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March 2013
Form + Function
By Barbara Fagan

     When Electrolux relocated its North American headquarters to Charlotte in July 2010, it was the largest corporate relocation to the city in the last 25 years. With more than 40 million products sold in markets in more than 150 countries each year, Electrolux is a global leader in the design and manufacture of appliances for both consumer and professional use. Electrolux develops, designs and manufactures both major and small appliances including refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, stoves, air conditioners and vacuums.

     The company’s North American business accounts for more than one third of Electrolux’s total global sales. The relocation of its North American headquarters brought Charlotte not only the prestige of being the regional home of a global company with household name recognition but also a commitment from Electrolux of new jobs for the area.

     Jack Truong, president and CEO of Electrolux Major Appliances North America, who has a doctorate in chemical engineering and holds 11 U.S. patents and several international patents for innovation in his field, joined Electrolux in 2011.

     “The community here in Charlotte has welcomed us with open arms,” Truong says. “We love being here and we look forward to working with everyone here to make this a growing part of the company for our global group.”

 

In our backyard

     Since its relocation, Electrolux has proven to be a strong contributor to the Charlotte community. The company’s original commitment of adding 738 jobs to the area within five years was met and surpassed in two years, and the company currently has 80 openings at its headquarters on David Taylor Drive including positions in engineering, IT, sales, marketing and supply chain functions.

     They also expect to add 80 more jobs in engineering, product testing and design when the research and development facility they opened just north of uptown, expands to include R&D for their washer and dryer business. The facility already houses R&D functions for vacuum products globally, electronic systems of all major appliances built in North America, and product design for all major and small appliances built in North America.

     “All of our appliances that are built in North America are designed right here in Charlotte,” explains Eloise Hale of Electrolux North America’s corporate communications and media relations. “This addition not only signals our commitment to product innovation in our washer and dryer business but also builds on the design and testing capabilities that we have here in the city.”

     Last August the company opened a 43,000-square-foot research and development lab at its refrigerator products manufacturing plant in Anderson, S.C. This Cold Technology Center and their other numerous R&D efforts demonstrate the importance of innovation to the company; an importance that dates back to its beginnings as the Frigidaire Company.

     “Who invented the first refrigerator?” Truong asks. “Frigidaire.”

     “Your mom or your grandmother probably said, ‘Please go get milk from the fridge,’” Truong continues. “That reference came from the Frigidaire brand. Frigidaire invented the first refrigerator in 1918. Who invented the first home freezer?”

     Truong lists off other appliances: the first home air conditioner, the first refrigerator ice maker, the first washer and dryer combination unit for apartments, and the first stainless steel appliances for home use.

     “The answer to each is ‘Frigidaire.’ All of these are the legendary innovations our company has brought to American consumers since 1918,” Truong says.

     Frigidaire’s product innovation continues now through Electrolux, a Swedish appliance company, which bought Frigidaire in 1986.

     “The combination of Electrolux, which is really about design and European aesthetics,” explains Truong, “with Frigidaire’s functionalities and cutting-edge technology, merges form and function to produce beautiful, innovative products for the consumer’s home.”

     The Frigidaire name remains a popular mass brand of the company which has four different levels of residential products, three under the Frigidaire brand as well as one under their premium Electrolux line. The company also offers a line of kitchen and laundry products for commercial use.

 

Innovation for the home

     “What we are doing in Charlotte and North America,” says Truong, “is understanding changing consumer behavior and designing and developing products for every type of family through the various stages of their social and economic cycles.

     “Starting out in your career in your 20s, you begin with the Frigidaire mass products,” Truong explains. “As families grow, they move on to Frigidaire Gallery, a step up. This is typically what many Americans would have in their kitchens. The step up from that within the Frigidaire brand is called Frigidaire Professional. And when the family gets to the point where they can afford great products with the luxury of beautiful design to complement their kitchen, they choose the high-end Electrolux kitchen.

     “The purpose of our company is about designing and developing cutting edge products, but it’s also about families. It’s about friends and families coming together in the kitchen. It’s about cooking healthy food for your family. We’ve found that, particularly in the U.S., more than 70 percent of households prefer to have great meals cooked at home. The kitchen has become the center of the house.

     “The design of homes has changed too, so as we develop new appliances we make sure they change to take that into account. The kitchen of today is often open to a family room, so the dishwasher must be extremely quiet. Our latest innovation in the Frigidaire Gallery line is a dishwasher with what we call ‘orbital cleaning.’ A proprietary hydraulic system allows four times more water coverage to provide the best cleaning and the best drying but yet it’s still extremely quiet. You can’t hear it as you entertain friends and family.

     “Right now, time is everything to the consumer. Rather than using gas or radiant energy, our new induction cooktop uses electromagnetic induction technology to boil water in only 90 seconds. We’ve put computer logic into our ovens. If you want to cook a turkey, the ovens have a special probe. You put it in the turkey, press the ‘perfect turkey” button and that’s all you have to do. A few hours later, when the turkey is ready, the oven rings, you open it up and it’s ready to serve.

