The head of Power Systems for Cummins Inc. said he always has loved running something business-related, making it perform better and doing so in a team atmosphere.

That makes the task of leading a recently reconfigured core business unit seem like a good fit for the former Austrian national basketball team member.

Norbert Nusterer, 47, took over as president of the Power Systems business Aug. 1, succeeding Dave Crompton in that role.

In December, the company merged its Power Generation business with its High Horsepower unit to better align the working relationship between the two. The result was Power Systems, which now includes generators and high-horsepower engines under one roof.

“This was the biggest change internally that we’ve had in 15 years,” Nusterer said, adding that it affected 15,000 employees in some way.

Nusterer, formerly vice president of Supply Chain Operations and Parts, and Crompton worked on the reorganization together.

“My job is to continue that. We’re not changing plans,” Nusterer said.

Merging units

One he recently dealt with was the internal issue of aligning the High Horsepower unit with the former Power Generation business.The idea had been discussed for two or three years, but when the company was forced to reduce its global workforce by 2,000 employees in the last quarter of 2015, largely because of ongoing slumping sales in international markets, Cummins decided that was a good time to merge the two, Nusterer said.

“It feels like we’re bringing two things together finally that had not been together for, in some ways actually, too long,” Nusterer said.

The need had been building to bring them together, he said.

“The High Horsepower business, the way it used to be, 70 percent of what they produced for many years went to Power Gen. It was like two companies within the company. … It was almost like an internal customer-supplier relationship,” Nusterer said.

One of the Power Systems products that has Nusterer’s attention is the QSK95 engine, also known as the Hedgehog and manufactured at the company’s Seymour Engine Plant — where about 1,000 people work, including about 250 directly on the QSK95.

It’s the company’s largest and most powerful high-speed engine with 4,000 horsepower, and production for rail and power generation applications began last year.

“It’s doing really well from a reliability point of view. We’ve had really good quality. The plant in Seymour is doing a fantastic job,” Nusterer said.

About six QSK95 engines are built per week, and Nusterer said that should ramp up to 10 to 15 per week next year as the number of customers and applications increase.

“It’s not just the engine itself that’s fantastic. What the Seymour plant has done to manufacture the engine is another total game changer. … From a quality and durability point of view, I think this thing is going to set new standards,” Nusterer said.

Businesses such as Google, Facebook and Amazon like the Hedgehog as a power source for its data centers, Nusterer said. Siemens is a big customer in the locomotive industry, and other customers are eager to get their hands on the QSK95 for marine use, and oils and gas applications are being discussed, he said.

“We’re just really solving cool problems for customers every single day,” Nusterer said.

Currently, the Hedgehog burns diesel fuel, but the next version will use natural gas — something else customers are awaiting, Nusterer said.

The Hedgehog is made only in a 16-cylinder, 95-liter version. Another next step is for Cummins to make 12-cylinder/72-liter or 20-cylinder/120-liter versions, he said.

Cyclical markets

While the potential of the QSK95 engine gives Nusterer reason to be excited for the future of the Power Systems products, he also is dealing with the fact that the business’ last quarterly statement showed a 16 percent drop in sales from the previous year.Weak demand for power generation equipment and industrial engines in most major markets were cited as reasons by the company when the quarterly earnings were released.

Nusterer said the cyclical nature of markets is the culprit.

Some are up, as Cummins can’t make generator sets for RVs and boats fast enough, he said, but mining and oil and gas markets are down.

“When you look at all the markets we sell into … they’re all over the place, but a lot of our big ones, right now, are down,” he said.

The key, Nusterer said, is to use time in down cycles to prepare for when the trend reverses, such as improving efficiency of plants.

“I think we’re in an incredibly good position to take advantage of the changes we just made and grab more market share,” he said.

Basketball no slam-dunk

Nusterer said he realized early that he didn’t want to follow his father into the banking industry. He also understood that his prospects for a professional basketball career weren’t strong, as the 6-foot-9 center/forward compared the Austrian national team to one that would finish in the bottom third of the Big Ten Conference. A career in manufacturing always seemed more appealing.He earned a degree in business administration from Vienna University of Economics and later a Master of Business Administration from the University of Michigan. Nusterer joined Cummins in 1996, a year after serving an internship with the company.

The wide range of roles Nusterer has had with the company and leaders he has worked with prepared him to climb the corporate ladder — although not specifically for his current role, he said. He has experience in parts, supply chain, logistics, materials management, generator technologies and the engine business.

“This (role) came up a little bit unexpected. It was just the right time and the right opportunity,” Nusterer said.

Working closely with Crompton for seven years, including two in which Nusterer reported to Crompton in the Engine Business, taught him a lot. So did working with High Horsepower leader Ed Pence, Nusterer said.

Gaining extensive experience in the parts business also helped Nusterer learn the needs of customers and suppliers, which he described as beneficial as the head of Power Systems.

“A lot of the issues I’m encountering I already know a fair bit about it,” he said.

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.