Milwaukee-based A.O. Smith Corp. today announced a major leadership transition. Ajita Rajendra, its chairman and chief executive officer, will be become executive chairman and Kevin Wheeler, its president and chief operating officer, will become president and CEO, on Sept. 1.
Wheeler joined A. O. Smith in 1994 as a regional sales manager for the former Water Products Company. He has held a number of senior leadership positions during his 24 years with the company, including vice president-international with responsibility for all European and Asian water heating operations, senior vice president and general manager of the U.S. retail water heater business, and senior vice president and general manager of the North America, India, and Europewater heating business.
“Under Kevin Wheeler’s leadership, the North American water heater business has had strong financial performance, with sales growth of 26 percent while operating profit more than doubled,” Rajendra said. “He has tremendous knowledge of our business and the global experience to continue this outstanding performance. In addition, Kevin is well known and respected throughout the industry and is an outstanding business person with strong values, strategic vision, and excellent leadership skills. He is passionate about the company, about taking care of our customers and about rewarding our shareholders.”
As executive chairman, Rajendra will lead the company’s board of directors.
“Ajita Rajendra has made innumerable contributions to A.O. Smith’s success since joining our company 13 years ago,” lead director Gene C. Wulf said. “By every measure, the company has enjoyed substantial growth during his tenure. From when he became chief executive officer in 2013 until the end of last year, sales increased from approximately $1.9 billion to $3 billion. Earnings per share increased at a compound annual rate of nearly 21 percent during the same period; and A. O. Smith’s market capitalization grew from approximately $2.9 billion to $10.5 billion at the end of last year. In addition, under Ajita’s leadership, the company has established a strong presence in the global water treatment industry. He has assembled a world-class leadership team which will lead A.O. Smith to continued success in the years to come. This has been a well-thought-out and well-planned leadership transition. We are excited to have Ajita continue to concentrate on the long-term strategy of the company through organic growth and acquisitions. As a board, we look forward to working with these two extremely talented leaders to create additional value for our shareholders.”
Rajendra joined A. O. Smith in January 2005 as president of its Water Products Company, and was named an executive vice president of the corporation in 2006. He was promoted to president and chief operating officer in August 2011 and was elected to the company’s board of directors in December of that year.