Chairman Berra Passes Torch to Sonnenberg

Sept. 29, 2008
John Berra Gives Last Speech as Emerson Process Management Business Leader

"Since we're in Washington, D.C., I thought I should start with a state of the union address,” John Berra quipped in his last official address as business leader of Emerson Process Management. Berra, now chairman of Emerson Process Management, addressed the assembly of the 2008 Emerson Global Users Exchange, which this week set a new record for registration at more than 2,600—ten times the number who attended the first Exchange in 1998.

“We are stronger than we have ever been before,” Berra said. “This is the last week of our fiscal year, and I can't reveal the whole-year numbers, but for the first three quarters, our business was up 18% over last year.”

“I am proud to call myself one of you." John Berra announced that Steve Sonnenberg would take the reins as business leader of Emerson Process Management. Berra will stay on as chairman.
If the numbers stay on track, Berra intimated, Emerson Process Management may have grown revenues by more than a billion dollars this fiscal year. To accommodate this growth, the company has hired over 1,200 salaried and 1,500 hourly employees in the past year. "Since 2002," Berra declared, "we have averaged over 12% of revenue on research and development."

Emerson has continued its string of strategic acquisitions with Topworx and The Automation Group, and has gained increased market position for the year “by any measure,” Berra said.

"Thank you for that," he said to the assembled end users and partners.

Emerson is acting, he noted, as the main automation contractor (MAC) for what he called "some of the largest automation projects in the world."

PlantWeb, Berra added, is growing and growing smarter, with more and more predictive intelligence tools. “This will allow us,” he said, "to stand side by side to move the cause of automation forward."

In the Fossil Stage

"I am officially in the fossil stage," he said, explaining his move to the position of chairman of Emerson Process Management. "I was around for the conversion from pneumatic instrumentation to electrical, from 4-20 to HART and to Foundation fieldbus."

He announced that WirelessHART products were shipping, and that Emerson had installed a 70-instrument WirelessHART mesh around the enormous atrium here at the Gaylord National Resort.

Berra noted that the WirelessHART standard had been approved by nearly all the 250-plus members of the HART Communication Foundation a year ago, and earlier in September, it had been approved by the IEC as a PAS (publicly available specification). He said that 16 companies, whose combined sales in the automation space were well over 80% of the market's entire revenue, have committed to having WirelessHART products out before year's end.

"This is my last talk to you as Emerson Process Management business leader," he said. He thanked the trade press for their partnership. He thanked the employees of Emerson for their loyalty, hard work and dedication. And he thanked especially the customers who made the business.

"I have said that the profession of automation is a noble one. Where else can you have the complete breadth of the job? Being an automation professional is the most demanding high-tech profession there is," Berra declared, "and I am proud to call myself one of you."

He pulled out a leather case and extracted a slide rule from it. "This was mine," he said, "in that first job. I bring it out and tell young engineers that we went to the moon and built all the great bridges with calculations performed on slide rules just like this, and they look at me like I am speaking a foreign language."

We have moved from slide rules to calculators to more advanced devices, Berra said, in our search for ways to do our jobs better. "That's our job," he said, "to figure out how to do things better—not how to make a better slide rule. The Post company did that while somebody else was figuring out how to build a calculator. We need to take leaps because it is we who have to figure out how to do it better."

"Now it is time for me to pass the leadership on to Steve Sonnenberg. Steve moved his family to China in the 1980s, when China wasn't the Beijing we saw on the Olympics, and then moved them back to Asia to build Emerson's presence there. He is the father of wireless. Steve stands for the values of Emerson."

Handing over the Keys

Sonnenberg joined Berra on the dais. Berra took a set of keys from his pocket and handed them to Sonnenberg and walked off to a standing ovation.

"I'd be crazy to make drastic changes in the way we do things," Sonnenberg declared, after summoning Berra back for renewed applause. "I am going to focus on our customers and the things that make Emerson work."

He went on to talk about the hand-over. “We plan absolutely everything at Emerson. We plan profits, we plan products, we plan succession strategies. In fact, we mostly promote from within. You will find, if you look, that most senior Emerson staff members have over 20 years experience in the industry and nearly the same time at Emerson."

“It's a tough act to follow," Sonnenberg said, referring to Berra. “And I am very glad John will be around for many years yet to be my mentor. But I know a simple rule: Make your customers successful, and Emerson's success will follow. Your success is our success."

"We need to understand all the issues you all are facing," he went on. “Global competition, swings in raw material costs, as well as shifts in pricing, shortages of trained people and increased political pressure in some parts of the world. There are technological changes happening faster and a greater attention to safety and the environment. We've all had a string of natural disasters. And the speed of those changes is happening faster, too."

Sonnenberg spoke of the growth of Emerson Exchange as a user-driven event, of the wireless network installed in the atrium, of Micro Motion's announcement of its two-wire Coriolis meter and of the new DeltaV "smart Ethernet switches" that he called "security made easy."

Sonnenberg talked about his past, about growing up on a dairy farm in the Midwestern United States, playing sports in high school and college and having never ridden on an airplane until going off to college. "I have had 13 assignments since I joined Emerson," he said, "and over half of them were overseas. Until recently I had spent more of my working life outside the United States than in it. I am motivated by leading teams to overcome challenges and creating value for our shareholders and our customers," he went on.

"I will lead Emerson using four core values of mine," Sonnenberg said. "Provide quality products and services to our customers. Continue to bring innovation (and not just a better slide rule). Instill a sense of urgency in our staff and managers. And always do things right."

"I have a strong sense of ethics, and it all boils down to 'treating people fairly.'”

“Have patience with my mistakes," Sonnenberg closed, "but celebrate with us when we do it right."