02 Jun Risky Business with Chris Catrambone
Starting your own busy can be risky. For some businesses, the danger can be both fiscal and physical. How do entrepreneurs measure risk?
In 2006 American-born Chris Catrambone moved his growing conflict zone claims management company, Tangiers International, from the US to Italy. We sat down with Chris recently, to talk about taking risks as an entrepreneur.
You mentioned that moving your company to Italy was riskier than spending a week in Afghanistan.
How, when and why did you decide to move Italy from the US? What was risky about it?
I decided to move in Fall 2006, after I started to understand that if my business was overseas in Afghanistan, I needed to be closer to the activities of the business.
It was risky because I was leaving my comfort zone, English speakers, already established facilities like banks, utilities, shipping service. I was throwing all that comfort and accessibility away to move my business to a country which I had never worked in, but had visited as a tourist. All for the sake of growth: if I was closer to my business, I could grow it. The risk was I could blow all my excess capital on setting up in a foreign land and fall on my face.
I visited Afghanistan for the first time in 2006 as well. Afghanistan was risky because of bombs and terrible insurgency. However, being a risk man, I knew my chances were less than 1%. I had a better chance of dying riding my Vespa in Italy.
What are some risky situations you faced? How did you handle them?
Professional failure, bankruptcy, language issues, limited knowledge of local government, minimal local connections, injury, death. All these were risks.
Professional failure: for Italy, I had to remain focused and dedicated. I couldn’t get too caught up in the relaxed lifestyle of southern Italy. My job was to continue to be that entrepreneur that I set out to be, and not get dissuaded by temptation. Discipline!
Bankruptcy: always a risk, at one point in Italy, my bank account dropped to 30 dollars. But I had saw it coming and had upped my sales game and business-positioning months before. That was a close call though. Foresight and preparation saved me.
Language issues and local matters are always an issue, but easily overcome by attracting the right people around you who bridge the local gap. Recruitment and human connections are very important in this business.
Injury and Death: as a criminologist, one of my favourite theories was that older people are less victimised simply because they don’t go out at night when crime is happening. The same applies in this case. Just don’t take the chance unless you absolutely have to.
You have to take a leap, but it can be mitigated with proper planning.
I did risk safety a few times, and not necessarily for work, but for fun. A midnight run through the Salang Pass to see the Milky Way was probably not one of my best choices but it ended up being one of my most memorable moments. Sometimes you just have to risk it.
Do you still keep a notebook with you? If so, what goes into it?
I always keep a notebook and I wrote my ideas and thoughts, sometimes even poetry. I enjoy to look back and see how I’ve grown as a human being.
Has looking back through your old notebooks inspired you to try new projects?
Yes. Sometimes ideas are not feasible at the moment for a variety of reasons, such as time to dedicate, resources or even a geopolitical matter. But sometimes rogue ideas have perfect timing. Sometimes I ask myself what the hell was I thinking.
Tangiers International continued to expand its worldwide claims and assistance services and now operates a network of more than 80 field agents, 40,000 specialised medical providers and services in 192 countries.
Chris keeps implementing new projects. In 2013 he started the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, (MOAS) a non-profit Malta-based registered foundation dedicated to preventing loss of life to refugees and migrants in distress at sea. To date, the organisation has rescued nearly 14,000 people.