Sotera Health’s Michael Petras

More than two decades ago, Michael B. Petras Jr. was involved in a joint venture between his employer, General Electric, and another Fortune 100 company. The experience taught him a valuable lesson that has stuck with him to this day.

“It wasn’t going well,” Petras says. “I learned that GE people at times use the acronym to mean ‘get everything.’ It was early in my career and we tried to ‘get everything’ and it killed the relationship. I was part of that problem. It helped me realize the value of having partnerships and that it’s not always about winning. It’s not about proving you’re right about every point, which is what we were trying to do as a company.”

While GE’s partner wasn’t delivering on what it had committed to in the joint venture, there was a bigger problem.

“Even if they would have delivered, we would have realized we couldn’t deliver on what we committed to either,” Petras says. “Their part was the product, which means we never had to prove if we had the channel capability. It taught me the importance of a balanced relationship in joint ventures and partnerships. This became very important to me as I did joint ventures around the world in China, Japan, Canada and Germany.”

These days, Petras is CEO at Sotera Health, an integrated global health solutions provider. He has 2,800 employees working at more than 62 locations in 13 countries around the world. The company recently rebranded from its former name, Sterigenics International. Sotera is the parent company of Sterigenics, Nelson Labs and Nordion.

Petras knows how to grow a business and he spoke with Smart Business Dealmakers about the best approach to take when negotiating deals with other companies.

What’s the key to being able to step into a difficult situation and make it better?

I’ve gone from the supermarket industry to light bulbs to electrical switch gear to ostomy pouches and catheters at AssuraMed to sterilizing medical devices and pharmaceutical products. The key is having a thirst and a hunger to want to learn all the time. Be able to get in and understand these businesses. You also need to have the right people around you and be able to get them in the right seats. You need to give them direction as to where you are, where you want to go and where you want to be. I spend a ton of time on talent management and performance reviews of all my senior leaders that I’ll then go through with them.

What mentors have helped you grow as a leader?

I’ve worked for unbelievable leaders in my life, including Jack Welch, Jim McNerney at Boeing, Dave Calhoun, who ran Nielsen, and Jeff Immelt from GE. I tried to learn something from each of them, the good and the bad. I had one leader who was a great guy to hang out with, but he was more of a commercial guy, and didn’t know how to run a full P&L. The big mistake he made is he put people around him who were buddies and good guys to hang out with. But they didn’t supplement what he didn’t know. I can remember him getting rid of a technology guy and a manufacturing guy, which were his two weakest spots. It was because he couldn’t get along with these two people. These two people were really what he needed. Jim McNerney was great at driving global accountability. He turned Boeing into a global product company. Jack Welch is so good at the talent and the rigor around that and the evaluation and development of talent. I’ve learned from all of them.

How did you find your career path?

I was an average student in high school and college. My kids laugh at my ACT scores compared to theirs. My kids are smarter than I am on this stuff. I think it’s my eagerness to learn and my willingness to jump in and just work really hard. Your experience shapes you over time. I’m not the smartest guy in the room by any stretch. I’m going against guys that are 10 times smarter than me all the time in business. But I try to work hard, learn, do my homework and be prepared without losing sense of my values.

It’s not all about your education. It’s about who you surround yourself with. Hard work, honesty, your underlying value system. I tell my team all the time when I interview and hire them that I have very high expectations of myself. I don’t ever ask them to do something I wouldn’t be comfortable doing. But that’s going to translate to high expectations for everybody on my team. I want to win. I never want to be satisfied. We’re a market leader and I view it that everybody wants our spot and we can’t let that happen.

How to reach: Sotera Health, soterahealth.com

Boeing to cut jobs at second Dreamliner plant: report

SEATTLE, Fri Feb 28, 2013 — Boeing Co. will cut hundreds of jobs at a South Carolina plant that makes 787 Dreamliners over the course of this year, but the move has nothing to do with the recent grounding of the troubled jetliner, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The cuts, which chiefly target contract workers, are not uncommon as productivity improves on a new airplane program and were conceived before major problems with the 787s battery surfaced, the Journal said. Two high-profile battery malfunctions led to international aviation regulators grounding the jetliner in mid-January.

