Automation Suppliers Get The Message

Nov. 1, 2003
Judging from my e-mail inbox and other conversations regarding my September editorial on leadership, it is a high interest topic for Automation World readers.

And rightly so, since there is a very high probability that everyone who reads this is already a leader.

This month, our editorial staff had a unique opportunity to talk to several leaders in the technology provider part of the automation industry, and it is interesting to note the many similarities. I heard several mentions about looking at what IBM has done in the computer industry and trying to use that example as a guide for reinvigorating companies in our industry. The two examples most mentioned were services and alliances.

Dave Petratis, named president of Schneider Electric in the United States in December 2002, stopped by our offices to explain the challenges of re-energizing a 100-year-old company (yes, Square D, one of the Schneider acquisitions of the 1990s, is 100 years old this year). One of his leadership lessons is using every communication means to present his message to employees. He mentioned the IBM example of using alliances and services as the foundation of growth.

Rich Ryan, vice president of Rockwell Automation (the other automation company celebrating its centennial this year), in an interview in the October issue of Automation World, pointed out how important obtaining additional services is to its customers. He also explained the technology foundation for future software products.

Invensys is a new company composed of many familiar brands. In another recent interview, Steve Young, vice president and general manager of IA Platforms (the Foxboro business), explained how the company is remaking its portfolio on the foundation of ArchestrA. This technology is built upon Microsoft .Net and is clearly the key to the company’s future success.

Also pointing to IBM’s success in providing services as a profit center were vice presidents Gregg Williams, Brad Kramer and Dave Biros. During a recent conversation I had with this trio, it became evident that ABB is not afraid to take a risk to earn new business. It will write service contracts where the customer pays for performance.

Craig Bauer, new president and chief operating officer of Omron Electronics, also shared with us recently how he is reorganizing the Schaumburg, Ill.-based organization into groups that will be more closely aligned with customers. Once again, a new leader is bringing in a sense of renewal and purpose.

While this is just a snapshot of our entire industry, these examples show that there is reason for optimism in the automation business, with leaders like these, plus many more that I haven’t mentioned. I like several things that I hear. “Focus on customers” is an oft-stated goal, to the point of being trite, but I sense that these people really feel that their companies must do that or they will not grow. It is encouraging that so many are willing to look at successful companies outside the industry for ideas.

Supporting education is an excellent way to provide leadership within one’s community and within the industry. Recently, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation provided a $226,332 grant to fund the Articulation and Integration of Manufacturing Education program within the Grand Rapids, Mich., public school system, to encourage students to pursue manufacturing engineering careers.

Similarly, Elau, supplier of motion control systems, donated $16,000 worth of equipment to the Center for Automation and Motion Control at Alexandria Technical College, in Alexandria, Minn. Center Director, Dr. Ken Ryan, has taken a leading role with the Open Modular Architecture Control (OMAC) Packaging Working Group.

What have you and your company done lately to promote students and the industry?

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