Women in Engineering: Roz Buick, Trimble Vice President
Tanya Weaver posted on June 12, 2019 |
Engineering.com interviews Roz Buick, vice president of Trimble Buildings.

Roz Buick can’t quite believe that she’s been at Trimble, a global company providing advanced location-based software solutions, for 23 years. “Where did the time go?” she asks with an unmistakable Kiwi accent.

Roz Buick, vice president of Trimble Buildings. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
Roz Buick, vice president of Trimble Buildings. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)

A native New Zealander, Buick has spent most of that time based in Trimble’s U.S. offices, predominantly in Colorado. While she’s worked her way up the company ladder to her current position of senior vice president responsible for Trimble’s Buildings business, she’s done long stints in two of the company’s other businesses, namely Agriculture and Civil Engineering & Construction. “It has been interesting because the jobs have been varied. I’ve moved around the company and learned new businesses and industries, so it’s never been boring,” she said, smiling.

While not an engineer herself, Buick has worked with engineers for over 25 years. Indeed, Trimble employs a lot of engineers to develop its software and hardware solutions, many of which have been acquired in recent years and one of the most notable being SketchUp. Purchased from Google in 2012 to provide 3D models and tools to the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) community, SketchUp immediately made Trimble the world’s leading CAD company.

“SketchUp is an amazing, friction-less product,” noted Buick. “From a product management perspective, it’s an incredibly well-designed product because so many people can use it for so many different things. It has something like 35 million users and is used by all ages—from those who are just five years old through to senior professional architects who are serious about being highly productive in 3D from concept to completion.”

Growing up on a farm in New Zealand, it certainly wasn’t obvious to Buick that engineering lay in her future. She admits that as a kid she didn’t even touch a computer and instead was learning practical skills from riding horses to sheep herding (this was New Zealand after all), and driving and operating the farm equipment. “Looking back, I realize that I was raised to be a bit of a tomboy, and I’m glad of it. I always thought that I could do as much as the boys,” she recalled. 

It was also at a very young age that Buick started playing sports as she was just five years old when she started playing competitive netball and 13 when she took up basketball. And by the time she was at university she had been selected to be a member of the New Zealand University women’s basketball team. She has continued her participation in these and other sports into adulthood.

“Something that I’ve learnt during my career is that team sports have stood me in good stead as I believe it makes you a better operator in a company where you have to work in teams. It teaches you how to connect with your teammates and how to encourage them in a positive reinforcing way at challenging high stress moments.

“I’m also a big believer in a healthy body, healthy mind as sport not only keeps you physically fit, giving you the stamina you need for the job, but also in helping you better cope with stress. I also think that productivity levels go up when people are physically fitter and energized. So, certainly sport has been a big anchor for me all my life,” she reflected.

Having completed a degree in agricultural science from Lincoln University in New Zealand, Buick went on to attain a PhD in computer modeling and plant physiology. After graduating, her first career role was a joint position between being a research scientist at Landcare Research, a Crown Research institute in New Zealand, and a university lecturer first at Virginia Tech, and later at Lincoln University.

It was during this time while working on building computer-based decision support systems to improve land use planning and environmental management applications that Buick became interested in artificial intelligence (AI). “I was involved in early AI when the words and research around neural nets, machine learning, fuzzy logic and expert systems were being first developed. It was about trying to understand human experts and how they make complex decisions and how you codify or automate the capture of that. What makes me smile now is for all the talk of AI being trendy and a new technology, this was back in the mid-1990s, but today, of course, cloud, bandwidth and various other technology advances make AI’s potential that much greater,” she noted. 

Three years into her joint role and finding that she was spending a lot of her time writing applications for funding, Buick decided to go over to the dark side, as she puts it, and look for a job at a commercial company. When Trimble’s New Zealand branch was advertising for a product manager in Agriculture, she applied, and in June 1996 she started working at the company.

“I did struggle at the start because it was such a different mode of going to work compared to being an academic, but then I really started to enjoy it,” she admitted. “The Agriculture business that I started in consisted of just five employees, and we grew it to be a big business.”

As her role expanded at Trimble, she was asked in 2000 to relocate to Silicon Valley. With a 15-month-old son, the plan was for her husband to be a stay-at-home dad for two years, at which point the family would return to New Zealand. “I asked my husband to look after our son and hang out poolside in California for a little while and then we’d go home, but here we are still doing it and in the meantime we had a daughter too, who was born in Boulder, Colo., as the job at that point had moved there,” said Buick.

During her 12 years within the Agriculture business, it went from “zero to hero,” in that it grew from basically nothing to being a $100+ million business. “We were trying to figure out how to sell GPS to farmers and how they could use Trimble’s technology to guide their machines accurately up and down the fields, Buick recalled.

