ABB resulted from the 1988 merger of the Swedish corporation Allmänna Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget (ASEA) and the Swiss company Brown, Boveri & Cie (BBC); the latter had absorbed the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon in 1967. CEO at the time of the merger was the former CEO of ASEA, Percy Barnevik, who ran the company until 1996.
ABB's history goes back to the late 19th century. ASEA was founded in 1883 by Ludvig Fredholm in Västerås as manufacturer of electrical light and generators. Brown, Boveri & Cie (BBC) was formed in 1891 in Baden, Switzerland, by Charles Eugene Lancelot Brown and Walter Boveri as a Swiss group of electrical companies producing AC and DC motors, generators, steam turbines and transformers.
In 2016, ABB celebrated its 125th anniversary in Switzerland.
ABB is the world's largest builder of electricity grids and is active in many sectors, its core businesses being in power and automation technologies. The company has one corporate division and four production divisions since reorganization in January 2017. ABB is one of the few large companies that have successfully implemented the matrix structure in their organization.
The Electrification Products division manufactures low- and medium-voltage electrical products, including electric vehicle infrastructure, solar inverters, modular substations, distribution automation; products to protect people, installations and electronic equipment from electrical overload such as enclosures, cable systems and low-voltage circuit breakers; measuring and sensing devices, control products, switches and wiring accessories. The division further makes KNX systems that integrate and automate a building's electrical installations, ventilation systems, and security and data communication networks. Electrification Products also incorporates an Electrification Solutions unit manufacturing low voltage switchgear and motor control centres. Customers include a wide range of industry and utility operations, plus commercial and residential buildings.
The Robotics and Motion division provides products and services for industrial production. It includes electric motors, generators, drives, power electronics and industrial robots. ABB has installed over 300,000 robots. In 2006, ABB opened a manufacturing centre in Shanghai, China. Also, wind generators, solar power inverters and UPS products belong to this division.
The main focus of the Industrial Automation division is to provide customers with systems for control, plant optimization, and industry-specific automation applications. The industries served include oil and gas, power, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, metals and minerals, marine and turbocharging. The division consists of seven business units: Control Technologies (the world's No 1 DCS supplier); Marine & Ports; Measurement & Analytics; Oil, Gas & Chemicals; Power Generation & Water; Process Industries and Turbocharging.
The Power Grids division offers key components for the transmission and distribution of electricity. The division incorporates ABB's manufacturing network for transformers, switchgear, circuit breakers, cables, and associated high voltage equipment such as digital protective relays. It also offers maintenance services. The division also offers turnkey systems and service for power transmission and distribution grids, and for power plants. Electrical substations and substation automation systems are key areas. Additional highlights include flexible AC transmission systems (FACTS), high-voltage direct current (HVDC) systems and network management systems. The division is subdivided into the four business units High Voltage Products, Transformers, Grid Automation and Grid Integration.
In 1990, ABB purchased Westinghouse's metering and control division (the load control division was spun off to Cannon Technologies in the late 1990s and the meter division was spun off to Elster Electricity in the early 2000s). Also, in the early 1990s, ABB purchased Combustion Engineering (C-E), headquartered in Stamford and Norwalk, Connecticut, a leading U.S. firm in the development of conventional fossil fuel power and nuclear power supply systems to break into the North American market. Klaus Agthe was CEO of the US operation at the time. Continuing with its expansion plans, ABB purchased Elsag Bailey, a process automation group, in 1997 which included Bailey Controls, Hartmann & Braun, and Fischer & Porter. This was the largest acquisition to date in ABB's history.
ABB bought International Combustion Ltd from Rolls-Royce in 1997.
ABB's boiler and fossil fuel businesses were purchased by Alstom in 2000, and its nuclear business was purchased by Westinghouse Electric Company in 2000. In 2000, ABB also signed a contract for the delivery of equipment and services for two North Korean nuclear powerplants to be supplied under an agreement with the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), a consortium formed in 1995 by the governments of the United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union. ABB formally divested from a joint venture named ABB-Alstom Power in 2000, and sold its interest in conventional power generation systems to Alstom Power. ABB's nuclear business was sold to BNFL and merged into Westinghouse Electric Company.
In 2001, ABB was ranked as number one on the Dow Jones corporate sustainability index for the third year in a row.
