Women take the lead at technology firms.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
These words were uttered by the late Steve Jobs and sum up a big trend in the technology world today—everything starts with an idea and is followed by action.
This is the case for six women at the helm of technology firms targeting the construction industry. These women recognize there is a specific need in construction today, and with determination, deliver a targeted solution for the industry.
These women are executives, leaders, and champions of ideas. Some of them are wives and mothers, and many of them were working at a construction jobsite long before they were heading up a technology company. And now they all have one thing in common: They are the 2016 Constructech Mavens.
This is the story of six women: Shelley Armato, Varsha Bhave, Cecilia Padilla, Wendy Rogers, Jan Thayer, and Tracy Young. Each has a different journey in the space, yet all are proving that innovation is still very much alive in the construction industry today.
FROM JOBSITE TO BOARDROOM
Many of this year’s Mavens have something in common: They were on the jobsite long before they were sitting at the head of the boardroom.
This is the case for Cecilia Padilla, president, On Center Software, www.oncenter.com, The Woodlands, Texas. Her passion for the construction industry is deep rooted—and builds on her family’s 50-year involvement in the construction industry.
In the early 1980s, she was hired by Raymond Group as its first female junior estimator, and rose through the ranks, as the company expanded. She became a senior project manager and area manager with several multi-million-dollar projects.
When her husband, who was in the oil and gas industry, was transferred to Houston, Padilla was soon hired as a senior project manager at Marek Brothers.
Cecilia Padilla’s passion for the construction industry is deep rooted—
and builds on her family’s 50-year involvement in construction.
“The construction industry has always lagged in software adoption,” she explains. “Excel was not around. I used the killer app Lotus 1-2-3. Estimators did their takeoffs by hand and their estimates with a 10-key.”
When she joined Marek Brothers, she was introduced to technology from On Center Software. She worked directly with On Center Software’s founder and CEO Leonard Buzz to do more with the software, and soon became great friends.
In 2008, she went from collaborating with On Center to joining the company as vice president. She was then selected to become Buzz’s successor and new leader of On Center Software, following his retirement.
Today, she is in regular communication with owners, general contractors, and subcontractors, which forms the foundation for the company’s customer-centric business model, and recently introduced the company’s first cloud-based platform.
“Our focus is to always take care of the customer. You will find every On Center employee has that same attitude,” she says. “We continually ask for our customers’ input as we push to make the software better. Our purpose is to make their jobs easier.”
Like Bill Gates and Jobs, she didn’t finish college. Instead her education comes from a lifetime of working with contractors both in the office and in the field.
As another example of a woman who had experience in construction, Shelley
Armato, CEO, MySmartPlans, www.mysmartplans.com, Kansas City, Kan., saw the chaos that surrounded documentation in the industry. Her husband was one of the largest commercial painting contractors in Kansas City for more than 38 years, and was on the receiving end of all that documentation. As Armato says, “It was always this chaos.”
“I am going to transform this
industry, and it is going to be one
project at a time, and one life at a time.”
– Shelley Armato, MySmartPlans
So, together, they set out to solve this challenge, and the result was MySmartPlans. Her mission, however, remains focused on her family.
“My mission was first of all for my family, for my husband,” she explains. “He had two pagers and an ear thing in and he would be at a birthday party and be talking on his phone about what is coming up at a project and what was going to happen on Monday.” With family being her first love, she wanted to create a platform where people could actually spend time on Saturday mornings with family instead of in the job trailer trying to copy and paste the correct set.
And her vision for the future is putting the power in the hands of the owners by giving them accurate information. “No one is going to stop me. I am going to transform this industry, and it is going to be one project at a time, and one life at a time.”
Armato believes women often have a vision for the future, but in the past have been in a position where they have been smothered. However, as she puts it, “Being tenacious has been an ally of mine.”
GROWING UP MAVEN
Many of the Mavens had a passion for construction long before they were heading up technology companies. Some even go as far back as early childhood.
“Like all good builders, we always start off as a kid in that corner that obsessively plays with Legos by themselves,” says Tracy Young, CEO, PlanGrid, www.plangrid.com, San Francisco, Calif.
“Like all good builders, we always start off as a kid in that corner that obsessively plays with Legos by themselves.”
-Tracy Young, PlanGrid
Even though she knew she always wanted to be a builder, Young didn’t get into architectural school, which turned out to be a good thing in the long run. Instead she went and pursued civil engineering and ended up changing her major to construction engineering management. She knew the jobsite is where she was destined to be—and that is exactly where she ended up, on a $100 million construction project to be exact.
Here is where she first recognized a need in the industry. The project started with 3,000 sheets of blueprints, and by the end of the project three years later, there were more than 11,000 sheet of blueprints. Everything had to be captured with new revisions, and the challenge with paper was obvious to Young.
Flash forward to 2010 when Jobs announced the first generation iPad in 2010, and Young knew she wanted to build software for it and solve the challenge of getting information out to the field.
Six years later she is leading a successful construction app startup that aims to make it easier to share markups, issues, and progress reports in realtime.
As she humbly puts it, the people are what drive her each day. Having entered the construction industry in 2008, she saw firsthand the impact of layoffs, as the construction company she worked for dropped from roughly 1,000 employees in 2008 to only 300 in 2011 when she left. “I remember how awful it was that leadership just didn’t own up to it. They weren’t transparent about it.”
