HOUSTON — Not long after Hurricane Harvey dropped more than four feet of water on Houston and the region that surrounds it, Blake Moret wondered if Rockwell Automation would kick off its 26th annual Automation Fair on time in the Space City.
Before that, though, he wondered how he could help.
Moret is wrapping up a packed first full year as president and CEO of Rockwell Automation, with Harvey recovery and the Automation Fair serving as late high points. The company introduced new logics processors, new high-performance drives and a new multi-drive. It also added functionality to its FactoryTalk Analytics platform, allowing folks on the floor to turn data into useful information. It landed in a few more headlines than normal after reports just last month of a rival’s failed takeover bid.
And, of course, it reached out to customers and residents around southeastern Texas and playing some small part in digging out of the detritus.
Moret relayed some of that story from a stage just across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, where more than 9,000 people huddled and recovered during the weeks after Harvey made landfall. Rockwell, he said, “deploy(ed) our disaster recovery teams to help get our customers back up and running quickly and safely” — dozens of engineers and field service technicians spread across the region and the state.
Over in Beaumont, for example, east of Houston and hard along the Gulf of Mexico, the Neches River overflowed and the drives powering the pumps that supplied local drinking water were fully submerged. Inside 24 hours, one of those Rockwell teams located the drives and repaired them on site, restoring drinking water in the process.
Moret did not dwell on that story. There were so many like it all over the state.
He did talk about other topics later during a conversation away from the bright lights of the main stage. Here, some of that exchange.
IndustryWeek: This is your second Automation Fair as president and CEO, but this is your first full calendar year in the position. Has this been a little less overwhelming than last year? What has 2017 been like for you?
Blake Moret: It’s been quite a ride, as you can imagine. We’ve been fortunate to have strong market conditions. The macro has been very supporting in automotive and parts of consumer were strong, heavy industries were picking up. In particular, in our strongest market in the U.S., there’s been a renewed emphasis on manufacturing and that’s been good for us.
IW: Anything you’re looking forward to in the next quarter or two?
BM: I’ve learned you’re never in a groove, and if you think you are, then you don’t see something coming. A lot of our focus is on moving these connected enterprise pilots into rollouts at enterprise-wide scale. We already have a few that are moving into that, where we have multi-plant installations. Each one is different and there’s no cookie-cutter approach, but that’s where you’re putting it all together — starting with the foundational products, adding the software and the high-value services, business models are being tested. This is the vanguard to where our business needs to evolve to in the future.
IW: Anything that you can speak about that might be in the works?
BM: I wouldn’t say there’s any watershed moment — any major partnership or acquisition — it’s just really an evolution. Offering new products sounds mundane, but that’s the lifeblood, and we’re seeing a lot of benefit. Our logics platform grew 10% last year, and much of that was on the strength of offerings that were only released in the last couple years, the new services we’re adding. It’s just an ongoing progression. It’s adding new partners, it’s adding new dimensions to existing partnerships, new ways to work together. And we will continue to make new acquisitions.
IW: Let’s talk about acquisitions for a minute. Reports surfaced just a couple weeks ago that Emerson had been trying to purchase Rockwell Automation for several months. Any thought that maybe they looked at you as a new CEO and the time was right to make an offer?
BM: I think the general statement is the one we made in our press release: we carefully considered it, and the board unanimously rejected the offers that were made. We’re focusing now on continuing to increase value for customers and for shareholders. We’re proud of what we’ve done in the past and we’ll continue in the future. … We know we attract a lot of attention with our success. We think we have a great strategy and the ability to execute it.
IW: In the days after that news broke, the company’s stock price surged and there were far more headlines than normal. More attention is never a bad thing, right?
BM: Well, we’re going to focus on the things that we control, which are growing value, growing the business profitably. We’re happy to be recognized as one of the leaders in this space.
IW: What lessons have you learned — either during the last year and change as president and CEO, or during your decades with the company?
BM: When I moved into this job, one of our directors told me about the importance of managing your energy — even more than managing your time. You need to have gas in your tank at any point during the day. You never know when you’re going to be called on to show up and be all in. You have to be ready for something extra, regardless of when it might happen.
IW: This sounds like conserving energy. Are you able to take naps ever during the middle of the day?
BM: Every once in a while, yeah. Not every day. It’s other things, too. It’s being outside. I bicycle to work occasionally. I’m close enough, and that’s a great way to clear your mind before and after. It’s about an eight-mile ride.
IW: What do you ride?
BM: It’s a road bike, an old Wheeler I’ve owned since I lived in Switzerland.
IW: You didn’t buy a new model after being named president and CEO?
BM: That day is coming soon. Technology has improved since I bought that Wheeler. There are some bikes out there that I should think about.