Schneider Electric Touts Customer Focus at U.S. User Event

Held for the first time in the United States, the Schneider conference and exhibition featured a welcome to “the new electric world,” while offering plenty for automation and controls customers as well.

“Smart energy for a smarter world,” proclaimed Dave Petratis, as he held up a copy of the day’s “Wall Street Journal” containing a large advertisement from Schneider Electric.

As part of a new global awareness campaign touting the capabilities of the $14.8 billion, France-based global supplier of electricity management and automation products, the ad was timed to coincide with a Schneider Electric customer conference and exhibition being held for the first time in the United States. Called “Initi@tive 2006: The Gateway to the New Electric World,” the Sept. 28-30 event was hosted by Schneider at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, in Orlando, Fla. It attracted some 1,450 Schneider Electric customers and prospects.

On a mission

 Petratis, who described the ad campaign during his opening session keynote, is president and chief executive officer of Schneider Electric’s North American Operating Division, based in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, Ill. And during his remarks, Petratis alluded to a classic 1980 movie that was set in the Chicago area. “If you remember the Blues Brothers movie, where Jake and Elwood were on a mission from God,” he said, “at Schneider Electric, we’re on a mission for the customers,”
Petratis told the audience.

Among other customer-centric activities, Petratis said that Schneider closely tracks important customer parameters such as on-time deliveries, and surveys more than 1,000 customers each quarter to better understand customer needs. “Our surveys show that we have driven almost six points increase in customer satisfaction, and were not satisfied. We truly want to be the industry standard for quality, and be your best value off the truck, whatever your product selection may be.”

Echoing those comments was Chris Curtis, who in June was named president of Schneider Electric USA. The company is committed to providing “the best possible customer experience,” Curtis told the audience during his opening day remarks. The company strives to meet this goal not only by listening closely to customers about their needs, he said, but also by extending Schneider’s capabilities through appropriate acquisitions, through innovation, and through hiring and extensive training of high-quality people as employees.

Global, yet local

Petratis and Curtis also both made reference to Schneider Electric’s philosophy of fostering local expertise and manufacturing as a way to better serve customer needs. “We have over 100,000 employees in 184 countries, and 207 factories that can service your needs anywhere in the world, with 47 of those factories right here in North America,” Petratis said. “I think one of the strong things to understand about our business is that we manufacture locally in the markets that serve the regions that we sell.” The company also spends more than $500 million globally on new product
development and research, he said.

The strategy seems to be serving the company well. Schneider Electric saw record organic growth of 11.3 percent during the first half of 2006, according to Petratis. “And it was the first time in the history of Schneider Electric when all our regions of the world were up,” he added during a press conference later.

As a company that traces its roots to 1836, Schneider Electric today has some 90 brands, many of which are involved in what Petratis calls “the business of harnessing electrical power into smart energy. We are the global pure play in smart electricity,” he said. “If it doesn’t have electrical current, we’re probably not in it. If it has electrical current, were finding ways to service it and enhance it.”

With brands including Merlin Gerin, Square D and MGE UPS Systems, Schneider Electric claims the number one position worldwide in electrical distribution. But the company is also number two globally in automation and control markets, with brands including Telemecanique, Square D and t.a.c (for TourAndoverControls), Petratis said. Schneider also added recently to its automation stable with the acquisition last year of Elau, a packaging controls company, and this year’s acquisition of Citect, a provider of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and manufacturing execution system (MES) products.

Petratis believes that Schneider’s strong standing in both the power and automation markets positions the company well to grow its business in energy management, which is becoming increasingly important as energy costs rise. Schneider’s installed base in power also helps the company gain inroads to grow its automation and controls business, Petratis said.

Automation outlook

On the automation side, Schneider’s North American Operating Division is having “a very good year,” confirmed Andy Gravitt, senior vice president, automation & control. During an afternoon press conference and in an interview with Automation World, Gravitt cited a number of recent new products among the drivers.

The division introduced about 35 new automation and controls products last year, Gravitt said, including a new line of drives that is growing at a 17 percent annual rate. Schneider will introduce a new mid-range programmable logic controller (PLC) called the Modicon M340 at the beginning of 2007, he added, and is also introducing new safety PLC products. These products were among those being shown in the Initi@tive exhibit area, which totaled about 70,000 square feet.

Gravitt sees key growth opportunities in 2007 for Schneider automation and control products in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), water/wastewater and material handling. The company has launched U.S. application centers or “competency centers” in each of these areas, Gravitt said, as well as in motion control. A SCADA competency center is also planned for launch around the end of this year, he added.

“These competency centers are really focused on providing solutions for customer needs,” Gravitt said. “Each one has applications engineers who will actually go out on site with a customer, sit down next to the customer’s engineers, listen to the customer’s needs and actually design a solution for that customer.”

They want it

What are customers asking for? Gravitt said the list includes Web-enabled processes and networkable devices, as well as products for the power side of the business as well as the process side. Customers also want products that can be supported globally, he added, and they are also asking to work with people who have a deep understanding of their needs.

“Those are all things that we can deliver,” Gravitt said. “We really think that the combination of these competencies and capabilities gives us a distinct advantage in the marketplace, and it’s an advantage that we’re leveraging to win customers,” he concluded.

Schneider Electric
www.schneiderelectric.com

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