Today she does her job for the people in the field, for the people in the office, and that is what drives her every day. She also believes intelligence and hard work are equally distributed across genders, race, and ethnicity.
“If an industry looks predominately one type, then we are missing out on everyone else. That means for the construction industry we are missing out on a lot of great buildings, a lot of great leaders, a lot of great engineers,” she explains.
Similarly, Varsha Bhave, partner/founder, Projectmates/Systemates, www.projectmates.com, Richardson, Texas, has always been interested in construction. Having grown up in India, she has had a “keen interest in the design aspect of everything.”
“Teach yourself a technical skill that is going to put yourself above everyone else in the office …”
-Varsha Bhave, Projectmates/Systemates
This includes architecture—but also extends to technology. In fact, her father was the CTO of one of the largest banks in India, and would give her computer sheets to do math problems on and punchcards to play with. This spurred her interest in both computers and architectural design.
After receiving an undergraduate degree in architecture, she came to the United States to learn about urban planning and design.
And then the Internet “disrupted” the construction industry—and she learned how to do HTML and design Websites.
“At that time I was working as an urban designer and urban planner with the city,” says Bhave. “I quit my job and started designing Websites.”
It was a contract with Continental Airlines to create micro project Websites that set the wheels in motion for the eventual birth of Projectmates/Systemates. She says, “As we were doing micro design Websites, we decided this is ludicrous, we should automate this.” And thus the first version of Projectmates was born.
THE AGE OF THE INTERNET
When Projecmates first launched, Bhave did all the UI (user interface) design from beginning to end. It was a time when it was “taboo” to put data on the Internet, due to it being unreliable and unsafe. However, Bhave worked to ensure the system was secure. The program has grown today to include more than 40 different modules. The key with technology development is looking to the future, she explains.
“I realized if I start thinking about what people are going to use a year or two years from now, I am already late,” she says. “I have to start learning what people are going to use now that are at least two years ahead of schedule.”
She believes construction professionals have an opportunity to leverage technology—but it all starts with learning how to use it. “Teach yourself a technical skill that is going to put yourself above everyone else in the office and you will be able to build on that as you move forward.”
Also, just as the Internet was taking off, Wendy Rogers, president/CEO, eSUB, www.esub.com, San Diego, Calif., saw a need in the construction industry. While her background was in broadcast journalism, her husband was a consultant at a company that represented some of the largest subcontractors in getting payment on work that they performed.
Before the term “cloud” even existed, Wendy
Rogers bootstrapped eSUB, and her vision for the
future is open standards.
In the mid-1990s, she made a career move and went to work for him and his company. For years, she worked on the construction side of things before she started seeing software proliferating in the construction industry. Before the term “cloud” even existed, she bootstrapped eSUB.
“Most project-management systems are geared toward the need of general contractors, and not the needs of subs,” she says. “We stayed true to our core group of people, which is labor-intensive subcontractors.”
And this is exactly what drives Rogers every day. She believes subcontractors are traditionally underserved when it comes to software solutions—and technology enables them to be more organized and accountable internally with their people and systems. This then allows subs to be more accountable up the food chain to the general contractors.
Rogers’ advice for other women working in the construction industry is to bury your head down and forget gender; instead use the same skills of integrity, tenacity, and passion for what you do and the team you build in order to be able to move forward.
Her vision for the future of construction technology is open standards. “I believe that is the way things will move in the future. Many companies are integrating BIM (building information modeling), which is changing communication and workflows.”
Like Rogers, many of this year’s Mavens also believe there is a demand for greater interoperability among software systems that exist within the construction industry. Jan Thayer, VP-general manager, ConEst Software Systems, www.conest.com, Manchester, N.H., is one of those Mavens.
She grew up with a father who was an accomplished architect, and this, along with a series of life events, led her to the construction industry. Part of her vision for the future is greater mobility and interoperability.
“My vision of the future of technology for specialty contractors in the electrical and low voltage/ICT industries is that it will be further driven by the demand for convenience, efficiency, and productivity that will improve mobility and interoperability between software applications throughout the entire construction workflow,” explains Thayer.
She says we are already seeing this happen with SaaS (software-as-a-service), 3D modeling, and full integration between software systems. “Technology is changing construction—it’s changing the way contractors communicate, collaborate, design, and construct—from social media and the IoT to building information modeling.”
Like other visionaries, Thayer says there is a paradigm in the technology industry that, while it is hard to see into the future, requires technology companies to anticipate change and be ready to deliver software solutions that keep up with emerging trends in hardware applications and the impact these changes have on end users.
Each day, she is driven by a commitment to business, employees, and customers. In fact, supporting classes that provided mandatory review of NEC (national electrical code) changes for license renewals and a New England-based electrical estimating firm taught her about the challenges that specialty contractors face.
Further, working with and learning from customers has provided her a window into their everyday business challenges. “There is no greater reward for any company than to be a part of their customers’ success,” she says. •
“There is no greater reward for any company than
to be a part of their customers’ success.”
-Jan Thayer, ConEst Software Systems
-by Laura Black, editor