It’s all people and relationships: A tribute to Harry Wragge

My good friend and boss of many years, Harry Wragge, passed away recently. I want to pay tribute to his leadership and the way he influenced not only my career, but countless others who worked with him. His major contributions to Australian telecommunications have been extensively documented elsewhere. I want to focus on his leadership and share just one of many stories that illustrates how he guided me on a career trajectory from which I have not deviated. 

I want to take you back to a time early in my career when Harry was Director of the Telstra Research Laboratories. I was meeting with him to discuss a problem I had encountered with a purchasing proposal. I told him the proposal had stalled in the accounts department. I must have sounded like a broken record, complaining over and over that we had a problem with the accounts department. Harry asked me several times who the problem was with, but he was not getting through to me! Finally, exasperated, he fixed me with his one good eye and asked, “But who is the person? What is their name?”

I told him the issue was being handled by Bill.* Harry responded, ‘Ok, now let’s think about Bill and what he wants.’ Then he said, ‘There is no such thing as the accounts department. Organisations are just people. It’s all people and relationships.’ Harry’s words struck me like a thunderbolt. I realised we had not considered what Bill needed to hear or addressed what he wanted to see in our submission. Once we did so, he approved the revised proposal almost immediately. 

It’s a lesson that has stayed with me to this day. I regularly pass on Harry’s simple but profound sentiment, ‘It’s all people and relationships.’ He knew people are at the heart of nearly every aim we set. He taught me that each person views our invitations and offers through their own lens. As leaders, we need to adopt a tailored approach that recognises what each individual needs to hear before they will do what we want them to do.

I will be forever grateful to Harry Wragge for his guidance and leadership. He was a thorough gentleman who practised what he preached and treated people with dignity and respect. 

My condolences to his three daughters, Sue, Jennie and Kate and my thanks to them for supporting this tribute to him.

Vale Harry S. Wragge AM (1929-2023) 

🙋 Who has been an important role model in your career and what did they teach you? 🙋‍♀️

Best regards, Brian

*Not his real name