Fibre optic cables, medium and high voltage cables, telephone cables, petrochemical cables, signalling cables and superconductors – In Pieve Santo Stefano, engineer Albano Bragagni builds the filaments of a spider’s web that shrinks and connects the world.
Green, red, yellow, blue, orange, they are rolled up like streamers on light-coloured wooden reels. They form modern bales from a few centimetres high to the size of an elephant, making the company’s forecourt look like an extra-large Montessori playground. This is Tratos, nestled in the green and cool mountains of Pieve Santo Stefano. Albano Bragagni, the owner, knows the characteristics of each of his products. He has conceived, studied, developed and tested them before laying them across sea, land and air, offering surprising and innovative connection opportunities. Fibre optic, medium and high voltage cables, telephone cables, petrochemical, signalling and superconductor cables. They are used in a wide variety of sectors, including automotive, shipbuilding, railway, defence, port facilities and telecommunications.
In Pieve Santo Stefano, every day, the world shrinks a little more and connections grow.
It was 1966 when Egidio Capaccini, together with other partners, founded the copper wire drawing company that would later become a manufacturer of telephone cables for general use and simple technologies. He had the intuition to invest in a traditional sector. He saw that rushing innovation would have upset not only the way of seeing – but also the way of imagining – the future. Only eight years later, when the company was growing and achieving significant results, Egidio died suddenly, leaving 51% of the company’s shares to his wife Elba.
Speaking of Egidio, Albano says: “My father-in-law had vision, far-sightedness and stubbornness.” When he passed away, I was only 23 years old and had been married to his daughter Marta for about a year. It was not an easy time for the family and the company. The company had potential but we couldn’t exploit it even though we had a majority holding. So I decided to move with a leveraged buyout, a structured finance operation used to acquire a company by exploiting its debt capacity. A challenging and risky step for a guy in his early twenties. With the unconditional help of the Cassa di Risparmio di Città di Castello I bought the remaining 49%. I had no money, I was offering bills of exchange as collateral. There were so many fears, so many uncertainties but, finally, we had the company. All that remained was to make it fly”.
With Albano Bragagni at the helm, Tratos Cavi took off quickly. Gradually, it became a dynamic, cutting-edge multinational company, capable of adapting to the market and providing state-of-the-art solutions. In 1978, the company began producing instrumentation and telephone cables, specialising in thermoplastic, elastomeric and expanded polyethylene insulation, as well as flame retardant compounds with low smoke and toxic gas emissions. In 1989, optical cables were produced, while medium voltage cables were added in 1992 and high voltage cables in 2015.
Pieve Santo Stefano was no longer enough. Before that, in 1988, a plant was opened in Sicily, near Catania. In 2008, Tratos Cavi planted its flag across the border, inaugurating a branch in England, near Liverpool. Today more than 350 employees (250 of whom are based in Pieve Santo Stefano) contribute to a turnover of almost 130 million euro per year.
Fifty percent of production is exported: China, Brazil, Cuba, Russia, the United States and European countries such as England, Spain, Germany, Iceland and Finland are the main markets.
In Italy, Tratos produces fibre optic cables for Telecom Italia, Poste Italiane and Telecomunicazioni and works with Enel, Ansaldo Energia, Wind, Ferrovie dello Stato and many others. “We have highly accredited and equipped laboratories, where a group of technicians work in accordance with design requirements to achieve quality assurance. We have a constant dialogue and a constructive exchange of ideas with our customers. They explain the difficulty or objective and we work to find the most effective solution. Lately we have solved the problem of cable theft on the railways by replacing copper with steel and aluminium.”
The company has designed and produces the world’s smallest microcable for broadband connectivity, which can withstand the most extreme weather and climate conditions. It has designed superconductor elements for the Fusion 4 Energy ITER project, which aims to reproduce the power of the sun: obtaining clean energy through fusion. Last year Tratos won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation, the highest accolade for technological innovation conferred by the Queen of England. For the first time in the history of the award, an Italian-born company like Tratos was honoured.
