Leaning forward on the edge of a couch in a suite at one of Washington's premier hotels, Luis Manuel Ramirez, CEO of GE's Industrial Solutions division, emits energy like one of GE's new WATT electric vehicle chargers. His hands are in perpetual motion, now orchestrating through the air, now reaching out to gently touch the wrist of an interviewer for emphasis. The 44-year-old CEO has a lot to be excited about. Since he took over the $3 billion-a-year division in January 2010, sales of the once-stagnant unit's electrical components have jumped to double-digit growth rates in many of the 100 countries it operates in.
In his first year at the helm, Mr. Ramirez increased research and development spending 15 percent and added 200 engineers, sales and other personnel to a geriatric-appearing division that was created soon after Thomas Edison established the company in the late 1800s. "We went out and rebuilt the global structure by hiring leaders in key growth markets and approving new technology investments and adding resources we needed to grow," Mr. Ramirez explains.
He had plenty of prior international business experience during his 10-year career at GE, including cementing a $1 billion deal with Algeria in November 2008 to manage gas turbines at 13 power plants when he was general manager of GE's contractual services business. However, this is his first CEO position; he is in charge of 15,000 employees and 60 manufacturing facilities around the world.
Nothing about him says he is the top U.S.-based Hispanic executive at GE. He looks like any other member of the corporate elite, dressed in a light blue, pin-striped suit set off against the one-two punch of a bold purple tie against a subtle lilac shirt. Three aides buzz around the suite. But he pays them no mind. He is direct, engaged, plugged into the interviewer. Built compactly as a nine-volt battery, his words flow like electrons from a power source, smoothly, one precisely after another.
It was Mr. Ramirez's multicultural background and executive track recor--not his GQ fashion sense or his silky sentences--that made him a good choice for CEO of Industrial Solutions. The company sells electrical components for traditional markets such as electric- and gas-power producers, transportation and manufacturing plants, and increasingly for "green" markets such as electric vehicles. Sixty percent of its revenue is generated outside North America in countries like India and China.
One would have thought GE would have been attacking the Indian market for many years, given that country's economic growth. Not so. Industrial Solutions had been in India for 30 years; its product line was essentially 30 years old. Mr. Ramirez hired new leaders, revamped manufacturing teams, and expanded the products the division is localizing and introducing in the marketplace. "Our order rate in India has grown 50 percent this year, more than any other division within the GE Energy business segment," he says.
Industrial Solutions is poised for growth in China, too. In December, it broke ground on a Chinese manufacturing facility that is a joint venture with Shanghai Tianling Switchgear Co. The newly engineered, more energy-efficient voltage components produced there give Industrial Solutions a strong entry in the "green" power market, both inside China and outside.
Mr. Ramirez's global sensibility comes naturally. He has traveled widely since he was a teenager, starting to work at age 14 so he could pay for airfare to visit a friend who moved first to the Dominican Republic, then Costa Rica and finally Hawaii. "I went to college thinking I would join the Foreign Service," Mr. Ramirez laughs.
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