ABB, Ekkehard Neureither: I am confident in future growth in Bulgaria

Automation & RoboticsInterviewSouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 4/2013

Ekkehard Neureither

Country Manager for ABB in Bulgaria and Local Division Manager for Low Voltage Products, Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova in ABB

Dear Mr. Neureither, even you are well known for the Bulgarian market due to your long years work in the country would you please present yourself to the South-East European INDUSTRIAL Market Magazine readers as the new Country Manager for Bulgaria. What the Bulgarian industry and power sector specialists should know about you?
First of all, it is a pleasure to welcome you in our ABB Sofia office.
I joined ABB in 1992 after having studyied economics and engineering at the Technical University in Karlsruhe.

In the period 1996 -1998 I dedicated my work to building up the ABB production unit in Petrich. Since 1998 I have had several different management positions in the company. Until 2012 I was holding the global Business Unit Operations manager for Control Products position.

 Last April I came back to Bulgaria, being first responsible for the Local Division of Low Voltage products in Bulgaria, Romania and Moldavia. Since June 2013 I am the new ABB Country Manager of Bulgaria.

You start leading ABB Bulgaria in difficult times for our country - full of instabilities and problems, and have the challenge to continue the ascendant trend of ABB in Bulgaria. What is motivating you in this mission and what are your plans for the successful development of ABB Bulgaria in the near future?
ABB has chosen Bulgaria as one of the locations where we would like to further develop. So far we have had excellent experience in Petrich and Rakovski.

We also started new projects in Sevlievo and once again in Rakovski. It is great for us having the opportunity to enlarge our local organization. Yet it is also a big challenge, as we are parallelly making major investments and increasing the staff by approximately 50%.

At the same time we are focused on maintaining the wholesales activities and improving our positioning on the local Bulgarian market, while continuing the successful development of ABB in Bulgaria.

In February this year ABB announced the merge of its Bulgarian corporate units in order to centralize and optimize of its management, processes and activities. Are there already positive results and if yes, in what aspects?
In our work we are constantly trying to harmonize and consolidate processes, keeping them as useful as possible and not forgeting to act on a local scale in the daily operational business too.

One of the best examples for that is the further development of the Shared Account Service in Bulgaria. We have also established a local HR function where we will be able to handle and operate processes on а common base like payment system, job applications and hiring people, as well as supporting people career plans.

What is the specific development of the ABB Business divisions? In which sector there will be your main priorities?
ABB is generally structured in 5 divisions. In Bulgaria we are operating through the Power Products, Power Systems, Low Voltage Products and Discrete Automation and Motion divisions.

Our intention within the Low Voltage Products division is to continue the successful operations in Rakovski and Petrich. We are planning to start up additional production lines in the new factory, also located in Rakovski.

One of our strongest features is the extremelly broad product range we can offer our customers. In my opinion there are excellent chances for further growth in areas where ABB hasn’t been that active in the past.

In the Power Products division we’ve developed a professional sales team, delivering relay protections, control & communication systems as well as medium and high voltage equipment to our utility and industrial customers.

Our goal is to get closer to our customers in order to not only serve their daily needs, but also better follow the development of their demands.

In Power Systems business the ABB Engineering and Project Management team in Sofia is providing our customers with modern and efficient soulutions. We believe that the key to success consists of early communication with customers and deep knowledge of ABB technologies.

Having excellent references, our company is traditionally recognized and preferred as a partner for the utilities and major industries in the country, being also chosen as a main partner for the renewable projects (wind and PV).

Driving the whole engineering process , our Power systems team greatly contributed to the successfull introduction of the most modern and reliable solutions on the Bulgarian market.

Our goal is to continue to be close to the needs of the Bulgarian energy market and provide the right technical solutions solving them.

You declared that ABB business in the field of RES will continue to be a priority for the company development. How do you estimate the current market situation in the RES sector in Bulgaria and what are your expectations for the future?
Renewable energy is in the focus worldwide because it is the future. Switzerland, for example, has declared its intention to have 100% RES electricity by 2017. EU has strongly emphasized the priority of renewables in the energy sector.

 Bulgaria is also supporting the integration of the renewables in the energy sector. However, in my opinion, this process has not been managed in the best way possible so far. A kind of negative attitude even happens to occure in the major local media in Bulgaria. No matter what, renewables are the future!

We at ABB are keeping our focus on the RES sector, having the best references in Wind & PV. We have modern and competitive solutions for covering the greater part of such projects.

The competent ABB team is able to successfully manage the full scope of projects and effectively serve this customer category. In Sofia we have also established a PV Dispatch Centre responsible for control and monitoring of 85 MWp PV energy.

Thus we are ready to integrate more PV customers who need professional O&M support of their business.

You are among the pioneers in founding the production facility of ABB in Petrich. What are your memories of the distant 1996, when ABB Control EOOD had started? What is the nowadays of the production in Petrich and what do you plan for its future development?
I have a lot of great memories, recalling my time back in Petrich. Among them are the highly engaged and cooperative team, the impressive hospitality, the spectrum of cultural events and most importantly - the good results we achieved and celebrated together.

Having the full support of the local municipality, town council and mayor was of great help and importance too. On the other hand it was an extremely tough time, both for the country and the people.

Two years ago we started with step-by-step refurbishments, which are still ongoing. That came as a result of our strong intention to keep and develop the production unit in Petrich. Gladly, we enjoy stable business relationships with our partners and the major focus for the future is achieving operational excellence, productivity increase and effective staff development, while assuring OHS and integrity.

In your opinion - how important are the significant investments in production facilities of ABB in Bulgaria in general? How is the construction of the new factory of the company in Rakovski develops? What are ABB plans of future development of the production in Bulgaria?
The scale of the total investment shows the importance of that matter. We are implementing innovative technologies, creating many new working places for a longterm period. Once again, these investments emphasize the value of Bulgaria as a base for efficient manufacturing.

Our project in Rakovski has been running extremely well so far and on schedule. We are parallelly going on with the refurbishment of the works in Sevlievo, as we are determined to develop this factory as a feeder factory for gas insulated switchgear components.

Since last year you are holding the position of Local Division Manager for Low Voltage Products for Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova. How would you compare those markets? How do you estimate your distribution network in Bulgaria and what are your plans for sales growth in our country?
In all the three markets economy is really slowly growing. However, the competition in Romania and Bulgaria is quite strong. Of course, the population in Romania is three times bigger, the industry more developed, especially in the automotive industry sector. There are also more international OEMs there.

Regarding the distribution network, there is still potential for improvements. In my point of view there are still many areas where we haven’t been active enough. So our company is planning to increase its presence in the strategic areas in future, achieving better recognition.

I am sure that the Bulgarian customers will prefer high quality and innovative ABB products locally produced in Bulgaria. Having this in mind, I am confident in future growth in Bulgaria.

You are leading ABB Bulgaria which employs more then 1300 people in the country. How do you estimate your team in Bulgaria? What is the importance of having experienced and reliable managers in your team? What do you plan for the development of the production and sales specialists skills and qualification?
I am really glad to work within a highly engaged and motivated team with a professional attitude towards ABB.

In fact, we have highly qualified and skilled employees in all of our branches and our intention is to continue investing in their further development. Of course, having experienced managers is of huge importance. They are responsible for the relentless processes, as well as for the results of the daily business.

Our managers are also focused on constant improvement of their employees’ competence in all aspects , while keeping high attention on the key priorities of ABB, Integrity and OHS.

We will continue to provide training for our people and we will keep and extend the relations to the local universities, as we consider the employees as our biggest asset.