Management overview

ABB reached the conclusion of its Next Level strategy in 2018. The strategy, in execution since 2014, has focused on three areas: profitable growth, relentless execution and business-led collaboration. During this period ABB transitioned its portfolio and operations to create a streamlined and strengthened company with two value propositions: bringing electricity from any power plant to any plug and automating industries from natural resources to finished products. ABB has driven profitable growth through its entrepreneurial divisions, continuing to invest in sales, research and development, and its leading digital solutions portfolio, ABB Ability™. In 2018, the Group was better positioned in a better market compared to 2017.

Profitable growth

During 2018, ABB recorded solid order growth across all divisions and regions as the company’s pioneering technology leadership in digital industries advanced. Also during 2018, ABB Ability™ solutions were recognized as global leaders in Distributed Control Systems and Enterprise Asset Management software by industry analyst Arc Advisory Group. ABB’s Net Promoter Score measure of customer satisfaction increased to 57, having tripled since 2010.

ABB shifted its center of gravity significantly through ongoing portfolio management, driving towards greater competitiveness, higher growth and lower risk. The integration of Bernecker + Rainer Industrie-Elektronik GmbH (B&R) into ABB’s Industrial Automation division to form its global Machine & Factory Automation business unit is on track to increase mid-term revenues in the business unit to a target of more than $1 billion. In September 2018, ABB acquired Intrion, which is headquartered in Belgium. The transaction will advance ABB’s logistics robotics offering to gain a strong foothold in a market that offers strong growth opportunities. Also in September, ABB completed its acquisition of AB Rotech, a privately owned company headquartered in Bursa, Turkey. AB Rotech has 20 years’ experience in robotic welding solutions and services for the automotive industry. The acquisition will boost ABB’s robotic welding solutions for all tiers in the growing automotive segment. In August 2018, ABB sold its terminal block business, Entrelec, further demonstrating ABB’s commitment to active portfolio management.

At the end of June 2018, ABB completed the acquisition of General Electric’s (GE) global electrification solutions business, GEIS. GEIS sells to more than 100 countries and has an established installed base with strong roots in North America. This purchase strengthens ABB’s position as a global leader in electrification and expands its access to the attractive North American market and early-cycle business. The integration of GEIS into ABB’s Electrification Products division as its Industrial Solutions business unit (EPIS) is well underway. ABB continues to work to bring EPIS’ margin up to peer levels through an extensive turnaround plan that prioritizes product and technology portfolio harmonization, footprint optimization, supply chain savings and other selling and administrative cost reduction to deliver approximately $200 million of annual cost synergies by year five. The transaction includes a long-term strategic supply relationship with GE and allows ABB long-term use of the GE brand.

ABB continues to invest to drive organic growth in a disciplined manner. Building on the integration of B&R, ABB announced, in April 2018, a €100 million investment to build a state-of-the-art research center in Eggelsberg, Austria. The new campus will go into operation in 2020. ABB also inaugurated its advanced innovation and manufacturing hub in Xiamen, China, in November 2018. The hub is expected to cost $300 million to develop and, at 425,000 square meters, is ABB’s largest innovation and manufacturing site, employing 3,500 people and covering the full range of business activities. In November, ABB further announced its intent to invest $150 million to build a factory-of-the-future for robotics in Shanghai, China. ABB is China’s number one robotics manufacturer, employing more than 2,000 engineers, technology experts and operational leaders in 20 locations across the country. The new factory will combine connected digital technologies, state-of-the-art collaborative robotics and cutting-edge artificial intelligence research, and is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2020.

Relentless execution

Further to the completion of the business model change for EPC, a non-core business unit was established within Corporate and Other effective January 1, 2018, reporting directly to the CFO to manage the wind down of remaining EPC activities. Related to this, in September 2018, ABB commenced transferring certain projects in its turnkey AC Substation business to Linxon, a new joint venture with SNC-Lavalin. SNC-Lavalin has a majority and controlling interest in the joint venture.

ABB is building on the achievements of the 1,000-day programs that were completed at the end of 2017 with a continued strong focus on Supply Chain Management and Operations Quality. Gaps in performance, informed by customer feedback, are rigorously identified and addressed using Lean Six Sigma methods. ABB has about 1,500 continuous improvement projects underway, led from within each division.

ABB continues to benefit from its ongoing cost management and productivity efforts. Savings outpaced price impacts and commodity effects, including those driven by the introduction of trade tariffs, in particular in the United States, during 2018.

Business-led collaboration

ABB continues to strengthen its brand. Effective March 1, 2018, ABB integrated Baldor Electric Company into its global brand. On October 1, 2018, Thomas & Betts was also officially migrated into the ABB global brand. ABB continuously strengthens the collaboration with its key customers through a focused account and segment management approach. Dedicated sales executives serve the named customers with the clear aim of ensuring outstanding customer experience and profitable growth.

