Not far from the corporate offices of Socomec lies one of Europe’s greatest treasures – the Strasbourg Cathedral. This beautiful gothic structure is known for its massive stone foundation, soaring spires, and stained glass windows. It’s a symbol of ancient beauty, inspiring architecture, and 250 years of labor by ordinary people to create something extraordinary. This example of the human spirit is also alive and well in another Strasbourg institution — Socomec. Socomec, too, has a tradition of innovation, success, and appreciation for the people who support the company in France and throughout the world.
Innovation was the motivation behind a young textile engineer named Joseph Siat who recognized in 1922 that the future of electricity was going to be more exciting than that of textiles. That future, especially in his own back yard, proved to be correct. At that time, the Strasbourg Electrical Authorities was in full swing providing electrical power to the countryside. However, they needed partners to provide them with the necessary components. Siat and two business associates started SOCOMEC which, in French, stands for “Electro Mechanical Construction Workshops of the Lower Rhine.” The company was soon not only providing components for the Authority, it was also producing products including doorbells, barbecues, switches, and porcelain insulators. Just four years later, in 1926, Socomec won its first award – a Gold Medal at the Basel Exhibition for a novel electrical roasting spit.
The innovative spirit of the company has continued since then. Socomec invests a large part of its earnings every year in Research and Development to stay ahead of the competition. The organization looks for ways to create products that are ahead of new regulatory, safety and energy efficiency requirements. “These new requirements actually help ethical companies like Socomec,” explains Armand Adande, Socomec’s Director, North American Operations. “Our investment in R&D helps us develop products that are more efficient even before such requirements become law. This moves us and the industry toward a better future.” The company’s numbers support this investment with 240 employees dedicated to research and development.
Success has been at the core of Socomec since its inception but really took off after World War II when the second generation of the Siat family, Pierre and Maurice, guided the company through a period of strong growth. That growth continued under the leadership of third generation family member Bernard Steyert. In 1945, the company began focusing its manufacturing efforts to produce electrical panels for industrial real estate and has earned a reputation for providing quality products for this industry ever since, including:
- 1945 – Electrical power distribution products included breakers and change over switches. Also, the safety breaker in an injection-molded polyester enclosure was invented which would later become the basis of the first compact motorized change over switch.
- 1968 – Early energy conversion products included the first inverters which are today found in thousands of data centers worldwide.
- 1992 – Measurement and management of energy products included hardware and software based design which was one of the first technological breakthroughs in this area.
- 2009 – Advanced energy conversion products included photo voltaic applications and PV load break technology.
- 2010 through 2015 – Energy efficiency and energy storage products.
Today, Socomec’s best-selling products include disconnect switches, power measurement and management, bi-directional inverters, and transfer switches. The company has a great depth of experience in switching, transferring, managing, and transforming power from DC to AC and vice versa. Adande said: “Over time, Socomec has installed more than 10GW worth of inverters which enables us to know how a system will behave in the future rather than using mathematical models to come up with an estimate and hope for the best. Quality and ethics are what drive us, and the customer takes notice.”
Along with the company’s drive for success, has come growth and expansion. Currently, Socomec has 3,200 employees worldwide with 1,500 in France. There are 14 offices in France, 21 subsidiaries throughout the world, and nine manufacturing sites situated in France, Italy, Tunisia, India, and China.
The current headquarters encompasses three plants in France. Plant 1 is 118,000 square feet which includes the corporate offices, workshops, labs, R&D, marketing, and services dedicated to power control & safety, and energy efficiency. Plant 2 is 205,000 square feet and handles injection molding, assembly, inventory, shipping and handling. Plant 3 is a 65,660-square-foot logistics center that handles everything related to Socomec’s subsidiaries and large direct accounts. These bustling operations help Socomec stay on its path to becoming a $1.2 billion company by the year 2022.
Respect for employees and the people working with Socomec has been a large part of the company’s ongoing success. Back in 1948, Socomec took the first step toward ensuring that employees were fairly compensated by abandoning the piecework payment system in favor of a group bonus. This new system was a first in France and received full support from the Socomec workforce. In 1955, the company linked profit sharing to gains in productivity as well as creating a trade union section. In today’s workplace these types of employee benefits are common place but Socomec offered similar benefits to its employees many years before it was widespread. This helped the company recruit and retain the best and the brightest workforce available.
To this day, being an advocate for people, the community and the environment remains an integral part of Socomec’s success. Current CEO and fourth generation family member, Ivan Steyert states: “Our family owned and independent company is reinforced by its culture and values. Our natural assets and our innovative approach allows us to create lasting value. We favor a mid- to long-term company vision that will assure sustainable growth while respecting people, society, and the environment.”
The company is conscience of its impact on the environment and works to promote energy efficiency in its sphere of business by helping its customers reduce their energy bills and by using solar power where possible in its manufacturing and commercial sites. Socomec is also active in preserving natural resources by managing its office and industrial waste and optimizing its energy consumption thereby reducing the company’s carbon footprint.
As part of its social commitment, Socomec looks out into the world to assist organizations with a cultural and humanitarian focus, including Electricians Without Borders, the University Foundation SBG, and The Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, France. And, not far from its own windows, Socomec is a patron of the restorative work done to revive and maintain the stained glass windows of the Strasbourg Cathedral. Through this contribution, Socomec honors the company’s ethical approach and helps to ensure that the Cathedral, as an extraordinary symbol of work and beauty, continues to stand as a tribute to the human spirit both to France and the world.