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President Energizes Electrical Distribution Company

Schneider Electric U.S.A.’s Petratis has a three-pronged plan for pumping up employees, and a playbook for the weathering the “economic volatility” ahead.

As Square D celebrates its 100-year anniversary, David D. Petratis cites his “reenergizing” of operations as his greatest accomplishment since accepting the newly created role of president and chief operating officer of Schneider Electric U.S.A. at the end of 2002. In an exclusive interview with Automation World editors, Petratis shared company successes of the past 100 years, and his vision for the next century.

“Many manufacturers are still suffering in the hangover of the recession, but we’ve been through tough times before,” said Petratis. “While our outlook is conservative for the next 24 to 36 months, we see strong opportunities in our power management services business, particularly in asset monitoring, and we see modest growth in the industrial control business.”

Based in Palatine, Ill., Petratis, 45, has U.S. responsibility for the Schneider Electric brands Merlin Gerin, Modicon, Square D and Telemecanique, for which sales in the United States comprise the bulk of the Schneider Electric North American Division’s $2.7 billion annual revenue.

With a strong background in manufacturing and plant management, Petratis leveraged his expertise in a three-pronged plan to “pump up” his 11,000 U.S. employees. This has included reenergizing workers with a strong communication system, putting in a benchmarking system that measures the company against other world-class competitors and making the company more customer-focused. “Our key success factors have been greater employee and customer satisfaction.” In the area of procurement, Schneider has exceeded previous measurements by 300 percent, due to bottom-line savings and increased inventory turns.

The playbook

Manufacturers suffering the economic blues could take a page from Petratis’ playbook. Noting that there will be “more economic volatility ahead,” Petratis has instituted a program that “drives accountability down into the subsets of the business.” The “playbook” requires quarterly budgeting and review, as opposed to the previous annual process, and relies on cross-functional teams, each with a chairperson, that are accountable for specific business goals. “Incentives are based on key performance indicators (KPIs) to drive success,” he notes. “We want to bring entrepreneurism back to the company.”

The Paris-based parent company, Schneider Electric, with 2002 sales of $9.5 billion, holds a 40 percent global market share in the electrical distribution business and a 9 to 10 percent share in the global automation market. Petratis believes the company’s competitive strengths lie in its heritage, its great electromechanical products and its global presence. “Our strategy to tie the automation business to the electrical power management business includes leveraging global platforms and standards, targeting high-growth service opportunities, and building a global business development team to serve large end-users in markets such as automotive and pharmaceuticals.

“Society’s continued dependence on electrical power promises strong growth for Schneider over the next 100 years,” forecasts Petratis. To that end, he remains committed to helping Schneider’s customers be more competitive. “We have great product technology, such as our network-connected Transparent Factory architecture. Through electricity management, we enhance our customers’ energy efficiency. And, in supply chain logistics, a major investment in our front-end support systems makes our customers more knowledgeable and our products easier to apply.”

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