Magazine Store

30 Innovators to watch 2023

Our focus is to be the primary outside metering resource for all electric utilities: James Tramel of TESCO


“Our next step is building out TESCO as a digital platform to incorporate our asset management, AMI, hardware, and test expertise.”

Founded in 1904 as The Eastern Specialty Company, TESCO has a rich history of innovation. In 1910, TESCO pioneered the creation of the first Test Switches, and a decade later, in 1920, it further advanced the industry with the development of the first load boxes, test kits, and rotating standards. The 1940s and 1950s marked a period of groundbreaking contributions, as TESCO led the way in introducing large Demand Boards and Meter Test boards for meter shops. By the 1960s, TESCO had firmly established itself as the industry standard for electric meter testing. For over 115 years, utilities have consistently chosen and relied upon TESCO products.

TESCO is headquartered in Bristol, Pennsylvania.

The Silicon Review reached out to James Tramel, Senior VP of TESCO, and here is his response.

Interview Highlights

Q. As a metering leader, what are TESCO’s key focus areas?

Our focus is to be the primary outside metering resource for all our electric utility customers. To that aim, and in my purview, we have product lines in AMI, or smart city / grid technology, asset management, and testing software. Bringing these products together for our customers makes my position at TESCO a source of pride and excitement.

Q. What strategies do you have in place to encourage innovation in your company?

We leverage three key components: growth mindset, inclusiveness, and adaptive positivity. Innovation is at our core, from working with utilities to understanding their needs and delivering excellence. I look to the people I work with to collaborate and lead change through a growth mindset. We are a team that works together. We encourage individuality. Together, we look for ways to improve rather than focusing on the way things cannot work or are stuck. Applying a growth mindset, while creating a safe and inclusive environment where everyone can share ideas, is critical for success and innovation. I first picked up on the importance of growth mindset at Microsoft and brought it along when I shifted to Tesco. Every day, I witness and build upon the infectious, positive, and productive attitude the people at TESCO bring to projects and each other. We create adaptive positivity, a form of continuous improvement in a growth-based perspective, where we all work toward results that can be shared as a team.

Setbacks are a part of every growing business. Tell us about your experience and any roadblocks and learning lessons that helped TESCO grow through the years.

When I joined TESCO, it was not without careful consideration. It was a good time to move away from Big Tech. While I had spent my time collaborating with technical geniuses, innovative leaders, and creative game changers, I wanted to shape my own destiny. So, I turned to applied tech, where I can have a greater impact on our world. When I began my master’s at NYU’s Stern School of Business, I had visions of my own startup or leadership in technology at a large institution. Then I met the people and products at TESCO. In many ways, TESCO is a 115-year-old start-up in growth mode in an industry where opportunity abounds. It just clicked. The electrical industry is critical to every nation’s infrastructure. Creating more secure, efficient, and effective electrical systems helps everyone innovate while conserving our environment. My capstone project at NYU on the undeclared cyber world war speaks to this challenge, and particularly this industry.

Coming from high tech, I quickly became aware of how advanced the world of electrical engineering is. I had taken electricity for granted throughout my life. I flipped a switch, and electricity worked. Reliability and service are table stakes in the electrical industry; products have 50-year horizons. In the AMI world, this can create an uncomfortable situation. TESCO’s partners in AMI, Telco, and communications often look at 10-year horizons rather than 50, with 3G-5G in cellular occurring over just a few years. Bridging this gap is a challenge I am welcome to undertake.

Being new to the electrical industry, I realized quickly that I had a turnaround challenge at Tesco. I needed to integrate and align key priorities to accelerate growth at TESCO. To do this, I needed a mindset shift from owning technology to running a business. I thought I had signed up to bring growth and change to the electrical industry, not to manage billing and supply chains. Then I realized my position at TESCO offered a path to delve deep into all the business components necessary to be a business leader. Learning and collaborating at TESCO has been nothing short of a symbiotic growth experience.

Q. Can you provide us with one or two success stories, detailing specific client challenges and how TESCO’s solutions contributed to their success?

Bringing together multiple teams and businesses is never easy. As we have incorporated new acquisitions and grown sales, applying sound principles, and leveraging new technologies such as DevOps and AI have helped us accelerate technical growth and quality. To that end, we have improved performance on parts of our AMI platform by 400% in just six months, improving response times, reports, and the user experience.

Another success was with the growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs), there needs to be a simple and accurate method to evaluate EV charging systems. Dysfunctional EV chargers can damage an electric vehicle or cause issues with the delivery system itself, which would wreak havoc for customers and utilities. To this end, with our expertise for measuring the accuracy of energy delivery, on Tesla, and other EV auto manufacturers, we have created the first commercially available EV charging station tester. You can now test the accuracy of AC and DC voltages and currents with TESCO’s Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE) Test System TS400. The TS400 is a valuable set with complete testing capabilities that caters to every possible EVSE charging protocol in the world (AC and DC).

Tell us what’s next for TESCO.     

TESCO has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years through organic growth and acquisition, doubling its size in the last two years. This growth has been strategic, looking at vertical integration and expansion in a targeted manner under the leadership of Tom Lawton, our CEO. Part of what is next involves ensuring that strong internal relationships and new protocols within our much larger organization lead to continued innovation and product success, for which TESCO has always been known.

Our next step is building out TESCO as a digital platform to incorporate its asset management, AMI, and test platforms. This step will help utilities and customers leverage their data to make a better plan for change, growth, and climate extremes. We will also use the years of data we have gathered to help inform customers and help them find the best business solutions. We plan to augment and recodify some of the incumbent technologies that have served the industry for many years to help ensure security, reliability, and performance for the future.

James Tramel | Senior VP

James Tramel has been at the forefront of technology for his entire career, supporting the world’s largest companies. He is currently serving as Senior Vice President of Technology at TESCO and General Manager of Nighthawk, TESCO’s AMI division. Prior to TESCO, James was the DevTest product lead for Microsoft’s developer division. His team made a variety of services and products, such as GitHub, Azure, Visual Studio, and VS Code. James’ background is in software development and technology, serving a variety of technical roles and clients and specializing in software, applications, AI, and DevOps.

James recently completed his master’s in risk management from the NYU Stern School of Business. His undergraduate work yielded a BS\BA in Psychology and Philosophy through Creighton University and other institutions with neuroscience graduate work at the Krasnow Institute, George Mason University. In addition to his professional and academic work, James is an internationally known speaker on technology, software, and AI. He was the computer science symposium leader at Millersville University for the 2019–2020 academic year and a board member for the Thaddeus Stevens computer science department for 2018–present.

James lives with his wife and three sons in Lancaster, PA. He credits the support of his wife, Katy, for his success and growth. Outside of technology, James is interested in financial markets, business, and real estate.

“Leveraging new technologies such as DevOps and AI have helped us accelerate technical growth and quality. To that end, we have improved performance on our AMI platform by 400% in just six months.”

“TESCO has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, through organic growth and acquisition, doubling its size in the last two years.”