Friday, May 09, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again: Westinghouse Steps Forward

For a lot of folks, Westinghouse is a name associated with the  westinghouse washing machines, TV sets and vacuum machines that graced their suburban tract homes growing up. Even at the time, though, the brand seemed a little old-fashioned, something with the ordure of musty velour.

But Westinghouse was then a powerhouse almost as broad based as General Electric. In recent years, as a division of Toshiba, Westinghouse Electric Company (the electronics and appliance maker still exists as Westinghouse Electric Corporation, owned by CBS) has largely focused on the nuclear market. Here's how they've spent the last several years:

For the past few years, amid a resurgence of the nuclear power industry, Westinghouse's Engineering Services group has been furiously upgrading and refurbishing aging plants—and minting money along the way.

But that work is almost done, and Business Week's Brian Hindo documents what Westinghouse is doing to move forward and retain its relevance:

Last fall the company won a contract to make repairs to Alloy 600, a metal that is found in old reactors. It had never done that before. Nor had it serviced a type of reactor that uses boiling, rather than pressurized, water to generate steam. Now it has a satellite office in San Jose, Calif., dedicated to such jobs.

But even this isn't the full point. That comes through Westinghouse's determination to push itself forward though taking on a culture of risk aversion and reversing it to allow the company to think outside hidebound assumptions and discover what else it could do and how it could do them:

[Engineering Services head Nick Liparulo] needed to send a strong signal that risk-taking wouldn't be a ticket out the door. At [University of Virginia's Darden School of Business professor Jeanne] Liedtka's suggestion, he took nine of his best managers and made them "growth leaders." Their sole responsibilities would be to chase down new technologies and markets.

As Liedtka's involvement suggests, this has more than a whiff of an academic business theory given form - expect many pop business books to come out about it if they haven't already - but the results are good and it has pushed Westinghouse forward. Read the whole article - it's a good, positive one and gets the weekend going right - and see if Westinghouse hasn't blown the dust off the velour and made it plush again.

3 comments:

Kyle Dobbs said...

Note to moderator: This comment isn't about the blog post. I'd like to contact someone from this blog.

I'm pro-nuclear power and I think we need to increase our presence on Wikipedia. There is a lot of anti-nuclear bias in Wikipedia articles. The more popular articles, IE: Chernobyl are pretty reasonable, but some of the less popular articles, IE Indian Point are terrible.

Also, I was wondering if you could put out a call to create a software or web tool I thought of. I am not mathematically inclined, so when I see a news article about a release of radiation, I'm not able to put it in context. A tool which converts a given radiation quantity or exposure level to a comparable number of bananas, people in a pool, etc. It would be nice to know how many truckloads of bananas were discharged when reading this Wikipedia article: "From unit 6, 1.3 cubic meters of water from the spent fuel pool leaked from the pool, and flowed into through a drainage pipe, ultimately into the Sea of Japan. The water contained 80 Bq/L, totaling 90,000 Bq in the release."

David Bradish said...

You can email me at deb(at)nei.org.

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