Berra moves up to chairman at Emerson Process Management

Dec. 22, 2008
New Chairman at Emerson Process Management

Was there a catch in the voice of the legendarily level-headed John Berra as he literally handed over the keys of Emerson Process Management to his successor, Steve Sonnenberg, on the first morning of Emerson Global Users Exchange. Perhaps, if there was, the emotion was caused as much by amazement at the antics of the U.S. Congress a few miles away across the Potomac as it threw out the Paulson $700-billion rescue proposal as it was at the prospect of relinquishing day-to-day control after no less than 16 years at the helm.

Berra’s legacy

Emerson Process Management is, in essence, Berra’s creation. Having started his career as an instrument and electrical engineer with Monsanto in the late ’60s, he joined Rosemount in 1976 and by 1992, when Emerson acquired Fisher Controls from Monsanto, was president of Rosemount’s Industrial Division. The following year he became president of Fisher-Rosemount Systems, bringing together Fisher’s and Rose-mount’s separate systems businesses and creating the organization which, in 1996, would give birth to DeltaV. In 1999 he was made senior vice president and process group business leader of Emerson Electric and in 2001 led the fusion of all of Emerson’s process automation interests into Emerson Process Management.

Just how successful his stewardship has been can be judged from the last of the end or term reports that have become the traditional curtain raiser to Emerson Exchange. Despite the turmoil a few miles away in Washington, he was able to declare that, “We are stronger than we have ever been before.” With two days still remaining of the group’s current financial year, the full picture had yet to emerge, but in the first three quarters Emerson Process Management had grown sales by an average of 18% and, said Berra, “We are growing faster than the overall marketplace.”

Moreover, when the results did become available he was confident that they would show that the company had for the first time, grown by “a full $1 billion in a single year.”

“That growth,” said Berra, “is across the board and in both established and emerging markets.”

Nor is it confined to the financials. “We’ve hired over 1200 (new) salaried people and 1500 hourly paid workers” and “since 2002 we’ve spent a 12% annual increase on R&D.”

Emerson has also continued to make strategic acquisitions including, in the past year, valve automation specialist TopWorx and Houston-based engineering and management services provider The Automation Group (TAG).

Market position

Finally, and arguably most satisfying, “We have gained market position this year,” a claim confirmed most recently by ARC’s annual DCS report which, report principal author Larry O’Brien assured INSIDER, now places both Emerson and Siemens ahead of Invensys, but still behind both ABB and Honeywell in the overall market share rankings.

By far the most significant development in the past year, however, had been the upsurge of interest in wireless.

“The wireless business has rocketed in the last 12 months,” said Berra, confirming his view that wireless is “the next big thing. I am very excited about where it is.”

Just where that is we discuss in more detail elsewhere. In the meantime, however, as Berra pointed out, Emerson’s role in pioneering wireless has been entirely consistent with its earlier history. Recalling his own involvement in the development of fieldbus, (“I still bear the scars.”) he summed up his career thus: “It seems as if, for the last 30 years, all I’ve been trying to do is get rid of wires.” Not a bad accolade.

Berra’s successor as president, Steve Sonnenberg, has been president of Rosemount since 2002. With an increasing proportion of both Emerson’s users and its own manufacturing located in Asian markets, Sonnenberg has near perfect credentials for the top job, having spent no less than 12 of his 29 years with the company in Europe and Asia, and has held the posts of Rosemount China general manager and president of Emerson Process Management Asia Pacific. During his time leading Rosemount, he has been responsible for such key acquisitions as the Saab Marine radar tank level gauging business, Mobrey from Bestobell, Damcos and Matran.

No change in  policy

Sonnenberg assured the 2500 strong audience – almost equally divided between Emerson staffers and customers – that while there is a change of leadership, there was no need for any radical change of policy, although events a few miles away may yet change that view. Key issues to be addressed during his first year would include global competition, the worldwide shortage of engineers, how to respond to increased political pressures and to technology changes, increasing focus on safety and the impact of seemingly increasingly frequent natural disasters. To that, surely, however, must be added the impact of impending worldwide recession.

Sonnenberg won’t be entirely on his own as he addresses these issues since Berra won’t be that far away. His new role is that of chairman with a remit to take more time to focus on strategic planning, technology, key customer relationships and organizational planning.

  • Steve Sonnenberg’s successor as president of Rosemount is the current president of Emerson Process Management Asia Pacific, Michael Train. He, in turn, is replaced by the current president of Emerson Process Management Middle East, Sabee Mitra, and his replacement is David Tredinnick, currently vice president Southeast Asia for Emerson Process Management Asia Pacific.

Meanwhile Larry Flatt is to replace the retiring Gene Shanahan as group vice president for the Emerson Process Management Flow Group. Flatt has been president of Emerson Process Management Regulators since 2001.