Heather Wishart-Smith is the SVP of Technology and Innovation at Jacobs, where she leads the company’s innovation efforts. Jacobs is a publicly-traded engineering and construction services firm; it had $13.6 billion in revenues in 2020. We spoke with Heather as part of our IL Member Spotlight series, which profiles our members.
What’s a piece of advice or learning you want to share with other corporate innovators?
Challenge the status quo, and be impatient.
When you’re not at work, what are three things you spend time doing?
Spending time with my family: my husband Keller, twins Clara and Nick, and Alexandra.
I am really missing swimming during the pandemic, because that’s when I used to get my best thinking done, but I still run and just bought a MIRROR which I am loving for on-demand workouts with a lot of variety.
I am also often volunteering — whether it’s formally as a Sunday School teacher and youth leader, informally by helping with the Boy Scout Boards of Review, or talking with youth about engineering.
What’s a book, podcast, or other resource you would recommend to peers?
Jacobs’ If/When and Inflection Points podcast series. I also really like the book Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas Friedman.
Is there a success or recent achievement you’d want to spotlight?
With the arrival of COVID-19, Jacobs leaned into innovation rather than pulling back in a time of crisis. In fact, I was tasked with standing up and leading our COVID-19 Health System Critical Response Team (C-19 HCRT).
We developed and adapted multiple innovations to respond to the pandemic, to include deploying our ion Internet of Things platform for contact tracing on worksites and development of COVID-19 modeling software to assist Network Rail and other public transit clients reduce risk as they reopen.
Do you use outside consultants regularly? If so, for what sorts of projects? What are some of the factors that come into play when you’re choosing a consultant or outside advisory firm to help you?
We regularly bring on teaming partners for client projects for a variety of reasons, whether to meet small and disadvantaged business goals for government contracts that require them, to accommodate a particular scope we don’t offer, or for strategic reasons.
As it pertains to innovation, we have done this on a limited basis with Board of Innovation. We made the decision to engage them for some strategic initiatives where we either needed additional expertise or just additional help. We interviewed several firms, and we were really impressed with their open source approach. We were looking for someone to elevate us and teach us how to do the work ourselves, and that has actually led to increased engagements for them as well.
That is a similar approach we are taking as we review vendors for some other specific needs we have. Looking ahead, we recently announced our plans to assume a 65 percent ownership in PA Consulting from Carlyle. Once that deal closes we will have the opportunity to partner with and learn from them as we jointly pursue our innovation and digital goals.