Strategic partnership developments included the formation of a global alliance to provide industrial grade edge data center solutions between ABB, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Rittal, building on the success of prior co-operation and a software alliance for collaborative robotics with Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Further, in October 2018, ABB and the Shanghai municipal government signed a comprehensive strategic co-operation agreement focused on supporting industry, energy, transport and infrastructure in the Shanghai region of China, and to support the “Made in Shanghai” manufacturing initiative.

In January 2018, ABB announced a ground breaking multi-year partnership agreement with the Formula E electric car motor racing series, now known as the “ABB FIA Formula E Championship”. ABB FIA Formula E serves as a competitive platform to develop and test e-mobility relevant electrification and digitalization technologies.

Strategy update: shaping a leader focused in digital industries

On December 17, 2018, ABB announced its new strategy, with the company proposing fundamental actions to focus, simplify and lead in digital industries, for enhanced customer value and shareholder returns. ABB also announced an agreed sale of its Power Grids, expanding its existing partnership with Hitachi Ltd (Hitachi) and enabling ABB to increase its focus on digital industries, which is a rapidly developing market offering attractive growth prospects. Starting April 1, 2019, ABB intends to simplify the group’s business model through the discontinuation of the legacy matrix structure, as well as shape four leading businesses aligned with customer patterns: Electrification, Industrial Automation, Motion and Robotics & Discrete Automation.

The new ABB is expected to generate around $29 billion in annual revenues and have around 110,000 employees. Its four, customer-focused, entrepreneurial businesses are either the global number one or two player in their respective markets. ABB’s addressable market is expected to grow by 3.5 to 4.0 percent per year, growing by $140 billion to reach $550 billion by 2025. Driving this demand will be the growing influence of electric mobility, data centers and robotics.

ABB’s new organization will provide each business with full entrepreneurial ownership of operations, functions, research and development, and territories. ABB’s new operating model, ABB-OS™, will provide a common framework across the group governing management processes, such as market validation, budgeting and portfolio management, in order to facilitate clear decision making and a balanced approach to value creation.

Under ABB-OS™, the businesses will be the single interface to customers, maximizing proximity and speed. The corporate center will be further streamlined, while existing country and regional structures including regional Executive Committee roles will be discontinued after the closing of the Power Grids transaction. Existing resources at the country level will strengthen the new businesses.

Further, ABB expects the ABB-OS™ simplification program to drive approximately $500 million annual run-rate cost reductions across the group, with the full run-rate targeted during 2021. Approximately $300 million of savings are planned to be realized from the businesses, for example through a reduction of areas of business responsibility through combining businesses and eliminating management layers, and optimizing ABB’s manufacturing footprint. Approximately $200 million of savings are planned to come from Group functions and a leaner corporate center.

ABB plans to demonstrate improved commercial quality of business and enhance exposure to faster growing markets with a greater emphasis on high value-add solutions, lower risk, less large-order volatility and more recurring revenue streams through digital solutions, software and services.

ABB’s investment proposition is reflected in a new medium-term target framework for the Group:

  • 3 to 6 percent annual comparable revenue growth, based on current economic outlook,
  • Operational EBITA margin of 13 to 16 percent,
  • Return on Capital Employed (ROCE) of 15 to 20 percent,
  • Cash conversion to net income of approximately 100 percent, and
  • Basic EPS growth above revenue growth.

Capital allocation

The Board of Directors is proposing a tenth consecutive increase in the dividend to 0.80 Swiss francs per share at the 2019 Annual General Meeting.

ABB’s sustained capital allocation priorities are unchanged:

  • funding organic growth, research and development, and capital expenditures at attractive cash returns,
  • paying a rising, sustainable dividend,
  • investing in value-creating acquisitions, and
  • returning additional cash to shareholders.

Following the expected completion of the sale of 80.1 percent of our Power Grids business to Hitachi in the first half of 2020, valuing the business at $11 billion, ABB intends to return 100 percent of the net cash proceeds to shareholders in an expeditious and efficient manner. ABB intends to maintain the level of dividend per share post close and aims to maintain its “single A” credit rating long term.


Macroeconomic signs are mixed in Europe but are trending positively in the United States, and growth is expected to continue in China. The overall global market is growing, with rising geopolitical uncertainties in various parts of the world. Oil prices and foreign exchange translation effects are expected to continue to influence the company’s results.

The attractive long-term demand outlook in ABB’s three major customer sectors – utilities, industry and transport & infrastructure – is driven by the Energy and Fourth Industrial Revolutions. We believe ABB is well-positioned to tap into these opportunities for long-term profitable growth with its market-leading digital offering ABB Ability™, strong market presence, broad geographic and business scope, technology leadership and financial strength.