By Gregory Hale
It wasn’t that long ago when Emerson Process Management’s Steve Sonnenberg was taking a tour of the Emerson Marshalltown, IA, testing facility and he found the true test of trust. Westinghouse was testing a ball valve that controls water flow for an emergency shutdown system for a nuclear reactor.

“Once I saw that valve being tested, it really drove home to me the importance of testing valves in real time,” the Emerson President said at the Emerson Global Users Exchange in Nashville, TN, Monday.

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Trust was one of the themes of Sonnenberg’s talk. He also hit on how much Emerson is investing in product development and he also touched on a topic he mentioned at last year’s meeting: The ability to listen.

Emerson went out to their customers last year and sat down with them and talked, but the catch was they also listened to what the customer was saying.

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They asked manufacturers for what the company did right and where they could improve. “They said we had great technology, but we were sometime too slow to react,” Sonnenberg said. “They also said we had great technology, but sometimes it was too hard to use.”

By getting better at listening and not running away from negative comments, Emerson is able to arm itself with that knowledge and go out and earn users’ trust.

“When we listen we can understand your problems and create solutions,” Sonnenberg said.

Trust is a funny concept. It is hard to earn and very easy to lose.

Part of earning users’ trust is to do the little things.

“We have to keep our promises,” Sonnenberg said. “We have to be on time for meetings. We have to act on action items. Large projects need to be done on time. We need to be prepared. We need to understand the problem to ask the right questions before offering a solution.”

Part of the process of earning trust is to conduct the company and yourself in an ethical fashion, Sonnenberg said.

“In my mind, no small indiscretions are acceptable,” he said. “I will not allow a few people making bad decisions ruin it for everybody.”

Along the lines of full disclosure, Sonnenberg admitted Emerson was having supply chain issues related to the flooding in Thailand. But, he said, they were working on some plans and should have everything moving forward causing only minimal delays.

Delays are causing problems, but overall Emerson had a very good 2011. The company’s fiscal year just ended and Sonnenberg said they experienced double digit growth. Hearing that you would think the economy is turning around, but there are “experts” out there saying the industry – and the country for that matter – is due for another round of recessionary conditions.

Not so said Sonnenberg. “I am optimistic moving forward.”

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