Amy Davis majored in English at Northwestern University, not the typical degree one expects of someone running a business at Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI) Her diverse resume at the engine maker over 25 years finds her latest role as president of Cummins Inc. New Power segment, focused on hydrogen fuel cells and electrification.
She joined the trucking industry’s largest powertrain provider in finance, later moving to the commercial side of the business. She sold engines to fleet dealers, drove trucks and led Cummins’ bus business in Europe in the late 1990s.
After a stint in business strategy, Davis led medium-duty engine development, including the introduction of selective catalyst reduction (SCR) technology for the 2010 engine cycle. That set her up to lead the company’s global medium-duty truck and bus business.
Repurposing a filter-making line
Davis’ next assignment also was global, running Cummins’ filtration unit. It repurposed one of its material lines for air, fuel and lubrication filtration in diesel engines earlier this year to provide material for N-95 masks desperately needed in the early days of the COVID pandemic.
“I think when I was in college, I really dreamed more about your job than my job and look how it turned out,” Davis told me during a September interview.
In her latest assignment, which began July 1, Davis applies her global experience to sift what technologies make the most sense to acquire, invest in and ignore as the company pursues cleaner alternatives to the diesel engines that generate most of Cummins’ revenue.
Here is the FreightWaves’ conversation, edited for space and clarity:
How goes the transition from the filtration business?
The filtration business is one of our most mature market segments. It’s highly competitive, highly established. A very operational role, very focused on just shifting the efficiencies, focusing the culture of the business on the customer, rapid product development. It’s really energizing [in New Power] to be on the forefront of thinking about the future of the company and working with our leadership to be charting that path.
What is your approach to the hydrogen and battery business?
I think one of my roles is really to mature this business and operationalize it. But I still need to retain that startup mentality and keep that freshness, energy and speed to market that we have. It’s really fun to work with all of these inventors.
How do you discern what’s real and actionable from what just looks good?
What’s real, and what’s somebody’s vision, and what’s going to materialize? Sorting through that to plan our investments based on whatever reality I can make from those data points. The team before me really laid a great foundation. So, I think we have a good investment path forward. It’s just coming up to speed on that and tweaking and putting my own lens on it.
What does Cummins mean by needing no ‘stunts’ to capture investor attention?
We’re in a really unique position at Cummins because we have this deep experience in the markets for a hundred years. And with that comes probably the deepest customer list of original equipment manufacturers and partners and end customers. How to incorporate application knowledge with the technology, and then access to this broad set of customers is unique.
You talk about reps. Is that like reps in weightlifting?
When you’re doing new technology, one of the things I learned being in the business 25 years is your design repetition, getting the real-world experience, modifying your design. Those reps are going to win in the long term to get the products most differentiated. I think we all would love to believe every new product is flawless. But these new technologies will have learning curves for our customers. They’ll have trips along the way.
So Cummins can have a startup mentality without the growing pains?
Having this global deep distribution network supporting the products out there … I think we could really put some kind of a trial, one or two units, 10 units, anywhere in the world and have instant support for those and relationships with the customers. I don’t think any [startup] companies have all of those pillars in place.
How much of a burden is the creation part around hydrogen fuel cells?
The availability and the cost of hydrogen is key to enabling adoption around the world. We believe we need to play a role in that. We want to be strategic in what kind of role we play. When we bought Hydrogenics, they brought us electrolyzer capability and product lines that we think are differentiated. We want to leverage that capability and find partners around the world to pursue some of the initiatives.
We also made an acquisition with a solid oxide fuel cell capability, which we think can have a long-term play in power generation segments. Acquiring NPROXX brings us the tank and the fueling side of it. We want to have all of the technology angles because we think our customers will look to us to be able to offer what they need. But we don’t want to push one over the other.
You also have a partnership with Hyundai, which is moving fast on hydrogen.
Broadly speaking, I think Cummins sees Hyundai as a world leader in fuel cell technology. It’s important to have a lot of technology partners to learn from. So we have an investment in Loop Energy, another kind of technology leader in some of the fuel cell technologies complementing some of the Hydrogenics learning.
Cummins cooperates and competes with truck makers. Is that the model for New Power?
Partnerships are going to be key. And they’re going to move around. We see a lot of people coming together in the middle of this, both the battery electric and the fuel cell space. I think you’ll continue to see that. We have been partnering with our OEMs, where we compete with them on the engine for many years. We are always having conversations about all of these technologies. So we’re always at the dance.