Ajita Rajendra was named Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of A. O. Smith Corporation in April 2014. Prior to becoming CEO, he was President and Chief Operating Officer, responsible for the company’s global water heater and water purification businesses. During this time, he also oversaw the company’s global product engineering and global information technology functions. Ajita was elected to the A. O. Smith Board of Directors in December 2011.
Ajita joined A. O. Smith as President of its Water Products Company in January 2005 and was named an Executive Vice President of the Corporation in 2006. Prior to joining A. O. Smith, he was Senior Vice President of the Industrial Products Group of Kennametal Inc., Latrobe, Pa., a manufacturer of cutting tools used in aerospace, automotive, and other industrial applications.
Ajita began his career with Corning Incorporated, Corning, N.Y., holding a wide range of financial and executive management positions including Director of the company’s Retail Operations, Business Director of the Corning Cookware division, and President of the Revere Ware Corporation.
Ajita earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, India, and an MBA from Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa. Ajita is a director of Donaldson Company Inc. and The Timken Company, a member of the Business Roundtable, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. He is a former chairman of the Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute and currently serves as a director of the organization. In April 2015, he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Indian Institute of Technology.
- O. Smith Corporation, with headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis., is a global leader applying innovative technology and energy-efficient solutions to products manufactured and marketed worldwide. The company is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of residential and commercial water heating equipment, as well as a manufacturer of water treatment products.
- O. Smith has operations in eight countries; the company’s plants feature a balanced blend of automation and experienced well-trained employees. The company has invested in 10 product engineering facilities worldwide employing more than 500 product engineers and technicians. These facilities are charged with designing, developing, and testing new water heating and water treatment technologies. In addition, the researchers and engineers at the company’s Corporate Technology Center in Milwaukee, WI, are focused on next-generation water heating and water treatment technologies as well as electronics, material science, and combustion.
- O. Smith Corporation has sponsored a number of programs that encourage young people to pursue STEM-related careers and provide hands-on professional opportunities for students already studying engineers or the sciences. One of our longest-running and most visible programs to identify and develop future talent is the engineering co-op program offered by the company’s Corporate Technology Center in Milwaukee, WI. The program began more than 30 years ago and has introduced dozens of engineering students to A. O. Smith. The current program, in partnership with Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is designed to give young engineers an in-depth experience in their chosen discipline.
The program involves one semester of full-time work at A. O. Smith, starting after the student’s sophomore year in college, alternated with one semester of full-time classroom work. Each student is assigned an experienced engineer as a mentor; with each successive semester, the student works more independently. There is a formal evaluation process involving the company, the partner university, and the student. The goal is to make each of the co-op students “employer ready” by the end of their assignment. We encourage the co-op students to interview with our operating units as their co-op assignments draw to a close and help them identify entry-level engineering opportunities that match their education and experience. Through the years, we have hired a number of students to full-time positions with the company, and several of them have been promoted into more senior roles within the organization. Based on the success of this program, we are looking into introducing it at our engineering facilities in Tennessee and South Carolina.
While there are established programs at the university level, we also have identified a growing need for qualified candidates for positions such as lab technicians and lab assistants. To address this emerging requirement, we recently expanded the Milwaukee program to include students from local technical schools who intern in a number of fields such as water treatment technology. Last spring, one of the interns joined our water treatment group as a technician; she is now looking at continuing her studies under our education assistance program.
Introducing younger students to STEM related careers is a critical responsibility of businesses such as ours that rely on a steady stream of engineering talent. One important way to build the pipeline is to start mentoring students earlier. We have partnered with two organizations, “Learn to Succeed” and “Project Lead the Way,” to introduce STEM topics to high school students. Both of these programs focus on inner city students who may not have the exposure to STEM subjects and careers in technical fields. The students have an opportunity to visit our product engineering labs and learn about the work and career opportunities from experienced engineers and technicians. In some instances, they also can job shadow an engineer and observe the types of projects he or she engages in. We also have been exploring developing a lab technician apprentice program with the Milwaukee Area Technical College and hope to launch the program within the next year.
Beyond the existing co-op and high school mentoring programs, we have a number of unique partnerships that help promote STEM. As a founding member of the Milwaukee Water Council, we participate in a program called “curriculum matching.” It is a cooperative effort between business and educational institutions, such as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, to identify and map “business friendly” career opportunities for students. We also have established a strong working relationship with technical colleges, such as Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, TN, in which students are given a special project to work on in our plant in Cookeville. It gives the students hands-on experience in a manufacturing facility and exposes our team to fresh thinking and new ideas.
In conclusion, my advice to young people just beginning their careers is to seize every opportunity you can and try to think ahead to the next opportunity. If there are special projects or initiatives in your company, volunteer to take part. It is not just a chance to gain experience, you also will meet other people from different parts of the organization and learn from their experience. Depending upon the project, you may also expand your horizons and gain exposure to new disciplines or different functions within the business. A. O. Smith, like most large companies, has a formal performance management and career development process. Young people should use this process as a way to identify future opportunities and share their career plans with their supervisor. A good supervisor will help you map out a career progression, identify “gaps” in your work experience, and select assignments that fill those gaps. However, your supervisor will not be able to provide that support unless you make your wishes known.