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Itron CEO talks about doing business globally

Mon., April 5, 2010

Malcolm Unsworth is the CEO of Itron Inc., a publicly traded company with world headquarters in Liberty Lake. (J. Bart Rayniak)
Malcolm Unsworth is the CEO of Itron Inc., a publicly traded company with world headquarters in Liberty Lake. (J. Bart Rayniak)

Malcolm Unsworth is the president and CEO of Itron Inc., the Inland Northwest’s largest publicly traded company, measured by market value. He took over the reins last year and has traveled the world boosting the company’s sales in automated meters, software and consulting services. Its customers are gas, electric and water utilities. In 2009 his job had him traveling away from Spokane 188 days.

Q.What does Smart Grid involve and why should people care about it?

A.It’s a set of changes in how energy is delivered and used. It will give consumers far more information about how much energy they use and how to reduce consumption. It gives utilities better and more secure systems to deliver energy more efficiently and more reliably.

Q.Why are you traveling so much?

A.I am on the road because that is where our customers, employees and shareholders are. We have 8,000 employees around the world; 2,500 are in North America and 500 are in Spokane. We do business in 160 countries and have investors in the U.S. and Europe. You have to be with the employees, customers and shareholders to communicate and understand the business.

Q.Is there one good example of how Itron fits into a Smart Grid project?

A.San Diego and San Diego Gas and Electric is a great example of a Smart Grid partnership. They have Itron’s OpenWay system (an advanced technology that allows two-way communication from utilities to meters or from utilities to appliances inside a home). The system can communicate with a consumer’s display at home so anyone can see how much energy they use on an hourly basis.

Q.Why is that so useful?

A.It allows for the utility to give incentives to customers to reduce energy at peak load times. If consumers sign up for this, the utility can communicate with smart appliances in the home. If it’s a hot day in California and the utility wants to reduce energy demand, it can communicate with a pool pump or an air conditioner and turn it down. The customer would then receive a special rate discount.

Q.Does Itron do much business in China?

A.We do business already today in China. Primarily it is our gas and water products. We do sell some high-end electric meters there.

Q.Is it difficult selling Itron products in the People’s Republic?

A.I’m being very careful. I know we’re all working to do business in China. It’s interesting doing business in China. I’m not going to say much more.

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