In 2002, ABB asked Lindahl, the company's former chief executive, to return some of his $50 million retirement pay, which its board called excessive. ABB also asked its former chairman Percy Barnevik to pay back part of his $87 million pension package. The size of the pensions was disclosed at the same time as ABB's $691 million net loss for 2001 made headlines and drew sharp criticism in Switzerland and Sweden.
ABB's Building Systems business unit was sold off in 2004 to Capvis, a Swiss private equity company, as part of ABB's strategy to focus on power and automation technologies. ABB's building systems businesses in Australia and Hong Kong were sold off the year before, in May 2003, to Downer EDI Limited. Building Systems provided services for building facilities encompassing indoor air quality, building automation as well as power distribution and management.
Financial debt and lingering asbestos liability brought ABB to the brink of bankruptcy in the early 2000s. In 2006, ABB returned to financial health by settling its asbestos liability regarding claims that were filed against ABB's U.S. subsidiaries, Combustion Engineering and Lummus Global. In August 2007 Lummus Global was sold to CB&I.
In December 2008, ABB acquired Ber-Mac Electrical and Instrumentation to expand its presence in western Canada's oil and gas industries. Ber-Mac Electrical and Instrumentation has been in the business of supplying electrical power and instrumentation equipment and services, both domestically and to international markets since 1980. Ber-Mac provides its clients with expertise in industrial automation, electrical and instrumentation design, process optimization, panel fabrication and field services. It is particularly strong in the Oil & Gas industry. Ber-Mac’s value proposition in engineering expertise and service capabilities is highly respected throughout Western Canada, this was a key factor in ABB’s decision to acquire the firm. This acquisition significantly expanded ABB’s presence in Western Canada to more than 760 employees in over 20 locations.
In 2009, ABB realigned its automation divisions to enhance growth opportunities. As of January 1, 2010, the business units in the Automation Products and Robotics divisions were regrouped into two new divisions – Discrete Automation and Motion, and Low Voltage Products. The Process Automation division remained unchanged except for the addition of the instrumentation business from the Automation Products division.
In May 2010, ABB acquired software company Ventyx for more than $1 billion from Vista Equity Partners.
In 2011, on May 9 ABB announced acquisition of Australian-based Mincom Limited from private equity firm Francisco Partners - to expand their enterprise software business for undisclosed sum. On July 29, 2011, acquisition has been finalised. Mincom and Ventyx were subsequently integrated under the Ventyx name, and have now been integrated into ABB as the Enterprise Software Product Group.
In 2011 ABB acquired Baldor Electric USA for $4.2 billion in an all-cash transaction
On January 30, 2012, ABB Group acquired Thomas & Betts in a $3.9 billion cash transaction.
On June 15, 2012, ABB completed acquisition of commercial and industrial wireless technology specialists Tropos.
In July 2013, ABB acquired Power-One in a $1 billion all-cash transaction, to become the leading global manufacturer of solar inverters .
In May 2013, ABB Sécheron SA joined with several groups in Geneva (TOSA Trolleybus Optimisation Système Alimentation, or in English, Trolleybus Power System Optimization) in a one-year demonstration of a trolleybus route using a novel charging system. Rather than overhead wires, charging is accomplished by fixed overhead devices located at stops along the route and at the terminus. Jean-Luc Favre, head of Rail ISI, discussed the promising role of improved electric transport technology in ABB.
Ulrich Spiesshofer has been Chief Executive Officer since September 2013.
Former CEOs:September 2008– September 2013 Joe Hogan
February 2008 - September 2008: Michel Demaré (ad interim)
January 2005 - February 2008: Fred Kindle
September 2002 - December 2004: Jürgen Dormann
January 2001 - September 2002: Jörgen Centerman
January 1997 - December 2000: Göran Lindahl
1987-1996: Percy Barnevik
Chairman of the Board
The Board of Directors is chaired by Peter Voser. He was elected in April 2015 and succeeded Hubertus von Grünberg, who had been Chairman since May 2007. Jürgen Dormann was chairman from 2002 to 2007, and Percy Barnevik from 1999 to 2002.
Former Board Members include:Peter Sutherland
Donald Rumsfeld (1990–2001)
The largest single stake in the firm is held by the Swedish investment company Investor AB, controlled by the Wallenberg family, which holds 10.48%.Alstom
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