Dr. Kimberly McGrath is director of business development for Maxwell Technologies and has spent her career in the field of energy storage applications and technology development. Dr. McGrath received her doctorate in chemistry from the University of Southern California and an MBA from The Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine.
How do you define and measure success - professionally and personally?
Ongoing growth and development is my highest priority, and I maintain a list of far-reaching goals, which are broken down into small, manageable steps. Professionally, my vision of success is to lead the propagation and commercialization of new technologies that improve the quality of our environment, and personally, it is to continue to push my limits as an endurance athlete -- all the while maintaining work/life balance and enjoying time with friends and family. But ultimately, I feel that certain behaviors lead to success. The first is to consistently seek knowledge and ways to improve, and this typically means surrounding myself with people better than me. Secondly, it's the development of concrete yet adaptable plans to shape my actions. Finally, I believe that doing right by people and enabling the success of others is directly tied to my success and is also very rewarding.
What are you most proud of in your professional career?
I've dedicated my career to my passion - renewable energy technologies. Many markets for these technologies are still emerging and with that comes a great deal of business uncertainty - planning and re-planning, adapting and modifying strategy along the way, not to mention technology development risk itself. It's easy to become frustrated. I'm proud that I made the right educational choices that enable me to thrive in this multidimensional environment.
If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?
A critical learning element of an MBA program is the peer exchange of ideas drawn from both positive and negative experiences across all aspects of business. After completing my Ph.D., I only spent a few years in industry before going back to business school. While I found my business program to be very rewarding, I think it would have been even more enriching had I spent additional time in industry to gain more perspective and experience before returning to school.
If you were to give advice to your 22 old self, what would it be?
After completing my undergraduate degree, I proceeded directly into a graduate program and also continued to work part-time. If could do it again, I would have taken a hiatus in between degrees and spent time abroad exploring the world.
I'm a very driven person by nature and in having accomplished something, my typical response is, "OK, move on. What's next?" I would tell myself to take more time to celebrate and appreciate small accomplishments and victories, rather than immediately jumping to the next goal.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Maxwell Technologies?
Maxwell is a dynamic and energetic company, and I thrive in this type of environment. The largest highlight is that I directly feel the impact of my day-to-day decisions, as well as the decisions of the teams with which I work closely. It's exciting to get out of bed every day and think about strategies to build the business because the breadth of prospects are enormous. It is also the enormity of these prospects that presents the greatest challenges - prioritizing, balancing resources and maintaining focus to grow the company strategically versus trying to please the world.
What is the biggest challenge you see in getting women to enter and stay in the STEM industry?
The hard sciences are just as described -- hard. It's frustrating, and most of the time, the hypotheses don't pan out. Sometimes that math problem seems like it's impossible to solve. We need to instill the idea into children -- particularly girls -- that it's OK that it's hard and it's OK to fail, just keep at it because when the pieces do fall into place, the satisfaction of scientific accomplishment is tremendous. If we can build a fearless mindset toward science at an early age, I believe far fewer will become disillusioned in their careers. The most successful women I know have never backed down from a challenging scientific problem nor let anyone else dictate the level of effort they put toward finding a solution.
Also, at the grade- and middle-school level, I think we need to place further emphasis on how scientific developments are being applied directly to the biggest problems our world faces today. This requires all of our educators to stay current and well-read on the biggest topic of the day and the appropriate network to bring scientific leaders into the classroom to stimulate curiosity. Particularly, women who are at the forefront of their fields can lead by example for young women.