Kathleen Mitford, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, PTC
Bachelor of Science, Philadelphia University (Now Thomas Jefferson University)
Kathleen Mitford is an EVP and Chief Strategy Officer at PTC. She oversees key organizations including Strategy; Mergers and Acquisitions; Strategic Alliances; Corporate Marketing; and PTC’s Academic program. Prior to her appointment, Kathleen led both the Product and Research & Development (R&D) organizations as EVP of Products. During her tenure, PTC received numerous industry analyst accolades in the IoT, AR, PLM, and CAD markets. Under her leadership, PTC defined and executed a strategy for IoT, which led to a very successful entry into the multi-billion-dollar market.
She has received numerous awards for her work, including the 2019 Mass Technology Leadership Council’s Tech Excellence Leadership Award. She sits on the board of the Massachusetts High Tech Council. Kathleen is a passionate champion of initiatives that drive inclusion, diversity, and equity for women in technology. She is also a frequent panelist on the topics and her expertise helps to drive innovation and digital transformation.
Talk about the culture of your company. What makes it inclusive or supportive of women in engineering and automation?
Our people power us at PTC; people who are putting their brains and passion to work to ignite new, diverse ways of thinking and new solutions. It’s the brilliance of our people that makes PTC agile – enabling us to deliver an incredible customer experience and a positive work environment.
Like many companies, our purpose statement is at the heart of every decision we make. Our purpose is the ‘Power to Create’ for both our customers and our employees. We provide solutions to companies so they can create and design products, all while encouraging our own employees to have the power to not only create but to innovate and ideate. As a company, we use our ‘Power to Create’ an inclusive and diverse work culture by following two important values: PTC for All; and Brains, Passion, and Fun.
‘PTC for All’ encourages us to work towards a culture that is inclusive, diverse, and embodies equality. We strive for an environment where everyone can be their authentic and true selves coming to work.
Empowering PTC team members to create begins with the foundation of our hiring criteria – Brains, Passion, and Fun. We focus on hiring smart people (brains), people who are passionate about both PTC and what they do (passion), and people who care about the positive change that we have on our customers,community and each other (fun). Embracing this hiring mentality enables us to draw from a diverse pool of candidates. The brains, passion, and fun that our employees bring ignite new ways of thinking, and translate to PTC’s multitude of successes.
In support of women in engineering and automation, we develop and launch a variety of internal programs to help advance their careers. We take pride in our Women of PTC employee resource group, our Women Mentorship Program, internal socials, and external events that really advocate for women in the workplace.
It is important to point out that many women have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on a recent report published by McKinsey, many women are working two jobs right now: full-time mom at home and full-time employee behind the computer screen. Many children are unable to go back to school in person, leaving mothers responsible for their child’s education and juggling a career. At PTC, we realize many of our employees have to deal with this ambiguity and we have updated our policies to help manage the health and wellbeing of our employees and their loved ones. Our emergency leave policy has been extended by ten days and now includes childcare and eldercare; employees are able to take the time they need during the day to attend to their children or elders; and we accept that there will be interruptions from children during video calls throughout the day.
As an executive leadership team, we look at diversity as a whole and make sure we are having a positive impact. We role model and we hold each other accountable by reviewing our diversity statistics. We work hard to drive awareness of not only of women and gender, but of race, underrepresented minorities, LGBTQ+, and neurodiverse employees.
Describe a recent company project (in which you were involved) that went particularly well. How did you and your team go about ensuring success?
PTC is known for its innovative technology suite. Years ago, we transformed from a CAD and PLM company to now a leader in not only CAD and PLM but also IoT and AR. We see another transformation coming to our customer base as the way they want to deploy technology is expanding from on premises to cloud /SaaS to support great collaboration and access anytime, anywhere from any device. This will drive yet another transformation of not only our technology but also our company.
Recognizing this trend was coming, we acquired Onshape, the first Software as a Service (SaaS) product development platform that unites robust computer aided design (CAD) with powerful data management and collaboration tools, in November 2019. We acquired them for not only the product development solution, but also the underlying SaaS platform that we will be migrating our existing offerings to over time. While most enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM, HRM have moved to the cloud, the engineering space has been slow to adopt cloud technology. We thought it would take years to convince our customers to adopt SaaS and when the horrible pandemic hit, we saw the sentiment change instantly. We ran a survey to see our customers’ willingness to adopt SaaS offerings and 82% of the respondents were willing to adopt cloud / SaaS.
We quickly spun up a cross functional team to answer two questions – (1) what should our long-term SaaS strategy be and (2) what impact will this have on our organization? From there, we defined a multi-year program to not only accelerate our existing SaaS businesses but also transition our existing on-premise offerings to the cloud. We also defined the impact this would have on our employees – the new roles we would need to hire as well as the upskilling of existing employees, our customers – what the value would be for them and how our engagement model with our customers needed to evolve, our products – critically important is insuring backward compatibility and our processes and systems – evolving our processes and supporting systems to be in best in class for a SaaS company.
This program impacts every organization and product line within PTC. We quickly defined the plan, while working remotely, in a number of months. We drove success by making sure all stakeholders knew the importance of the project and by communicating often and frequently to our executive team and board. We relied not only on our internal knowledge but reached out to executives at other software companies that have gone through this transition for lessons learned and best practices. We evolved our long term goals and 2021 initiatives to include this program as a key component of what we are trying to accomplish as a company.
It has been rewarding to watch our business evolve over the years and I am excited to see us embark on this next evolution.
What first drew you to engineering and this industry?
I have an interesting background as I went to college for fashion design and started my career as a menswear designer. Even in college, I was interested in technology applications for designing and manufacturing clothing. At the menswear company, I was asked to lead their implementation of a PDM (Product Data Management) system as I recently graduated from college and was up to speed on the latest fashion technology. I ended up spending so much time on the phone with the software company telling them what their product should do, and they just ended up offering me a job. This was over 20 years ago and since then, I have had the pleasure of leading multiple product management, research and development, marketing, strategy, acquisition and partner teams at different technology companies.
What I love about technology is the speed of innovation. You are required to stay current on the latest technology trends and practices are you risk becoming irrelevant. Being a curious learner this matches my drive to always learn something new.
Describe your biggest career challenge. How did you solve it — or what was the outcome or lesson learned?
When I joined PTC 14 years ago, I was brought in to establish them as a leader in retail PLM, a space I knew well. A couple of years after joining, I was promoted to a role that focused more on manufacturing verticals (auto, aerospace & defense, electronics & hi-tech, medical devices, heavy equipment) a domain I did not know well, although I had worked on many projects related to these industries.
People talk about Imposter Syndrome – where you don’t feel like you deserve to have a seat at the table because you don’t have the right skills. I immediately began to feel this and questioned my abilities. Luckily, I had a great mentor that helped me “get out of my own head” and trust in my capabilities.
With my mentor, I identified the areas where I felt I was strong and celebrated those areas, but also identified areas I felt I needed to work on. In my mind, I was able to acknowledge strengths and opportunity areas and that made me feel more balanced.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to have confidence…you’ve got this! Take a step back and recognize all that you have achieved so far and what you are capable of doing. Celebrate your successes and trust yourself.