The cuts could account for up to 20 percent of the workforce in some teams at the plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, the Journal reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the plan. Overall, the plant employs more than 6,000 people.

Boeing did not confirm the layoffs, but did tell Reuters it plans to reduce reliance on contract workers at the South Carolina plant.

“Boeing regularly uses contract labor and ‘industry assist’ to supplement its workforce during surge activities and on development programs that require a production ramp up – that’s standard practice in the aerospace industry,” said Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman. “As we progress in improving efficiencies in our processes, training our entry-level employees and growing the experience of our team in South Carolina, we expect to continue to reduce reliance on contract labor/industry assist to meet our production objectives.”

The South Carolina plant is the second Boeing facility where 787s are assembled after the larger Everett, Wash., facility north of Seattle. Between them, Boeing turns out five Dreamliners per month.

So far, the plane maker has said production has not been slowed by the grounding of

Boeing close to fixing Dreamliner battery: source

CHICAGO, Wed Feb 20, 2013 — Boeing Co. has found a way to fix battery problems with its grounded 787 Dreamliner jets which involves increasing the space between cells, a source familiar with the U.S. company’s plans told Reuters.

“The gaps between cells will be bigger. I think that’s why there was overheating,” said the source, who declined to be identified because the plans are private.

The 50 Dreamliners in commercial service were grounded worldwide last month after a series of battery-related incidents including a fire on board a parked plane in the United States and an in-flight problem on another jet in Japan. Until the Dreamliner is cleared to fly again, Boeing will be starved of delivery payments.

The logical solution for Boeing would be to install ceramic plates between each cell and add a vent to the battery box, Kiyoshi Kanamura, a professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University who has conducted research with several Japanese battery makers, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Earlier on Wednesday, the chairman of state-run Air India said Boeing is hopeful of getting the Dreamliner back in service by early April.

Boeing starts 2013 ahead of Airbus despite 787 freeze

CHICAGO, Fri Feb 8, 2013 — Boeing started the year ahead of its European rival Airbus, after clinching the industry’s top spot in 2012, with broadly higher orders and deliveries in January, data showed on Friday.

EADS unit Airbus said it had taken 140 orders during the month, or 121 after adjusting for cancellations, and also delivered 35 passenger jets to airline customers.

Boeing said on Thursday it had delivered 39 aircraft in January, beating Airbus despite a halt in deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner which has been grounded by battery safety concerns.

The U.S. company sold 145 aircraft between Jan. 1 and Feb. 5, the nearest comparable period for which data is available, and took no cancellations.

Both companies’ order books were unusually active for January as American Airlines won court permission to confirm large plane orders while in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Boeing sees no big impact from 787 woes, profit beats

NEW YORK, Wed Jan 30, 2013 — Boeing Co. posted a stronger-than-expected profit on Wednesday as its backlog of orders rose, and said its 2013 forecast “assumes no significant financial impact” from the grounding of its 787 Dreamliner jet by regulators.

Shares were up 1.6 percent at 74.80 in premarket trading.

Aviation safety agencies in the United States and Japan are investigating what caused lithium-ion batteries to burn on two 787 passenger jets earlier this month, prompting regulators to ground the planes worldwide.

Boeing said it is continuing to build the Dreamliner, but has halted deliveries, and analysts have raised concerns about the cost of the grounding and for fixing the battery problem on about 125 jets that Boeing has built so far.

“Our first order of business for 2013 is to resolve the battery issue on the 787 and return the airplanes safely to service with our customers,” said Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney.

Boeing’s earnings, outlook overshadowed by 787 unknowns

NEW YORK, Tue Jan 29, 2013 — Just over a month ago, Boeing was flying high.

Its airplane factories were humming and speeding up production. Its defense business had just been restructured to deal with dwindling budgets in the United States and Europe. The company was confident enough to increase its dividend and resume buying back shares.