“However, we were somewhat renegades in the company for a few years because the company was founded on selling technology to surveyors. We had to beg, borrow and steal some of the technology from the other divisions and adapt it to what we needed. I remember being told that we would never be able to sell GPS to farmers—it was just for surveyors. But in the end, we proved them wrong and there is a bit of satisfaction in that,” she said, laughing.

During this time, as she progressed from product manager to business segment manager, where she was responsible for approximately half of the Agriculture business, through to eventually becoming director of marketing, she learned a great deal about product positioning and go-to-market channel strategies.

“We were a close-knit group, and it was a fun ride. I was learning new things all the time, especially as I started out knowing nothing about marketing. But I have a passion for learning, which is an important skill for anyone wanting to progress their careers. Otherwise, I think your brain gets a bit stale after a while,” she said.

Of course, at the time, this was a very male-dominated world Buick was working in, and although her competitiveness (from all that team sports), focus and drive helped her, she did occasionally lack confidence. And, in fact, she believes this is one of the biggest issues for many women in the workplace.

“As women, we need to believe in ourselves more and stop second guessing. It’s often about acting more confident, even if you don’t feel it, but without the bravado or arrogance. I know that it’s been my downfall as during my career I’ve had people tell me that I need to be more confident,” she admitted. 

Looking ahead to new challenges, Buick decided to leave the Agriculture business and so began her next nine-year stint at Trimble within the Civil Engineering & Construction business. Starting out as a general manager, within that time she progressed to vice president.

Most notably during these roles in Civil Engineering & Construction, Buick helped the business establish more than 100 SITECH dealerships worldwide, which are a global distribution network for Trimble solutions. “Forming these SITECHs around the world, working with these Caterpillar dealer principles and trying to persuade them to buy the technology business was a huge effort, but it really changed the landscape of the business and its growth as machines could now be reached in all corners of the world. We saw incredible business growth over eight consecutive years from that,” said Buick.

Then, two and a half years ago, she moved to the Buildings business where, in her role as senior vice president, she is overseeing, managing and executing the global Buildings business strategy. “With the building sector being such a fragmented industry consisting of architects, engineers, contractors, etc., it’s a very complex problem, but we think we have cracked the code with a strategy that we have called the Trimble Constructible process. This is a purpose-built approach that goes beyond BIM to coordinate and optimize the entire design, build and operate lifecycle,” explained Buick. 

For Buick, the enjoyment of the job—in whatever division of Trimble she’s worked in—is actually in finding the right strategies for the market and building the teams that go after it. “‘Transforming the way the world works’ is Trimble’s company slogan and, while it might sound a bit cliché, in this context I really enjoy learning new markets and helping teams/people build winning and innovative technology strategies,” she said. 

While delivering a strategy is always a team effort, the team needs a leader to help guide and corral them toward moving in the same direction. In her many years of doing this, and doing it very successfully, Buick has a few leadership tips. The first is engagement and, using a sporting analogy (naturally), she says that leaders should from time to time get onto the court to play. “I believe that leadership is demonstrating that you actually can get onto the court to help your team get through the challenging times, and too many managers don’t as they think leadership is about delegation.

“Engagement is also about driving in an energetic way to get people excited. It may be tongue in cheek, but I say CEO stands for Chief Energy Officer, in that a manager should be engaged and fun to work with. I’ve seen so many managers who don’t actually engage around the strategy and yet it’s so critical,” she added.

Part of leading the execution of a strategy is to form smart, balanced teams, and Buick is proud of the fact that the Buildings business has the highest balance of women in the company at 30 percent. The Civil business that she was in previously has the next highest level of women at 28 percent.

“I am trying to play my part by getting more women into roles, but I’m very aware that the solution should not become a quota activity as quotas run the risk of being a crutch. We want equality, not preferential treatment.

“I’d prefer if we all kept a better scoreboard of who’s moving the needle in the business and who isn’t. I’ve always maintained that if companies used an objective scoreboard in how talent is promoted, women would get promoted just as quickly as men, if not more so. The problem, as stated in the provocatively titled Harvard Business Review article, ‘Why Are We Still Promoting Incompetent Men?’ is how we fairly and equitably evaluate and promote talent, and quotas are not the only way to get there,” she affirmed.

In addition to trying to promote women, other ways that Buick is playing her part is through coaching women as much as she can, presenting at Trimble’s Women’s Network events, and taking part in women in engineering events such as the annual Groundbreaking Women in Construction conference.

From starting out at Trimble 23 years ago on the first rung of the company ladder to having nearly reached the top and now being part of the company’s senior executive team, and considering all that she has experienced and learned on this journey, her overall advice for women is to be confident and believe in themselves.

“Whatever your package, accent, your experiences, your skills, your look and so on, while I love the Nike slogan ‘Just do it,’ I think we ought to also tell ourselves to Just Own It. But remember, it’s always work in progress—for me too,” she said, smiling.

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