Walking the Talk: A Tribute to Gamesa’s Outgoing CEO Guillermo Ulacia

Much more than “rain upon the plain” comes from Spain. Up close and personal for Pennsylvania, Guillermo Ulacia, outgoing global Executive Chairman of Gamesa, the leading Spanish wind turbine manufacturer (whose North American headquarters in Philadelphia and factories in Fairless Hills and Ebensburg employ over 900 people), announced from Madrid last month that he was stepping down voluntarily for personal reasons.

His departure surprised employees everywhere, the markets, and Pennsylvania’s public sector and labor leaders who partnered with him these past four years to create a “model U.S. green economy company” as the press has chosen to refer to Gamesa.  To measure the Spanish leader who’s leaving, we need to evaluate the economic development potential of the green jobs creation equation unfolding on our doorstep.

In January of 2005, Governor Rendell declared, when announcing Gamesa’s decision to put steel in the ground for its Ebensburg blades plant that “nobody can say manufacturing is dead in America.”  Former Secretary for Community and Industrial Development, Dennis Yablonsky, observed, “when Gamesa showed up, it brought us all hope.” 

Former Department of Environment Protection Secretary, Katie McGinty, who spearheaded Gamesa’s Pennsylvania 2004 location decision, when asked by the Obama Administration last month to represent the U.S. in the Council of Europe debate in Strasbourg on climate change, referred to Gamesa as the industrial metaphor of what can happen when the green economy is structured to become a “force for good.”

In Pennsylvania, Gamesa’s employees knew Guillermo as the triple promise – the charismatic leader who knew how to manage, market and manufacture and who put his work force first.

In the U.S., Guillermo Ulacia’s Gamesa went from red to black, achieving sales over one billion dollars and employing more than 1000 steelworkers before the global financial crisis hit.  Even then, Gamesa took a different path than its competitors by finding ways to retain its people even with idled factories, by cross-training and cross-placing workers (who couldn’t manufacture due to low demand) in service jobs on operating wind farms.

Globally, Gamesa under Guillermo Ulacia invented the “energyculture” brand that puts a human performance face on sustainability both for stakeholders and shareholders and then introduced this on three very different continents and made it work.   While competitors were closing up shop and abandoning China, and cutting employment to the bone in their half-finished factories in the U.S, Gamesa under Guillermo stood by the company’s workers and commitments and focused on ways to ride out the credit malaise that has gripped world markets these past two years by investing more on training and revamping factories.

Today, Gamesa’s impact extends well beyond its factory walls with 85% of blades, 97% of towers, and 35% of nacelles that are produced in the U.S. built locally to a supply base of over 105 subcontractors. 

In societies and industries searching for “leadership by example”, Guillermo Ulacia’s Gamesa has pushed performance barriers during the toughest external market conditions while insisting that internal conduct be based on humility, creativity, owning the details and staying true to one’s word.

Gamesa’s employees have come to appreciate that the structure Guillermo Ulacia helped us to put in place is transformational on the human side and greens the planet in ways that make good business sense. This inspirational “rain from Spain” waters the industrial rivers of our cities and heartland to create a new context.

United Steelworkers president, Leo Gerard believes that if we are fortunate and smart enough to see this context through, our greened re-industrialized economy will “manufacture commodities of international value to export to reduce trade deficits through factories that provide good jobs for workers whose paychecks enable them to support their communities and to buy both domestic and imported goods.” 

We should not aim merely to compete on a basis of lowest cost because lowest cost usually means lower safety, healthcare, environmental and compensation standards. But, we can compete on a basis of highest quality through innovation where cost, while always important, becomes secondary to quality…almost like it is now in the global wind industry where turbine capacity factors drive returns on investments and where the carbon footprint of transatlantic component shipping compels local use and production.

Michael Peck is the director of external relations for Gamesa USA. Since Gamesa’s 2004 arrival in Pennsylvania, the company has invested more than $200 million and created upward of 850 green and good jobs in partnership with the United Steelworkers union.

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