Investors and Wall Street analysts are praising nVent Electric’s performance in the year since it spun off from Pentair.
CEO Beth Wozniak is unfazed by the hype. She said this first year has been a hustle — opening its U.S. headquarters in St. Louis Park, securing new debt, launching online sales channels, expanding sales in the data center market.
So far, so good. The company’s stock has jumped 15% to about $27 a share. Annual sales increased 5% to $2.2 billion, and the company is forecasting up to 3% growth this year. First-quarter profits posted last month increased 8%.
“There is so much that we have done,” Wozniak said of the company, which like Pentair is based in England but largely run out of the Twin Cities.
NVent sells electrical enclosures, fasteners and cables, floor-heating products, pipe freeze and lightning protection and heat-tracking systems for factories, municipalities, construction firms, energy companies and data centers.
Mairs and Power, which invests in local companies long term, has owned Pentair and now owns 2.1 million shares of nVent. Pete Johnson, co-manager of the Mairs and Power Growth Fund, said he likes what he sees so far.
“The margins held up very well despite macroeconomic weakness and significant raw input increases and foreign exchange [rate] increases,” he said.
Johnson said both nVent and Pentair are healthier companies since the split. Both have improved online infrastructure to boost sales and have started selling more products across division lines. Presplit, there was always a focus on organic margins, but not on organic sales growth.
Today, as stand-alones, “organic growth is better,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, as a conglomerate, these things get overlooked.” NVent is focusing on a host of products that customers can newly self-design with “‘pretty slick” online tools, Johnson said. “Now 98% of their customers can design their products online.”
RBC Capital Markets Managing Director Deane Dray said he’s also impressed by “the company’s product sophistication,” which was showcased at a recent analyst day where executives talked about driving sales, margins, capital allocation and improving distributor relationships.
NVent strategically “underpromised and overdelivered. It’s very profitable,” Dray said. “It’s already at a 20% operating margin, which is very good. It’s a very good cash generator, and they have a very good dividend.”
When nVent spun off to focus on electrical products, it took on little of Pentair’s old debt. That was a positive “pure play” move and set it apart from other spin-offs, Dray said.
With nVent’s first year behind it, Dray would “not be surprised” to see nVent make a strategic, small acquisition. At the same time, nVent was such an even performer — one “that almost borders on the boring” — the young firm could itself become the target of an acquisition, he said. “In our business, boring is a very decided positive.”
Wozniak said she will stay focused on growth, profits and solving customer problems. A former Honeywell and Pentair executive, she now oversees 8,900 employees, nearly 80 locations and hundreds of customers. About two-thirds of nVent sales are in North America. Much of rest flows from Europe and Asia, including China.
That international exposure has sent the new company scrambling.
When Trump administration trade tariffs launched last year, suppliers hiked prices on the steel nVent uses to make electrical cabinets.
“Steel prices just went up so fast, to the point where we had to do three price increases [on our products] over the course of a year,” Wozniak said. “We saw steel increases, and then we also saw copper increase. And we also saw just freight costs increase. That was the other big inflationary input.”
So nVent, like other manufacturers such as 3M, Polaris Industries and Graco, also had to race to find additional suppliers to even out the cost hikes.
With much uncertainty still at the forefront of China and U.S. trade talks, nVent expects to see a negative impact of $6 million to $8 million because of tariffs, Wozniak said.
The company will need to focus on victories elsewhere, like its website successes and the discovery that some niche customers needed more products.
Last year, some data-center customers reached out to nVent. They already used the company’s protective electrical enclosures that keep moisture away from components. But they also inquired about tools that track temperatures, cool equipment and sound alarms during heat spikes.
“We had some very large, hyperscale data-center customers coming to us directly [after they learned] we really had a big offering,” Wozniak said. If handled right, it was a growth opportunity.
Wozniak launched a new commercial sales team and hired a manager to grow the new business. The goal was to “bring together products from across our three segments” — enclosures, fasteners and thermal management — and apply all offerings to data control customers.
“We have never done that before,” she said. It worked, spurring double-digit growth with forecasts for more.
While building sales, nVent also had to start building its own identity, separate from Pentair. So it designed a new logo, launched the Spark brand and tried to bond its employees, customers and suppliers to the new company.
This year, it started a foundation to match employees’ charitable contributions.
“We are encouraging all 9,000 employees to get involved in a volunteer activity during the month of May, which is our first-year anniversary, ” Wozniak said.
For example, on May 23, St. Louis Park employees will pack 125 STEM activity kits for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities. NVent’s Hoffman Enclosures crew in Anoka will pack snack kits for hundreds of other students.
“We just thought what a great thing to do in our first year to give back to our communities around the world,” Wozniak said. “That speaks to the type of company we want to be. One that meets its commitments financially. One that takes care of our customer. But one that also takes care of our employees and our communities.”