Please meet...Mladen Vratonjić, chair of the board, TCCA

01 February 2022

What was your big career break?
I had just started working in the police telecommunications department when a superior from the Ministry of the Interior approached me and asked me what I thought about TETRA. Since I had been dealing mainly with wired telecommunications until then, I started studying (then quite scarce literature) in order to understand what it was about. I quickly understood that this was a revolutionary advance in the field of professional radio communications and began to think about persuading Minister and government officials to procure a TETRA system for the needs of our emergency services. In less than two years, the first TETRA radios were in use on the streets of Belgrade by the police. I started meeting people from the world TETRA community and giving the first lectures and presentations. Through years of hard work and enthusiasm, believing that my work is beneficial to the wider community, I finally came to the position of chair of TCCA’s Board, the world's most respected association in the field of critical telecommunications, a position I am very proud of.

Who was your hero when you were growing up?

I grew up with James Bond movies, I have been watching them all my life and I didn't stop enjoying them, and admiring the main character, as long as they kept an ironic distance from reality. However, when I grew up a little and began to face more serious life temptations, I realized, and I still think to this day, that my real hero was my (albeit early deceased) father. His moderation and restraint, understanding, tolerance, his moral strength and his explicit advice to pursue something concrete in life, a profession that does not depend on the political situation or climate in which you live, are something I try to convey to my children.

What would you do with US$1m?

Despite the fact that people often disagree, I have not given up on the vision that a good education is the key to success in life. An educated person, with a lot of interests, who is constantly working on self-improvement, is a satisfied individual who can also make a positive impact in society. I was lucky that in some different times in my country, I graduated at a respectable high school and a prominent college, and I feel good about it. Therefore, I would invest the money in the top education of my children, and to support the education of as many other children as possible.

Where would you live if money was no object?

Forty years ago, it would have been much easier for me to answer this question than it is today. Since I love the sun, I don't like winter, I love the sea, I don't like snow, I would choose a lively city on the sea, on the coast. Over time, however, you realize that life satisfaction depends on who you are with, whether your friends are around you, how fulfilling your daily life is, whether you can do the things you love, whether you have something in common with the people who live there, and who you meet every day. All these can change your priorities. It would be important for me that the location is environmentally conscious, that the collar of the white shirt I wear in the morning, stays white in the evening too, and that the political situation is such that the election results do not change anything in my life except maybe the amount of taxes I have to pay.

If you had to work in a different industry, which one would you choose?

I have been dealing with telecommunications for forty years, I have been doing what I was educated for all my life and I am satisfied. From this perspective, it is quite difficult to assess what else I could do. One of the areas that have always attracted me, especially when I was younger, is space exploration. Even in a short period of my life, I was in a dilemma whether to study astronomy. However, having in mind the extremely uncertain future of astronomers in a country whose needs are probably one astronomer every five years, I concluded that it is better to stick to telecommunications.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Throughout my career, I have been on different sides, each with its own challenges and demands. While managing quality control in production, the big challenge was not to give in to the pressures of suppliers on the one hand and customers on the other and to ensure that everything is tested, manufactured, checked and delivered on time. During the work in the police, it was necessary to ensure the procurement of the best equipment at the lowest prices in compliance with the law and regulations (which is often contradictory). In the end, your responsibility comes down to one thing: when a police officer presses a push to talk, he must get a connection! I have always seen myself as someone who helps communication between people. Telecommunications is just a tool here. The association I chair should include all stakeholders in critical telecommunications. Interests within the board of directors are often opposed, and it is up to me to help find a consensus and a generally acceptable solution to all issues and problems. That could be considered my biggest challenge in my current job. However, TCCA’s Board is a group of serious and responsible people, with a common vision, so this does not present a real challenge. Usually.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I don't know where I heard that anymore or who told me, but I have always remembered the advice that there are no unimportant jobs, and that nothing you do is in vain. Several times in my life it has been shown that the knowledge I gained out of curiosity or along the way, can be essential for the work I do, or open up some new vistas and directions of action that I was not aware of until then.

If you could dine with any famous person, past or present, who would you choose?

My great inspiration in the professional and human sense is the great American scientist of Serbian origin, Professor Michael Pupin. Inventor (“Pupin's coils” and numerous other patents), founder of NASA, founder of IEEE, for decades a professor at Columbia University, where Pupin Physics Laboratories are still located today, also known as Pupin Hall as home to the physics and astronomy departments. He was also the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, a spiritual man who wrote: "It is hoped by strengthening our understanding of the physical realities, these narratives will reform our mental attitude and make it better prepared for the recognition of the truth that physical and spiritual realities are the fruit of the same tree of knowledge, which was nurtured by the soil of human experience."  Knowing that he was a professor to later Nobel Prize winners, a contemporary and acquaintance with Tesla and Einstein, as well as a great patriot, benefactor and supporter of his compatriots, I am convinced that dinner and conversation with him would be an exceptional and unique pleasure.

What’s the greatest technological advancement in your lifetime?

Many revolutionary things have happened in the field of technology during my life. Of course, I remember the time before mobile telephony and the time before the Internet. The computer on which I studied programming at university occupied an entire room, had 32K of memory, and used punched cards as input media. However, I believe that nothing has changed people's lives in such a revolutionary and essential way as the entry of television into every home. From a wooden box with poor reception of a single channel (my first TV when I was seven) to today's perfect multimedia devices, all in just one human generation. This is a technological achievement with far-reaching social, psychological, cultural, anthropological and many other implications.