“We have offices around the world but somehow we remain a family business. My two children work alongside me, albeit with different roles that reflect their experience and character. Ennio, who is also the vice-president, is in charge of purchasing and organisation, while Elisabetta manages the commercial side and sales. They have competence and enthusiasm. My brother Germano helps me a lot in the company and is the manager of the Catania plant. My other brother, Marcellino, makes the wooden reels used to wind the cables. My nephew Maurizio runs the UK. My nephew Fabio produces optical fibres and cousin Daniele works in administration”.
The Tratos brand is now recognised everywhere as a guarantee of quality and efficiency. But, although it has feet on the ground in hundreds of countries around the globe, the heart of the company remains in a small town in the province of Arezzo.
“I’ve never thought of moving. Pieve Santo Stefano is not in a bad position geographically or in terms of communication, thanks to its central Italy location and the many connecting roads. But the truth is that I wouldn’t have moved in any case. Here I feel the irreplaceable warmth and the sweet smell of home. I met my wife in the eighth grade and we have been together since high school. Our story has germinated and grown in this land. We should all be aware of the beauty that surrounds us. And be grateful for it. For more than 12 years, every Sunday morning at 7 a.m, I get together with a group of friends and we go for a walk along the paths in our mountains. Over four to five hours to breathe, savour nature, let yourself be guided by freedom and splendour. I know these places like the back of my hand and they never cease to surprise and excite me.
Albano Bragagni is appreciated in the area not only for the achievements and prestige of his company, but also because for 29 years he served as mayor of Pieve Santo Stefano with commitment and passion.
“I was first citizen for almost thirty years and I am currently president of the State Archives. I believe that a municipality should be run just like a business, and Pieve Santo Stefano is now a healthy business. When I was in office, I strongly supported the methanisation of the area: even today the Municipality manages the gas in the area and has a better electricity service than many areas of Arezzo. The organisation has always run an RSA with over 40 guests, open 7 days a week, and a community hospital and intermediate care in support of the long-term hospitalisation offered by the Asl. A Caritas organisation carries out numerous social initiatives and the Fratres blood donor group has more than 200 members. As far as schools are concerned, we have made provision for full-time education in all institutes and since 2003 election polling has been organised outside the school buildings so as not to interrupt lessons. In addition the municipality owns a small bus company that manages the schools’ transport service.
Meticulous, a perfectionist, tireless. Albano Bragagni likes to be there to assess, listen and decide. That’s why he travels extensively (an average of 200 hours a year) to visit each customer and see how the company works. At 46, he graduated in mechanical engineering in Rome.
“You have to set goals and always believe in them. Look for solutions and, if there are none, create new ones. Understand that it is never too late for anything. We have to chase our luck; we have to conquer it. If we decide not to go to the station, we can’t complain that we didn’t catch the train.”
But doing business in Italy is not easy. “Ours is a complicated country. In 46 years as a business owner, I could list the government’s measures in favour of entrepreneurship on one hand. But it is also the most beautiful country. And things won’t change if we don’t all commit to designing a better future.”
This is the highest award for technological innovation and is conferred by the Queen of England. For the first time in the history of the award, an Italian-born company has been honoured. Tratos was awarded the “Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation” for 2019, selected from 100s of companies throughout the country. The merit recognised Tratos’ design and production of its special high-tech cable JBA (Jasmine Bragagni Albano), designed for the oil and gas market and equipped with special technical specifications. The cable has extraordinary resistance to mud, fire and extreme temperatures, and bears the name of the company’s president, engineer Albano Bragagni. Thanks to the award, the Queen’s Award for Enterprise insignia can now be displayed in all Tratos offices and factories. This is recognition at the highest level for the constant research and important results from the company which, over the years, has invested millions of euros both in Italy and in the United Kingdom for the construction of advanced-technology production plants.