Petratis' Power Play

Dec. 21, 2004
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.
About the Author

John McClenahen | Former Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

 John S. McClenahen, is an occasional essayist on the Web site of IndustryWeek, the executive management publication from which he retired in 2006. He began his journalism career as a broadcast journalist at Westinghouse Broadcasting’s KYW in Cleveland, Ohio. In May 1967, he joined Penton Media Inc. in Cleveland and in September 1967 was transferred to Washington, DC, the base from which for nearly 40 years he wrote primarily about national and international economics and politics, and corporate social responsibility.
      McClenahen, a native of Ohio now residing in Maryland, is an award-winning writer and photographer. He is the author of three books of poetry, most recently An Unexpected Poet (2013), and several books of photographs, including Black, White, and Shades of Grey (2014). He also is the author of a children’s book, Henry at His Beach (2014).
      His photograph “Provincetown: Fog Rising 2004” was selected for the Smithsonian Institution’s 2011 juried exhibition Artists at Work and displayed in the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., from June until October 2011. Five of his photographs are in the collection of St. Lawrence University and displayed on campus in Canton, New York.
      John McClenahen’s essay “Incorporating America: Whitman in Context” was designated one of the five best works published in The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies during the twelve-year editorship of R. Barry Leavis of Rollins College. John McClenahen’s several journalism prizes include the coveted Jesse H. Neal Award. He also is the author of the commemorative poem “Upon 50 Years,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Wolfson College Cambridge, and appearing in “The Wolfson Review.”
      John McClenahen received a B.A. (English with a minor in government) from St. Lawrence University, an M.A., (English) from Western Reserve University, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University, where he also pursued doctoral studies. At St. Lawrence University, he was elected to academic honor societies in English and government and to Omicron Delta Kappa, the University’s highest undergraduate honor. John McClenahen was a participant in the 32nd Annual Wharton Seminars for Journalists at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. During the Easter Term of the 1986 academic year, John McClenahen was the first American to hold a prestigious Press Fellowship at Wolfson College, Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.
      John McClenahen has served on the Editorial Board of Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies and was co-founder and first editor of Liberal Studies at Georgetown. He has been a volunteer researcher on the William Steinway Diary Project at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and has been an assistant professorial lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


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