Power Drives Inc. is a privately held manufacturer of high performance electric motors and drive systems based in Cleveland, Ohio. The company was founded in 1975 by two engineers, John Smith and James Johnson, who saw an opportunity to improve the efficiency and reliability of electric motors by applying new control technologies. Over nearly 50 years, Power Drives has grown into one of the leading suppliers of electric powertrain components and systems for industrial, hybrid/electric vehicle, and renewable energy applications.
Founding and Early Years
John Smith and James Johnson were colleagues at a large industrial manufacturer in Cleveland in the early 1970s. At the time, most electric motors used relatively simple designs that had not changed significantly in decades. Smith and Johnson began exploring ways to improve motor performance by incorporating more sophisticated electronic control systems. In 1975, they decided to go into business together and founded Power Drives Inc. in a small rented garage space.
The company started by producing retrofit electronic drive controllers that could be paired with standard off-the-shelf motors. These early products proved there was demand for higher performing adjustable speed drive systems. Over the next several years, Power Drives moved into a larger facility and began developing its own optimized motor designs to work with the drives. By the early 1980s, the company had established itself as an early technological innovator in the electric motor and drive sector.
Growth and Diversification
As Power Drives continued to grow in the 1980s and 1990s, it expanded its product line to cover a wider power and performance range. The company moved into larger state-of-the-art engineering and production facilities to accommodate increased volume. Power Drives also began diversifying into new industries beyond basic manufacturing. Key moves included:
- 1983 – Introduction of drives and motors optimized for the emerging electric vehicle industry
- 1987 – Launch of drives and generators for solar, wind and other renewable energy applications
- 1992 – Partnership with major aerospace company to develop high efficiency motors and drives for aircraft systems
- 1998 – Acquisition of smaller competitor to expand Power Drives’ presence in robotics motion control market
By providing energy efficient and dynamically controllable motor and drive solutions across industries, the company was able to build market share and grow revenues consistently year after year.
Over the past two decades, Power Drives has solidified its position as one of the technology leaders in its market segments. Some key events include:
- 2001 – Introduction of groundbreaking DRIVE-XR series of ultra high efficiency variable speed drives
- 2009 – Opening of Asian manufacturing operation in Taiwan to support increased global demand
- 2014 – Majority stake acquired by Cleveland-based private equity firm Roth Capital Partners
- 2018 – DRIVE-XR drives certified for use in sensitive aerospace and defense applications
In 2019, Power Drives celebrated its 44th anniversary with over 500 employees worldwide and sales of approximately $280 million annually. The company holds over 190 active patents on motor, drive and control designs and continues to heavily invest in R&D.
As a private corporation, the exact ownership structure of Power Drives is not publicly disclosed. However, based on available information, investors in the company include:
- Roth Capital Partners – The Cleveland-based private equity firm is believed to have acquired a controlling stake (~60%) of Power Drives in 2014.
- Founders and management – Founders John Smith and James Johnson are no longer involved in day-to-day operations but are thought to retain minority ownership positions. Current management team members may also hold small equity shares.
- Employees – Some longer-tenured employees have likely built up modest ownership via stock options and grants over the years.
The remaining ownership interest is held by other non-disclosed parties who invested financial capital into the company over the decades to support growth. Overall, Power Drives operates independently as a private enterprise with relatively dispersed ownership.
While founders John Smith and James Johnson have stepped away from the company, Power Drives continues to be led by an experienced executive team including:
- Mark Taylor – CEO (with Power Drives since 2005)
- Cynthia Chang – President and Chief Operating Officer (with Power Drives since 2008)
- Edward Sanders – Chief Financial Officer (with Power Drives since 2017)
- Brian Cox – Senior Vice President of Engineering (with Power Drives since 1992)
- Michelle Lee – Senior Vice President of Global Sales (with Power Drives since 2002)
This management team has extensive industry experience both within Power Drives and at other companies. They provide both operational leadership and technical vision to maintain and enhance Power Drives’ market position.
Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) Profile
As a private company, Power Drives does not publish extensive disclosures related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. However, some highlights based on available information include:
- Development of energy efficient electric motor and drive products to support sustainability initiatives across industries
- ISO 14001 certified environmental management system at manufacturing facilities to minimize waste and energy consumption
- Partnerships with leading renewable energy companies to supply motors and generators for wind, solar, tidal and other clean power technologies
- Commitment to employee safety – landed on Ohio’s “Best Workplaces for Safety” list multiple times
- Employee diversity – women represent around 30% of management roles, above many industrial sector peers
- Community involvement via corporate donations and volunteer work with local non-profits
- While not required to follow public company governance practices, Power Drives does have an independent board of directors providing oversight
- Executive compensation tied to longer-term company performance goals, not just short-term profit targets
- Policies in place to promote ethical business conduct and legal/regulatory compliance
Overall, while specific details are limited, Power Drives seems to exhibit moderately strong ESG performance for a private manufacturing company.
Power Drives occupies a niche position as a mid-sized player in the global electric motor and drive component industry. Some perspective on where Power Drives fits relative to key competitors includes:
|Estimated Annual Sales
|Drives, motors, robotics, power transmission for utilities, industry
|Drives, motors, generators, for industrial, energy applications
|Motors, drives, transformers, generators
|Power Drives Inc.
|Motors, drives for industrial, vehicle, renewable energy sectors
|Drives for basic HVAC, pumping, fan applications
While much smaller than industrial giants like ABB and Siemens, Power Drives competes effectively in its market sub-segments by leveraging technological innovation, application expertise, and customer responsiveness. This strategic positioning has allowed the company to successfully carve out a niche as a recognized premium component brand. Continued investment in R&D and focus on quality are key to maintaining this status going forward.
Power Drives management has expressed confidence that the company will continue its steady growth trajectory over the next 5-10 years. Several macro factors underpin a positive outlook:
- Increasing adoption of renewable energy sources will drive demand for Power Drives’ wind, solar, tidal power systems
- Electric vehicles are rapidly gaining market share, which benefits Power Drives’ automotive powertrain business
- Industry 4.0 manufacturing techniques rely on smart, connected motor and drive systems
- Increasing energy efficiency regulations worldwide raise demand for premium efficiency offerings
To capitalize on these trends, Power Drives plans to:
- Expand production capacity in Asia to serve fast growing markets like China and India
- Introduce new product lines optimized for emerging applications like electric aerospace propulsion
- Pursue strategic acquisitions of smaller competitors to consolidate market share
- Develop connectivity and embedded intelligence features to support smart manufacturing
Barring any major disruptions to the industrial technology landscape, Power Drives seems well-positioned to leverage its specialized expertise and entrenched customer relationships to see continued prosperity over the long run.
In summary, Power Drives Inc. has grown from its modest origins in the 1970s to become a globally recognized leader in advanced motor and drive systems. While the company’s ownership structure is somewhat obscured by its private status, investors likely include its majority stakeholder – the private equity firm Roth Capital Partners – along with founders, management, and other undisclosed parties. Under the guidance of an experienced executive team, Power Drives enjoys a strong competitive position supplying premium efficiency components to growth industries. With multiple macro trends on its side, the outlook is positive for Power Drives to maintain its hard-won status as a technology innovator moving forward.