Eaton electrical unit chief 'giving space'
Revathi Advaithi, president of Eaton's entire North and South American region for Eaton's electrical sector based in Moon, sits in a Chevy Volt that is plugged in at an Eaton charging station in Moon.
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Revathi Advaithi counts among her mentors the machinist in an industrial plant in Shawnee, Okla., who taught her how to operate a lathe.
That was in the mid-1990s, when Ms. Advaithi was a shop floor supervisor at an Eaton facility that makes hydraulic pumps and motors, and the young, ambitious engineer was determined to learn how the employees she managed did their jobs.
"To really understand what goes on in the lives of people who work there, you have to know about things like safety and ergonomics," said Ms. Advaithi, 44, who launched her career with Eaton at the Shawnee plant and since April has been president of the entire North and South American region for Eaton's electrical sector based in Moon.
Eaton is headquartered in Cleveland but has had a significant presence in the Pittsburgh region since 1994, when it bought Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s distribution and control business and then moved a large electrical controls business it already owned, Cutler-Hammer, from Milwaukee to Pittsburgh.
With those operations it created a headquarters for its electrical segment that now employs 750 at the Cherrington office park. Another 350 work at an Eaton facility in Beaver County, and 120 work at a testing facility in Marshall.
Last week, the parent company announced the largest transaction in its history -- the $12 billion acquisition of Ireland-based Cooper Industries. Eaton expects the merger to significantly expand its electrical products business, which includes power systems, industrial automation and products such as circuit breakers, switch gears, meters and motor controls.
While the deal will likely bring some of Cooper's complementary products into the business Ms. Advaithi's oversees, she declined to discuss specifics of how it might impact the local operations because the consolidation still requires shareholders' approval and is not expected to close until the second half of this year.
Eaton's electrical sector, Americas, generated $4.2 billion in sales or about 25 percent of Eaton's worldwide revenues of $16 billion in 2011, and chairman and CEO Alexander Cutler said the planned combination with Cooper should help Eaton's electrical business take advantage of an expected recovery in the U.S. housing market for which it supplies electrical systems and controls.
"We're very bullish about the housing market," Ms. Advaithi said. "We feel like it has hit its low. It's not yet back to 2007-08 levels of single-family [home construction], but we're seeing permits increase. A slower pace should be a more sustainable recovery."
Though she would not break out specific sales goals for the Americas region, she noted that Mr. Cutler has forecast companywide growth of 12 percent to 14 percent this year "and the electrical sector, Americas, plays a big role in that," she said.
"The electrical business is a great mix of products with heritage such as breakers and switch gears ... that are getting smarter."
Eaton's regional headquarters focuses heavily on designing electrical products and systems that are energy efficient and technically advanced so that they can be utilized in the growing alternative energy and smart grid markets.
"The aging grid is driving discussion of how to do it well, and the U.S. is at the forefront of the discussion," Ms. Advaithi said. "Every product is getting more intelligent in how it talks to the grid."
Among the products Eaton has been showcasing locally the last year is its charging station for electrical vehicles. Employees design and test technology for the chargers that power up vehicles, including a Mitsubishi electric car and Chevrolet's electric hybrid, the Volt. Chatting in the parking lot outside her office where two electrical chargers can be used for free by Eaton employees who own electric vehicles, Ms. Advaithi said 45 Eaton chargers are being installed at sites along the I-376 corridor as part of a project of Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities. Among other businesses that have installed them are Bayer Corp. and Fed-Ex Ground, said Dan Carnovale, manager of Eaton's Power Systems Experience Center in Marshall.
An engineer by training -- she earned her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1990 at Birla Institute of Technology and Science in her native India -- Ms. Advaithi said she has always been a hands-on problem solver and wishes she could spend more hours in the day engaged in product and systems design. One of five daughters of a chemical engineer who built refineries in India, "I was the odd one out who went into engineering while the others went into other sciences," she said. "But I got that from my dad, and it turned out to be a very good choice."
After finishing college, Ms. Advaithi worked as a sales engineer and territory manager for Xerox in southern India for two years and then headed to Oklahoma to be close to a sister who was an anthropologist there. She started a master's program in engineering but decided she didn't want another degree in that field and took a job at Eaton's Shawnee plant in 1995.
She later moved to another Eaton facility in Hutchinson, Kan., where she was a product line manager for hydraulic pistons and gear pumps.
"That was the start of the business side of my life," she said, because she helped to integrate another hydraulic products company Eaton bought.
She also met her husband, another native Indian, at the Hutchinson plant, and both moved to the United Kingdom when Eaton offered her a position at a plant in Havant, England, that makes pumps and motors.
In 2002, she began a six-year stint with Honeywell in Phoenix, during which she also earned an MBA in international business from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.
"I missed Eaton a lot," she said of that time.
While Eaton contacted her several times about potential jobs, it wasn't until 2008 that she accepted an offer to join the electrical products sector. She spent some time in Pittsburgh before moving to Shanghai to take the top job at the electrical sector for the Asia-Pacific region. "It was a high-growth environment and a unique way of doing business ... and finding out how you make the business grow in a viable way."
Though she expected to stay longer in China, Eaton offered her the Americas region job when her predecessor, Jerry Whitaker, retired.
"It was a fantastic opportunity to come back. The Americas business is the core of what Eaton does. To come and lead the electrical business here is a real, absolute thrill. You think about the legacy here of Westinghouse and Cutler-Hammer. I told them, 'Just tell me when and I'll come back.' "
Her husband, who works for Honeywell, and two children, 11 and 7, are still in Shanghai but plan to relocate in June to a home the family recently bought in Sewickley.
She's only been in the job eight weeks, but Ms. Advaithi acknowledged her management style here will be "about giving space to a talented leadership team. In the Asia-Pacific, it was more hands-on because it was a more immature business. My team should have the sense of enjoying work."
As one of the highest-ranking women in the Eaton organization, Ms. Advaithi said she has found supportive colleagues throughout her rise through the ranks of a distinctly male-dominated industry.
"You have to learn how to work in the environment and keep your values," she said. "Eaton is great about not putting gender issues in the way of success. The people surrounding me made sure it didn't matter. It comes from the top of a values-based culture."
First Published May 31, 2012 12:12 am