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In Her Words: Learning to Lead with STEP Ahead Award Honoree Andrea Rago

May 23, 2022


Congratulate Andrea Rago for her recent recognition as one of the top talents in her industry, and she’ll quickly deflect, “I'm not about celebrating me in my core.” 

But don’t confuse her humility for a lack of drive. Andrea Rago is relentlessly driven. It’s just that for her, the goal isn’t winning. It’s learning. 

In her 22-year career with Trane – by Trane Technologies (NYSE:TT), a global climate innovator – Rago’s primary motivator has been forward progress. “I'm constantly wanting to learn. I like to dig in, understand, and then really learn something. Forward momentum is very important to me.”

Recently awarded a Manufacturing Institute's STEP Ahead Award for her leadership, mentorship, and advocacy for women in manufacturing, Rago admits that she’s taken a learner’s approach to her own development as a leader. “It’s a lot about testing. It’s trial and error. Nobody knows how to lead people right out of the gate. You have to be authentically you first.”

Building a Culture of Trust
Rago leads by encouraging that authenticity in others. “There’s this tripod of the people, the process, and the business,” she says. “The people side is critical for me. If we can get the people right, then make sure we’ve got the processes to help the people be successful, the business will come. So I start with the people.” Align them around a common vision, she continues, “and then let them shine.”

She recognizes that a people-forward style of leadership needs a culture of trust. “For me, trust is about if someone’s actions and words align. That’s the first step of trust. There's something here that we can build from.”

Building trust takes time, Rago concedes. When she first made the shift from sales into service, she quickly realized she'd need a way to earn the trust of her team. So she decided to offer quarterly breakfasts for her technicians. “The first one was awkward. They’re all men. They’re all sitting there. Everyone’s eating their eggs, trying to figure me out.” Midway through the second year, the technicians started sharing their experiences with her. “In those years, I learned the most — by a long shot. It was also the most fun. It reaffirmed that I love having a crew, being a part of a team, and building camaraderie, and I’ve continued to do that since.”

Equipped with Resilience
Rago credits a notoriously difficult math teacher for teaching her to trust the process. “It was brutal,” she laughs. “He taught us not to memorize a thing. It was first principles, first principles in everything we did. We had to go back to first principles and take it from the very beginning. And it used to drive us crazy in the class. But,” she continues, “when you can actually step back and say, wait a minute, let's start from the beginning, work through it, and get some speed and efficiency? Doing that you can solve anything. And if something goes wrong? OK, let's learn from it. Make adjustments. But let's continue to move forward.”

Her practical resilience has served her well. In an industry that is still nearly two-thirds male, Rago hasn’t questioned whether she belonged. “I’ve never really looked at myself as a woman in a sea of men. I mean, I see it, but it hasn't actually changed my approach. Because I'm just pressing forward.” This level-headed approach extends to her mentoring. “I’m happy to support and help women because I want women to be lifted. But I would equally lift a man who came to me and said, ‘Hey. Can you help me figure out how to work through this?’"

Not surprisingly, Rago is a valued mentor. No matter whom she's coaching, her fundamental message is always authenticity. “Find your authentic ‘you,’ meaning what really drives you. Because if you enjoy what you do authentically, you are much more likely to bring value to the business and the people you work for.”

Rago's own sweet spot is where her engineering mind and empathetic intuition intersect. “I'm in tune to others’ emotions, but I'm fact-based: ‘Here’s the situation. Here's the potential paths forward. Now let's go and do it.’ I get so much satisfaction out of watching other people find themselves and shine.” 

It’s a rare combination of strengths, but Rago knows that there are others like her out there. In fact, one of her goals is to help future engineers see broader opportunities in the manufacturing industry. 

“There are other possibilities with an engineering degree, with the problem-solving and the methodology of thinking that comes with an engineering degree,” she explains. “What you could do with it doesn't have to just be, ‘Fix my widget.’ I like to bring those opportunities to the table for people.” 

For her work as a STEM advocate inside the company and in the broader community, Rago has been awarded two Trane Technologies President’s Awards. But again, she is quick to temper any accolades. “It doesn’t seem exemplary to me. I’ve always wanted to support and promote engineering with young people, whether they’re emerging leaders or young girls in school. If somebody brings up an opportunity to highlight the coolness of being a nerd, I’m all for it!”

So what’s next for a leader who is always learning?
Today, Rago is charging ahead at the helm of the Industrial Refrigeration team within Trane Technologies’ Life Sciences Solutions.

She’s excited about the way her desire for forward momentum aligns with Trane Technologies’. In Industrial Refrigeration, we're carving a business for our company that supports life science customers. Examples are blood products and tissue donation that supports life-saving work -- all of that needs cold storage. (I want) Trane Technologies' Life Sciences to be the go-to quality provider that cares about the customers and brings great products and services to the table.”

“There are two reasons I took this job,” she continues. “One was, if we do this right, we can bring goodness into the world supporting the procedures and processes that help humans stay healthy. There’s something really powerful there. And then the other reason is that it’s a startup. So it has all these tentacles. The possibilities are endless.” She pauses, then adds, “It's a matter of focusing and grabbing the right ball, running with that ball, then grabbing the next ball, and pressing forward. That part is super exciting. It's an example of a path that I didn't even see for myself. It's an example of ‘Oh wow, this is a possibility.’ 

For the foreseeable future, Andrea Rago will keep redefining what’s possible. “I don’t have my next step mapped out,” she laughs. “I just want to keep pushing forward and keep learning.” 

In Her Words is a three-part series highlighting the Manufacturing Institute’s 2022 STEP Ahead Award Honorees and Emerging Leaders. The STEP Ahead Awards “recognize women in science, technology, engineering and production careers who exemplify leadership within their companies. This national honor identifies top talent in the manufacturing industry and further encourages award winners to mentor and support the next generation of female talent to pursue modern manufacturing careers. The STEP Ahead Awards give women across the country a platform to showcase the incredible opportunities the industry has to offer, whether they are running the company, designing the next big product or testing innovations on the shop floor.”

Trane is a strategic business of Trane Technologies, a global climate innovator. Trane Technologies brings bold thinking to our customers to advance the conversation on sustainability and achieve more through sustainable climate solutions for buildings, homes, and transportation. We're leading the way to a better future, and we boldly go.

Kasey Boxleitner

About the author
Andrea Rago, Industrial Refrigeration Business Leader

Andrea Rago is the Industrial Refrigeration Business Leader for Trane Technologies Life Science Solutions. Prior to starting her current role in January of 2022, Andrea spent over 22 years of her career in the Trane Commercial business. She held various sales-related roles including Sales Engineer, System Sales Manager of the New England District, Service Sales and Operations Leader and most recently the Director of Services Product Management. For her undergraduate degree, Andrea attended the University of Western Ontario where she graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. In May of 2021, she completed her global MBA at the University of Manchester Alliance Business School and Kelley School of Business. She currently lives in Old Saybrook, Connecticut with her family.