Name Dropping: Kathleen Mitford, Chief Strategy Officer and EVP at PTC

Name Dropping is a Q&A series that aims to elevate the stories of women and nonbinary people leading in the tech space. The idea came from Angela DeFranco, a VP of Product at HubSpot, who said one way to be better allies is to name drop more women and nonbinary people in discussions of achievement, inspiration, and disruptors in tech, instead of referencing, time and again, the same set of (often male) leaders.

This edition of Name Dropping features Kathleen Mitford, Chief Strategy Officer and EVP at PTC.

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You’re currently Chief Strategy Officer and EVP at PTC. How have you had to pivot in your role due to the uncertainty of COVID-19?

For most of us, this year looks very different than we thought it would, both professionally and personally. The biggest pivot for me and my team has been switching our priorities to focus on understanding the impact of COVID-19 on our customers and our long-term strategy.

In the beginning we switched to “solving” mode — how can we make sure our customers are as productive as possible during this pandemic. This meant understanding their challenges and barriers with remote work and lack of travel. Many of our products at PTC enable remote collaboration and we ended up offering these free of charge for an extended time period. It also meant pivoting how we engage with customers to figure out the best way to replicate in-person events and sales meetings virtually.

In addition to the short-term changes, we also re-examined long-term strategy to see if it still made sense, given that COVID-19 has changed the way we work and interact with each other. An area we were watching and investing in is SaaS. While SaaS is mainstream in CRM and ERP, the engineering world hasn’t fully caught up yet. We had been investing in SaaS products organically and through acquisition but decided to accelerate the SaaS versions of all our product lines. We didn’t change our strategy, but accelerated it by a number of years.

I believe strategy is not something you define once a year but something that is constantly evolving based on what is happening in the market and with your customers. The current situation makes it more important than ever to constantly look at your strategic choices and see if they still make sense.

KMitfordWhat are some of the most exciting challenges you’re working on right now at PTC?

PTC is an innovative company, with a running joke that PTC stands for “Prepare to Change.” Over our 30+ year history we have evolved from CAD (Computer Aided Design) to PLM (Product Lifecyle Management) to IoT (Internet of Things) to AR (Augmented Reality) to SaaS. We are in the process of re-factoring all our product lines to be true multi-tenant SaaS. SaaS companies operate very differently from on-premises companies and it requires us to change not only our products, but also our processes, our systems, and how we deliver value to our customer base. It is super exciting to be working on this strategic evolution.

Over the course of your career, what have you learned about what makes an exceptional product leader?

Exceptional product leaders have a deep understanding of the customer and the customer’s needs. This leader can recognize how a customer’s business is evolving and how technology needs to advance to support them. Early in my product management career I learned that talking to customers about new features or new modules doesn’t always end well because the customer can’t relate it to what they are doing today. When I pivoted from talking about technology to talking about the customer’s business problems, the conversation changed. The customer could clearly articulate how their business was changing. An exceptional product leader can translate business needs to technology evolution and have the technology ready before the customer needs it.

What’s your greatest career achievement to date?

I am incredibly proud to be part of the team that transformed PTC from a leader in CAD and PLM to also a leader in IoT and AR. The transformation was important for our portfolio, but it was also a multi-year effort to transform our business model (from perpetual to subscription), our go-to-market strategy (higher focus on partners and marketing), and our culture (cool, high- tech company).

Who’s one woman or nonbinary person in technology you’d like to name drop and why?

I’d like to name drop Catherine Kniker, PTC’s DVP of Corporate Development. She is incredibly talented and has held almost every role in tech, including engineering, sales, marketing, partnerships, acquisitions, etc. But what I really value about Catherine is she is truly an inspiring leader, always putting employees and their needs first.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Advocate for yourself, find a trusted mentor, have confidence in your abilities.

What’s one prediction you have about the future of work?

Not much of a surprise, but I believe the work from home environment will become a more permanent option for most tech companies. I think meeting technologies like Teams and Zoom are going to evolve so meetings can feel more personal.

Have you been taking comfort from any simple pleasures during quarantine?

I begin most days with a workout, running every other day and doing a workout video the next. I’ve moved my workout mat and weights from my basement gym to my patio outside and it has been wonderful. My house overlooks a cliff so all I see is trees, clouds, and the birds flying above me. It feels like being on vacation at a nice spa resort.

Know another woman or nonbinary person whose name we should drop? Tweet us at @HubSpotDev with ideas.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

Francesca McCaffrey (She/Her)

Written by Francesca McCaffrey (She/Her)

Francesca is a tech content strategist at HubSpot and editor of the Product Blog

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