain control and enjoy better standards as the norm.

At Tratos we are fortunate indeed.  We manufacture with one foot in the UK and the other in Italy at the heart of Europe.  With open arms we embrace the rest of the world, we stay curious and we collect great ideas and press them into service for the best products for customers and for us, to be the best that we can be.

I would like to sincerely thank you for this award and wish you all a great evening.