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Schneider's Focus on Green Biz

It doesn't seem all that long ago that electrical distributors were struggling with the change in identity of Square D to Schneider Electric after the French company's 1991 acquisition of one of the best-known brands in the business.

Square D, its familiar logo, and the company's commanding market share in circuit breakers, load centers and other distribution equipment fit electrical distributors like their favorite baseball mitt. As more than 40 business journalists found out at Schneider Electric's 2011 Editors' Event last month, these products are still an important part of Schneider's product mix 20 years after the acquisition, but the French giant has expanded far past the traditional electrical distribution market and is now a leading player in some of the fastest-growing and most intriguing electrical markets in the world, including the smart grid, data centers, electric vehicles, building automation and solar products.

The company's sales have kept pace with this growth, even in a dicey economy. Over the past decade Schneider Electric's annual global sales have grown from €9.7 billion (approximately US$13.5 billion) to €20 billion (about US$27.8 billion) as it evolved from a circuit breaker company to a solutions company, said Jeff Drees, U.S. country president, at the event in Chicago on Oct. 14. Drees said because of uncertainty about when capital expenditures on facility construction or upgrades will start ramping up, Schneider and its customers must learn how to use green products and systems to help building owners and corporations operate more profitably by slashing their operational expenses.

Drees expects three 2011 acquisitions to position Schneider for even more growth in the future: Lee Technologies. Fairfax, Va., a data center specialist; Telvent, Fort Collins, Colo., a major player in the smart grid; and Summit Energy, Louisville, Ky., a provider of energy management and sustainability services. The press event focused on Schneider Electric's progress in all of these areas, but the company's aggressive push into products and services for the smart grid was definitely one of the larger points of emphasis at the event, and there was plenty of discussion about the smart grid's potential to ease integration of renewable energy and electric vehicle supply equipment.

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