     “We’ve also developed new technology for our washers and dryers that allows you to wash a load in 15 minutes and then to dry it in 14 minutes. Everything’s done in 29 minutes.

     “All of these innovations allow consumers to perform household tasks with high quality and in a shorter period of time so they have time to spend with their friends and family,” Truong sums up.

      Electrolux’s continuing emphasis on innovation has yielded big results. Currently, Electrolux is a $17 billion global company—the second largest appliance company in the world with the largest global reach of any appliance company.

     “We’re outperforming the industry,” cites Hale. “The industry as a whole is seeing declines, yet we’re seeing growth.”

     The company has also been recognized by third parties for its achievements. The Frigidaire Gallery double oven range won the prestigious 2012 Good Housekeeping Very Innovative Products Top Ten Award. Each full size oven in the range is large enough to cook a 28-pound turkey but separate controls allow independent baking, broiling and roasting.

     “A family can cook a ham in the top oven and bake cookies in the bottom oven simultaneously and both can be perfectly ready at mealtime,” says Truong.

 

Sustainability for the planet

     Electrolux has also recently received recognition from three leading ratings organizations for its sustainability efforts. In December of last year, the non-profit organization Climate Counts named Electrolux as one of the world’s leading consumer goods companies in terms of addressing climate change.

     For the second year running, the company was named Sector Leader in the RobecoSAM 2013 global sustainability rating and in January, Electrolux was included in the Global 100 ranking of the world’s most sustainable companies.

     “We place great emphasis on sustainability,” explains Hale. “Appliances are a major user of energy. The appliance industry as a whole has been aggressive in driving down energy usage. All of our products are energy efficient and many are ‘Energy Star’ rated.” (Products earn “Energy Star” labeling by meeting energy efficiency requirements established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)

     The company’s emphasis on eco-efficiency moves out of the manufacturing plant and into the classroom with its participation with UNC Charlotte in their “Urban Eden Initiative.” UNC Charlotte is one of 20 schools chosen to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2013. The worldwide competition, to be held in California in October, challenges academic teams to design and build highly energy-efficient solar-powered homes. Electrolux is an active sponsor of UNC Charlotte’s entry, the “Urban Eden” house.

     “We’re donating both money and products,” explains Hale. “We’re also working directly with the students on the design of the kitchen and how best to bring energy efficiency to it.”

     Electrolux is collaborating with UNC Charlotte in other ways as well. “We are working on several efforts with UNCC,” Hale says. “We are hiring graduates, offering internships and working with several of their departments on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.

     Truong also speaks to the partnership: “I and our team work closely with the UNCC administration to identify our company’s needs and to help write the curriculum so that their graduates can be readily employed within Electrolux. We believe building standards in engineering and technology excellence is a key value we can bring to the Charlotte community.”

     Electrolux’s community involvement extends beyond education. In the two years since their relocation they have been active in local non-profits with cash, sponsorships and in-kind donations to organizations such as the United Way of the Central Carolinas, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, the Arts and Science Council, and Johnson C. Smith University.

     Last July Electrolux provided 940 air conditioners worth $140,000 to Mecklenburg residents in need through a donation to the Crisis Assistance Ministry.

     “Community welfare, the arts and STEM education are important focus areas for us,” says Hale. “We are committed to growing here and being a good corporate partner.”

 

At home in the South

     Electrolux’s growth has been especially beneficial to the Southeast. North Carolina and its neighboring states account for a generous percentage of Electrolux’s 14,000 employees in North America.

     In addition to the more than 800 employees in Charlotte, their dishwasher production plant in Kinston, N.C., employs 600 and the Asheville national parts distribution center employs another 300.

     Electrolux boasts the world’s largest top mount refrigerator production plant in Anderson, S.C., and the company produces one of out of every three stoves sold in United States from its Springfield, Tenn., factory.

     To further underscore Electrolux’s commitment to the U.S. and the Southeast, Electrolux will soon move production of its high end ovens from Canada to Memphis, Tenn. The 750,000-square-foot state-of-the-art factory will open in June 2013, and at full capacity will create 1,200 new jobs in Memphis.

     Truong points out that the economic impact should be even more beneficial. “For every manufacturing job we create, we typically create three additional jobs that our suppliers need to add to increase their production.”

     In July 2012, Electrolux North America celebrated two years in Charlotte with a local campaign of billboards, advertising and sponsorships to thank the city for being such a great place to work and live.

     As Electrolux North America headquarters settles into its third year in the Queen City, the company’s innovation, growth and expansion of local jobs as well as its interest, work and involvement in the community continue to be a cause for celebration.

 

 

 

Barbara Fagan is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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