ABB Across America: an interview with Norm Sowards

Norm Sowards talks about strategy, recent moves and the outlook for ABB's Electrification business in the US.

Recently I spoke with Mike Plaster, ABB Executive Vice President and Lead Business Manager, Electrification US to talk about the company’s recent moves in the US. For a closer look at some of the specifics, I talked to Norm Sowards, Head  of Product Marketing, Electrification US. Here is some of our conversation.

ABB has been investing a lot in US, in particular with the acquisitions of GE’s Industrial Solutions business. Was there a “build” rather than “buy” option?

Well, we were going to grow to fully participate in the US market one way or another. The organic option would have meant several  years and a considerable amount of capital  to get where we wanted to be. Acquiring GEIS was more expedient. Plus, GEIS had a strong position in the market, large installed base, and an excellent distributor network. Now the US accounts for around a quarter of the Electrification business globally, and obviously we’re looking to grow even more in the US going forward.

Norm Sowards

What have these moves meant in terms of opening up opportunities?

ABB is  participating in parts of market we weren’t before, like residential, office and retail commercial buildings and institutions like hospitals and universities. So, we’ve expanded well outside of the industrial markets we’ve served historically. GEIS is interesting because they had exited the medium-voltage switchgear segment years earlier, so our combined portfolio post-acquisition marks a kind of return to the market for that business.

Can you give us an example of how ABB’s recent investments in the Electrification business in the US have materialized on the ground?

From a product perspective, we aim to have the best, most reliable technology. Our low-voltage assemblies, for example, are the result of combining ABB’s leading component technologies  and GE assemblies, which are easy for contractors to install and safe and easy for end users to operate and maintain. Now they have industry-leading technology inside, too.

What about the customer experience—how has that changed?

We did a lot of work to make ABB easier to deal with. Customers told us we were too siloed, and we took that to heart. We’ve spent a lot of time on best practices and tools, for example GE’s Empower ecommerce platform. It’s a very user-friendly interface that links directly to our warehouses and factories, which also came from the GEIS deal. Customers can configure a product, check availability and lead times and get pricing very quickly. We’re expanding that to include all of the ABB products as well and by the end of Q2 this year, more than two thirds of the entire combined Electrification portfolio will be available through Empower.

Has the business rebounded from the COVID downturn, and what’s the outlook for Electrification going forward?

It’s been a very challenging time, obviously. We’ve all had to get creative and figure out ways to keep serving our customers while keeping everyone safe, but the business has fared surprisingly well. I’m very bullish on 2021 as some of our core markets like oil and gas start ramping up and with continued strength in data centers, healthcare and residential. With the investments we’ve made in the US, I think we’re in a stronger position that we’ve ever been, and our customers and distributor partners will begin feeling the results very soon.


For more on ABB’s activities and investments in the US, visit “ABB Across America” on our web site.

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About the author

Bob Fesmire

Bob Fesmire is a Content Manager at ABB, based in Cary, North Carolina. He has written more than 150 articles and white papers on a variety of topics including energy efficiency, industrial automation and big data. In addition to his work at ABB, Bob is also the co-author of Energy Explained, a non-technical introduction to all aspects of the energy industry.
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