Westinghouse CEO: Steve Tritch
We Pittsburghers have had our share of recent good news/bad news upon which we can pontificate over summer cocktails — the challenge of population loss vs. the glory of again being the most livable city. We can also prattle on about our region’s CEOs — better they be homebred or global business stars? With Westinghouse Electric’s Steve Tritch, we’re getting a bit of both.
Certainly the “Hometown Boy Makes Good” credentials are there. Tritch grew up in Butler County, the second of five children. His father was an X-ray technician at a VA hospital. After Butler High School, Tritch went to Pitt for both his undergrad (mechanical engineering) and night school MBA degrees. Now he is the father of two in local colleges (Pitt and Washington & Jefferson), and his wife, also a Pitt grad, teaches seventh grade in Mars.
His travel habits are Pittsburgh too. Tritch, 57, drives a Chrysler Sebring with 74,000 miles. He prefers to fly commercial on business trips. “My father was a frugal guy,” he says. “That’s just what I know.”
But Tritch is also a global business player in every sense. Under his watch, Westinghouse has scored a huge win to build four nuclear power plants in China, a $6-to-$7 billion deal that will lead to thousands of new, high-skilled jobs in Western Pennsylvania and beyond, as well as relocation for the company to Cranberry.
Talk about close calls. With the China deal and other promising developments in the global nuclear power market expanding its employee ranks, Tritch and other Westinghouse managers saw that the company would soon outgrow its hilltop campus near Monroeville. Headquarters would move. But where?
After analyzing costs, regulations, taxes and the usual gamut of business climate factors, Pittsburgh came up fifth of seven possible national locations. Various states were pushing hard, with incentives and tax deferrals. Columbia, S.C., home to a Westinghouse fuel fabrication facility, was particularly strong.
What turned the tables, Tritch says, was the Strategic Development Area grants arranged by Governor Rendell. “That made it an easier decision for us,” he says. “We’re staying here.”
Government support can work both ways, of course. In the competition for the Chinese project, Westinghouse was up against French government-controlled Areva, the world’s largest design and plant construction contractor. The French government aggressively courted the Chinese, flying French President Jacques Chirac to Beijing for serious face time.
“We had great support from the U.S. government, including cabinet and Congressional members,” Tritch says. “But that’s not the same has having the head of government flying in himself.” (Areva did end up with its own big-ticket assignment from China, worth around $5 billion.)
Today’s Westinghouse Electric, of course, is not the Westinghouse that Western Pennsylvanians grew up knowing. That Westinghouse morphed into CBS in the 1990s and is now part of the Viacom behemoth. The nuclear power plant building and operating division retained the name Westinghouse Electric and became part of British Nuclear Fuels LTD (BNFL), owned by the U.K. government.
Last year, in a surprise to the nuclear industry, BNFL sold its stake in Westinghouse to Toshiba, which outbid General Electric and Mitsubishi.
These days, the nuclear industry — and Westinghouse — is on a roll. Spurred by the need to stabilize energy supplies and reduce greenhouse emissions, against the backdrop of skyrocketing demand for energy from booming China and India, there is a resurgence in designing and building nuclear power plants. China expects to add 25 to 30 plants in the decades ahead. In the U.S., some 20 new plants are in the licensing process, with 12 of those opting for Westinghouse’s AP1000 plant design.
“By the middle of the next decade, there will be a significant new flow of energy from nuclear power in this country,” Tritch says. “We expect Westinghouse will benefit mightily. Things look great for us.”
Still, all is not clear sailing. Government and utilities have yet to come up with a final solution for disposing of highly radioactive spent fuel. Politics has stalled the much-debated Yucca Mountain repository, proposed for the Nevada desert, and spent fuel rods are piling up at nuclear plants around the country.
With the headquarters relocation and stepped-up efforts to recruit new workers, Tritch sees cultural changes for Westinghouse. In the 1990s, when nuclear power was in the doldrums, the company had to learn, sometimes painfully, to become more streamlined. Now the challenge is to expand while remaining efficient, and at the same time be more attractive to the young engineers and specialists the company needs. (The new Cranberry facility will have an on-site daycare center.)
“We need a vibrant Pittsburgh to be successful,” he says. “We need to retain the young people we’re working hard to get here.” And will the move to Cranberry make his own life a bit easier?
“Well, I never really wanted to live five minutes from work, didn’t want to run into the same people on the weekends. I need that distance to decompress at the end of the day. I guess I’ll just have to drive around the block for 20 minutes before I go home.”