Powering Ahead

Interview with Ganesh Iyer, Power Generation Global Director for Cat and FG Wilson

Ganesh Iyer is a man on a mission.  Since early 2015, he has held the reins of one of Caterpillar’s most significant power generation teams.  His reach covers Cat branded generator sets up to 750 kVA and the entire FG Wilson range from 7 – 2,500 kVA.  It’s a task which animates him hugely and has his undivided attention.

What makes Ganesh’s task especially interesting is that it embraces two of the generator set industry’s most iconic brands which together have an enviable global presence. 

Caterpillar have been in the business since 1939, the first engine manufacturer to provide a complete factory-produced generator set, and globally today Cat brand generators lead the way in quality, durability and world-class support. 

 

The FG Wilson brand was founded in 1966 and was acquired by Caterpillar in 1999. Ganesh is candid about what attracted Caterpillar to FG Wilson.  “It was the modern factories, the distribution channel, the ability to reach new customers and most important of all, the entrepreneurial spirit within the brand.”

Alongside the premium Cat brand generator set range, FG Wilson allowed Caterpillar to reach a wider group of customers.  Having a brand like FG Wilson inside the stable was something of a learning experience for Caterpillar, which today owns many “non-yellow” brands.  In the late 90s, however, much of this was new to the organisation. 

Ganesh says, “At first, little changed for the FG Wilson brand.  Then gradually over time, we tried to make things more efficient, with common products, common processes and the ultimate was a common marketing team between the Cat and FG Wilson brands.”

It might have seemed efficient, but it was also diluting the essence that made the FG Wilson brand unique.  Slowly, FG Wilson was losing its voice, inside and outside the organisation. 

In mid 2016, Ganesh changed all that.  “One thing that is abundantly clear to me is that the FG Wilson brand is critical to our future success.    It was time to step back, really think about our customers, set out where we want to take our business and how we can grow while serving customers even better.”

The first step was the appointment of a new Managing Director for FG Wilson, Ann Brown. A grounded professional with seventeen years in the industry, Ann hails from an operations background. She’s now surrounded by an experienced team, many of whom started their careers at FG Wilson and who were instrumental in driving FG Wilson growth.

Ganesh sees that reaffirmation of FG Wilson brand values as key.  The market for generator sets is a crowded and unforgiving place.  He says, “The basic technology in a generator set really hasn't really changed for a long time.  We have a 70 year old Cat generator set on display at our Larne visitor centre which wouldn’t look out of place at a customer site today.   Engines have become more efficient and customers can work remotely with generator sets but really, the basic core product is the same.  This means it’s relatively easy for new generator set packagers to enter the market with similar products, so it’s a mature and very crowded market.”

What is much more difficult, says Ganesh, is to build up distribution networks and be capable of supporting generator sets effectively and consistently on site.  “People who buy generator sets aren’t buying the metal,” says Ganesh. “They’re buying guaranteed power, and with that comes a responsibility that you will honour the trust customers give when they buy.”

With 600,000 generator sets installed since 1990 alone, FG Wilson doesn’t take any chances with customer trust.  Every new product is put through rigorous testing and validation at a $26M Engineering Centre in Larne, UK, which also houses Europe's largest fully automated hemi-anechoic chamber, providing state of the art acoustic research and test capabilities.  And every product is released with a full suite of parts at the brand’s main aftermarket facility, which stocks 11,500 product lines and ships 3 million parts a year. 

This focus on service is a huge priority for Ganesh.  “Few of us now tolerate loss of power.  Talk to any young person who has lost their wi-fi or data connection.  Today we all expect more from what we buy, and customers who own generator sets expect the same level of service as they get when they buy a consumer product.  And this is where FG Wilson is really investing time and resources.”

Supporting customers is a global network of over 400 dealers with over 700 touch points, all of them painstakingly recruited and trained.  Many have been in partnership with FG Wilson for two or three decades.  

Ganesh says, “What makes the FG Wilson distribution network really special is that their main or usually sole focus is on our generator sets – this is what they do, so they are complete specialists.  They understand the business and customers better than anyone.”

That expertise can reach into extremely complex projects.  In the early days, FG Wilson built up its name designing, building and commissioning mini power stations in the Middle East, often in the most inhospitable operating environments.   That tradition continues today.  In some European and Middle Eastern cities, it’s possible to look across the skyline and tick off large landmark buildings which rely on an FG Wilson generator set for standby power.  Developing this custom business for large generator sets is important to Ganesh.  “We believe this is something which FG Wilson does extremely well.  We’ve a long track record of experience, within our organisation and within the dealer network, world class facilities, and very importantly, the innovation and product development from custom projects can work its way through to our more standard ranges.”

The future is very obviously where Ganesh’s mind is.  Yet he’s very conscious of the heritage of FG Wilson.  He says, “Last May, we marked 50 years of FG Wilson with an event at our Larne facility among long-standing employees and representatives of the Wilson family.  The warmth and goodwill at that event is something I will never forget.  This is a great and historic brand with a 50-year history, and it’s our job to preserve and grow it for the future.”  

Ganesh says the benefits of the changes are already being felt across the organisation.  “We’re writing another chapter of a great brand,” he says.  “It’s like a business school case study coming to life.”

FG Wilson will be appearing at Middle East Electricity in Dubai from 14 – 16 February, on stand S2.D10.