The French Connection

Xantrex Technology Inc. has been a B.C. success story for years, selling specialty electronics to renewable energy projects around the world – especially to solar power projects. But as with so many B.C. tech successes, it’s now owned by a foreign giant, after a $500-million sale to France’s Schneider Electric SA, announced last July. Xantrex chair Mossadiq Umedaly, also the newly named chair of BC Hydro, shares how this highly secret deal came about. We built Xantrex from just under $10 million in revenue in 1998 to probably $300 million this year. We are No. 2 or No. 3 in the world in power electronics for renewable energy – without any home market to speak of.We looked out and we asked, “What is our position in the world in our field? Where can we be five years from now? How do we get from here to a billion dollars or more?” And we just felt that we couldn’t get from here to where we rightly ought to be because of our lack of worldwide sales or a worldwide supply chain.We had great products, but we didn’t have these other things that take a long time to build. So last year, we decided to look at a potential sale to a strategic player that had a lot of those ingredients but not renewable energy. To keep the deal highly confidential, a very small team was involved. They signed very strict confidentiality agreements, and the business of the company just carried on as usual. We had ­presented this idea to a number of companies; I can’t say how many, but there were a number of them. Coincidentally, it was the right time for many of these major electrical products companies to look at technology for renewable power. All the big companies that provide electrical products are on the lookout, and of course they’re very discriminating to be sure that the companies they acquire have proven technology and aren’t in the development stage. And this was a match, a perfect match. Schneider has a worldwide supply chain and service and sales system, and they provide all the other electrical products that surround what we do, so we can combine ours with theirs and serve customers around the world. They’re into providing efficient power solutions, and making those sustainable is a great asset in the world today because the renewable market is growing so rapidly: 30 to 40 per cent a year on average in the last decade, which is likely to carry on. Xantrex has been a good run. We have done very well on our own, but I think we just found the need to work within a much bigger platform.