Petratis' Power Play

Schneider Electric North America's CEO David Petratis is tapping process improvement, inventory, innovative merchandising, people and passion for the power to succeed.

David D. Petratis, the new president and CEO of the $2.5 billion Schneider Electric North American Operating Division in Palatine, Ill., is back with the company he first joined in 1981 at Square D's Lincoln, Neb., circuit breaker manufacturing plant. An expert in secured power, essentially the business of providing industrial customers with uninterrupted power supplies, Petratis was during the 1990s a senior executive with MGE UPS Systems, a California-based power supplies entrepreneurial firm. The North American Operating Division is one of the four operating divisions of Paris-based Schneider Electric SA. IW: How is Schneider's North American operation ramping up to meet rising demand as the economy recovers from recession? Petratis: First, [there] is the continued sharpening of our overall business processes through the application of lean, Six Sigma and business process owners. Second, we have been working with our distribution partners to have inventory on the shelf, with high turns, to help meet what I see as increasing demand. And third, we've taken a pretty aggressive approach to our own investment to make sure that we've got our top 2,500 items on the shelf at a high level of readiness. IW: What business burden does a 100-year-old brand, the Square D brand, impose on your desire to grow the company? Petratis: You're right, it does place some burdens on [us]. [But] there are many opportunities to grow our traditional business through merchandising of new brands, new channels [and] reaching new customers that we have not been aggressive enough to go after. One of the things that I have been trying to drive the last year is for us to look at opportunities through branding and through different approaches to channels to kind of bust us out of the things that have worked very well for us traditionally. I think we can aggressively grow the business by learning from some very successful companies on the merchandise side. We certainly like some of the stuff that comes out of Procter & Gamble. IW: How do you describe your management style? Petratis: It's one that's very heavily based on people and relationships. I grew up in a big family -- six kids. So I had to be a bit of an ambassador growing up, and I think that has helped me in my management career. I believe that management has the responsibility, through leadership, to keep people in their jobs, to make their working environments productive [and] satisfying, and to provide the tools that give them the ability to do their jobs at the highest level. I believe strongly that if we do our jobs at Schneider North America, our people want to pull in the driveway in the morning. First and foremost [that's] by creating a safe environment -- I am relentless in promoting the philosophy of safety in the workplace. [But it's also] quality [and] continuous improvement. If we're doing the right things from a management and leadership perspective, we should be operating in the upper 30% of the electrical industry in a variety of metrics: growth, margins, operating earnings [and] asset turnover.

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