Q&A With Fairbanks Morse CEO George Whittier

By Jack Burke19 August 2020

When Arcline Investment Management acquired Fairbanks Morse in late 2019, it didn’t take the private equity firm long to find a new, but familiar face, to run the company.

George Whittier, who was named chief executive officer of the engine manufacturer in January of this year, ran Fairbanks Morse from 2009-12. After leaving the Beloit, Wisconsin, USA-based company, Whittier held leadership positions at Precision Castparts Corp., Regal Beloit and the Morey Corp.

Whittier agreed to a Question and Answer session with Diesel & Gas Turbine Worldwide to discuss his views of the industry and the future of the 125-year-old company. This story appeared first in the Autumn issue of the magazine.

Q: This is your second time running FM. What brought you back, and how will your tenure this time be different from last time?

Fairbanks is such a great company – there’s too many reasons to list as to why I came back. The passion of the workforce for taking care of our customers, the honor and responsibility coming from how important our products are to absolutely mission-critical applications for the Navy, Coast Guard, nuclear power, hospitals, and others, are reasons why I came back to Fairbanks Morse. Our investors are deeply committed to the long-term success of Fairbanks and are enabling our customer-focused strategies and I share their focus and commitment.

Q: Like every company, FM has had to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. While the short-term impacts are obvious, do you think it will result in any longer term changes in how you do business, choose and work with suppliers, etc.?

I think there are some things which will return to pre-Covid-19 practices and some things won’t. For instance – there’s no question we have a much higher acceptance of “working from home” as a productivity enhancer. During the lockdown, we encountered instances in which some of our suppliers were shut down and we had to creatively solve problems so that we could take care of our customers. As a result of the pandemic, we will evaluate our process for selecting suppliers and conducting inventory management so that we are best positioned to meet our customers’ needs regardless of external circumstances.

Q: A couple of years ago, you teamed with Achates to develop your Trident OP engine. What’s been your progress with that product since then?

A: The Trident OP is in research and development. As with all of our engines, we are committed to delivering efficient, innovative and reliable power generation solutions. Because our engines can last upwards of 40 years, we are also seeing a lot of growth and market need for our OEM-certified parts, service, and solutions, which is where we are focusing much of our attention.

Q: In mid-2019, FM and MAN Energy Solutions agreed to extending their licensing agreement for your production of MAN medium-speed engines. After 50 years of that partnership, how do you see the future of the medium-speed engine markets?

A: This is a great question. Ten years ago, the new technology that was going to replace medium-speed engines was fuel cells. And I’m sure that 10 years from now, there will be another new technology. But – for the work we do, the applications we manage – in order to have the guaranteed reliability that is 100% required – I think medium-speed engines are here to stay.

FM’s prime markets have historically been defense (naval vessels), power generation and some rail. Is that pretty much where you will continue to compete or are there any additional market niches you are looking to grow into?

Historically, we have concentrated in marine, power generation, and oil and gas. While we are always open to explore new market niches – we will continue to focus even more on our core markets as there remain many opportunities to grow in these spaces, both organically and through acquisition.

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