Perhaps best of all, Boeing was shortly to reclaim the title of world’s biggest plane maker, snatching back an honor that its arch rival Airbus had held for a decade.

But with its new 787 Dreamliner still grounded by two battery failures on the eve of its 2012 earnings release, the Chicago-based aerospace and defense giant is in no position to rest on laurels.

Analysts and investors are likely to grill Chief Executive Jim McNerney about the costs of fixing the 787 when the company reports earnings on Wednesday.

Those costs are unknown but mounting daily as airlines are barred from using the high-tech plane. Boeing is still building five Dreamliners a month but isn’t delivering them to customers. With each of them carrying a list price of $207 million, they quickly become an expensive pile of jets outside Boeing’s factories in Everett, Washington and North Charleston, South Carolina.

That is why Wall Street is looking for guidance from McNerney about how painful the grounding is getting.

Dreamliner probe widens after excess battery voltage ruled out

WASHINGTON, Mon Jan 21, 2013 — U.S. safety investigators on Sunday ruled out excess voltage as the cause of a battery fire this month on a Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner jet operated by Japan Airlines Co. and said they were expanding the probe to look at the battery’s charger and the jet’s auxiliary power unit.

Last week, governments across the world grounded the Dreamliner while Boeing halted deliveries after a problem with a lithium-ion battery on a second 787 plane, flown by All Nippon Airways Co., forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing in western Japan.

A growing number of investigators and Boeing executives are working around the clock to determine what caused the two incidents which the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says released flammable chemicals and could have sparked a fire in the plane’s electrical compartment.

There are still no clear answers about the root cause of the battery failures, but the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s statement eliminated one possible answer that had been raised by Japanese investigators.

Boeing Dreamliner incidents raise safety concerns

NEW YORK/TOKYO, Wed Jan 9, 2013 — Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner jet suffered a third mishap in as many days on Wednesday, heightening safety concerns after a string of setbacks for the new aircraft.

Japan’s All Nippon Airways said it was forced to cancel a 787 Dreamliner flight scheduled to from fly from Yamaguchi prefecture in western Japan to Tokyo due to brake problems.

That followed a fuel leak on Tuesday that forced a 787 operated by Japan Airlines to cancel take-off at Boston’s Logan International Airport, a day after an electrical fire on another 787 after a JAL flight to Boston from Tokyo.

Asian customers rallied behind the U.S. planemaker, however, saying such teething troubles were not uncommon on new planes and confirming they had no plans to scale back or cancel orders for the aircraft, which has a list price of $207 million.

Boeing books 47 net new plane orders in latest week

CHICAGO — Boeing Co. said it booked 50 new orders for planes in the latest week, including orders for 31 of its wide body 777 jets, worth about $9 billion at list prices.

Customers also canceled orders for three planes – one 747, one 777 and one 787 — bringing the net increase in orders to 47 for the week. So far this year, Boeing has booked net orders for 1,115 planes.

The 50 new orders include four 767s for FedEx Corp., one 777 for the Republic of Iraq, and 15 737s and 30 777s for customers that Boeing did not identify.

The company did not say which customers had canceled orders.

Boeing, union suspend talks for rest of year on mediator request

NEW YORK, Thu Dec 6, 2012 — At the request of a federal mediator, Boeing Co. and the union representing its 23,000 engineers suspended talks on new labor contracts for the rest of the year.

The move came Wednesday, a day after the mediator joined the negotiations in Seattle. The two sides have been bargaining since April to replace contracts that expired Oct. 6. A 60-day extension ran out November 25, giving the union the ability to strike. Union leaders have said they would not call a strike until January at the earliest.

“At the request of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, negotiations between The Boeing Company and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, IFPTE Local 2001 are being suspended until after the first of the year,” the FMCS said in a statement Wednesday. “Both sides agreed to this mediator request.”

Talks between the two sides broke off briefly last week, and resumed Tuesday with the mediator present.

The talks broke off when Boeing said the sides were too far apart to continue talks without mediation. Boeing said it had upped its wage offer from a proposal it made in September.