ABB Across America: an interview with Mike Plaster
ABB EVP and Lead Business Manager, Electrification US, Mike Plaster talks about the company's recent moves in the US and the outlook for continued growth.
ABB has had a presence in the US since the company’s inception in the late 1980s but lacking a robust low-voltage offering for the US market, the company’s growth in electrification was limited. In recently years, a series of investments both organic and inorganic has filled gaps in ABB’s offering while organizational changes have simplified the customer experience.
To get an insider’s perspective on ABB’s recent history in the US, I sat down—virtually—with Mike Plaster, Executive Vice President and Lead Business Manager, Electrification US for a Q&A…
How would you characterize ABB’s approach to the US market?
The US is one of the most important markets for Electrification in the world, and we want to ensure we have access to it. Our goal is to have the broadest portfolio and the best customer experience. That has meant filling some gaps in our product line (e.g., ANSI switchgear), most notably with the acquisition of GE Industrial Systems in 2018 and Thomas & Betts before that in 2012. It’s also taken us on a journey to build up our infrastructure to serve US customers.
How have those infrastructure investments manifested?
We’ve invested in US manufacturing, for example with our circuit breaker offering. We now produce everything a US buyer might want in our Senatobia, MS plant. We expanded our Mebane, NC facility as well—that’s a legacy GE site. We have more capacity, but we also built a Customer Experience Center that I hope we can show off once the pandemic has lifted.
We’ve also built a new distribution center in Phoenix to serve customer in the Western US, and we’ve rationalized the product lines being served out of our Mt Juliet, TN and Byhalia, MS centers. All of these were aimed at getting closer to customers and boosting on-time delivery.
Have there been changes in how you work with customers?
Yes, and that process goes back several years actually. Back in 2016 we started looking at restructuring our sales operations around markets rather than our internal view of the world. We had instances where, even if a given customer liked the product, they weren’t sure who to talk to.
We wanted to make it as easy as possible for customers to work with us. We set sales regions and districts around markets instead of our internal organizational structure, and we set up sales teams dedicated to specific customer groups like utilities, critical power and OEMs. So, now we have one portfolio and a single point of contact for each segment. It’s a lot simpler.
Have there been any growing pains or other challenges?
Oh, sure. COVID, obviously, has been a major challenge. We lost 60 percent of commercial freight capacity when the pandemic hit so we’ve had to manage our supply chain and set expectations accordingly. We’ve also had some challenges internally with our distribution centers as we worked to integrate the various acquisitions and the tens of thousands of new SKUs we had to handle. But on-time delivery is a mandate for us, and we’re improving on that. It’s still relatively early in terms of the changes we’ve made, but we’re clearly on the right path.
What has been the response from customers? Do you detect a shift in their perception of ABB?
The T&B acquisition certainly made us more relevant for electrical distributors. We have more to talk about now, and more to offer them. GEIS filled a glaring white spot in our product line, too, so now we have everything on a typical one-line. We can compete for every US project, which is what we were aiming for.
Customers also tell us that ABB was the best home for the GEIS business—I think that has a lot to do with the fact that the two businesses were highly complementary, not just in terms of product but operationally too. ABB brought leading technology to the table and GE brought a terrific sales and customer support apparatus and the result really is “the best of both.” We’re able to deliver more, better.
We’ve gotten some good feedback from customers already, but I expect we’ll really start to see the impact in the next year or so. Hopefully by then COVID will be well in the rear view mirror and we can focus on serving our customers.
For more on ABB’s activities and investments in the US, visit “ABB Across America” on our web site.