Bruno Tirone, founder, president and CEO of Long Branch-based MRA International, a 50-employee, top-ranked HP partner, oversees a firm whose revenue he projects to land between $35 million and $40 million in 2020.
It’s a far cry from 1974, the year Tirone emigrated from Benevento, Italy, to the United States without any money in his pocket. “I was 17 years old,” said Tirone, who is now 63. “I was staying with my sister. I came over on my own, I worked and paid for my schooling — for my technical school, trade school — for two years. And from there I kept on going.”
In the United States, Tirone studied and found work, toiled extremely hard, continued to learn and move onward and upward, listened to and acted on what he felt in his gut, and answered with his heart.
Some 46 years after that extremely modest beginning, he is a “rags to riches” success story.
There are a few key periods in Tirone’s life, but perhaps the most important was in 1999. That was when Tirone asked himself, “Why do I need to work for someone else? I said to myself, ‘I have the customers, I know where to get the product, I know how to buy the product, I have some funds that I can use, so why do I need to work for somebody else?”
Never Give Up on Your Dreams
Here’s his “never give up on your dreams” path: For 1.5 years he was a television technician, then started servicing word processors and eventually became a field engineer, fixing computers at customer sites for Wang Laboratories. At that point, he said to himself, “This is crazy. I can be a way better salesperson than the people they have,” so he entered the world of sales at Memorex Telex. “From ’86 to ’96, I was extremely successful in sales, until the company went out of business.” For the next three years, Tirone continued as a sales rep for other distributors; during this time, he became familiar with the Unix platform and was introduced to Compaq.
MRA International was next. The company is named for his children’s (Maria, Rosaria and Angelo) initials, and he added “International” because he was born in Italy. The company resold Compaq computers to state and local government, K-12 schools and to institutions of higher education.
“It was just me, out of my basement,” he said. Eventually, his wife, Joanne, told him that she loved what he was doing, but he needed to move MRA International out of the basement. “Otherwise,” she said, ‘I’ll move you out with the company.’ And I said, ‘No honey, you can’t do that,’” Tirone recalled with a laugh.
MRA International found a new home and new hires, starting with a secretary; and the firm now has about 50 people in its employ. That number balloons slightly in summer due to temporary help for summer projects. Apart from the Long Branch location, which is home to the corporate offices, there are two other locations: one in Trenton and the other in Florida.
Today the company provides hardware, software and technology solutions to government agencies, public and private schools, universities and nonprofit organizations.
Leadership Based on Trust
Tirone’s view of leadership is multifaceted, but it emphasizes trust. “Leadership means to me the ability to be open-minded, listen to the people that work for you, and try to get the best out of themselves.” He then elaborated: “If a person is an introvert, don’t try to change him to make him an extrovert. Use their assets, not their negatives. Make them comfortable, and bring them along, too. And let them be successful. When they’re successful, I’m successful.”
There are three things he always tells his employees that he needs to do: stay in business, take care of his employees, and take care of his customers. “If I don’t do number one, two and three don’t matter. If I do number one, but don’t do number two, I’m out of business. So those three have to be in conjunction.”
Tirone agrees that there is, as at the beginning, always a fear about running and maintaining MRA International. “[The] fear that I’m making the wrong decision? That’s every day. I have 50 families that depend on me. I make the wrong decision, and 50 families won’t get paid. That’s [the fear], a normal thing. The ability to know your responsibility. I’m flying without a net. I own a company, and whatever decision I make, I impact 50 families, which means if you calculate an average of three people per family, that’s 150 people that I affect. So, before you make a decision, you have to think about it. Not once. A million times.”
For Tirone and MRA International, the trust between the top seat and employees is reciprocal. “If you’re running a company from one person to five people, it really doesn’t matter because you can do the whole thing yourself,” he said. “But even up to 10 people and above, you’re going to need people to help you to run the company, which means you have to trust people. How do you trust people, and why would they trust you? That is key. They have to be able to trust you. They have to know that you are not there to hurt them. They have to know that you have their back 1,000%. Because if they feel they are not safe, or if they feel you are not making sure they’re covered, they will not be responsive to you.
“They have to trust you.”