Jill Green is willing to make tough decisionsGreen explains how engineering led her to become a CEO in the petroleum industry
Green explains how engineering led her to become a CEO in the petroleum industry
By Anne Millar and Mary Wells
February 21, 2018
Jill Green is a civil engineer and the CEO and co-founder of Green Imaging Technology. Courtesy of Jill Green.
Jill Green has a background in civil engineering and has held a variety of traditional engineering roles in the public and private sectors in Canada and the United States. She exemplifies what it means to be an innovator in her industry. She is currently the chief executive officer (CEO) of Green Imaging Technologies (GIT), a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) solutions provider for the petroleum sector. She currently sits on the board of directors of the First Angel Network and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF).
Jill was granted the award of appreciation for four consecutive years for her work with the Society of Core Analysts. In 2010, she received the Halifax Ambassador Award, and in 2017 she was named one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada by Atlantic Business Magazine. Jill also support young women interested in STEM by giving talks at the WinSETT leadership program and the CanWIT Innovation Forum.
What did you enjoy about math and science in your early education? Math and science were fun and challenging and the answers made sense. I don’t like to memorize things. I want to understand.
Were there many other female students in your class? We had a higher than normal amount. We had a chair for women in engineering at UNB at that time, Monique Frize. She had done fantastic work attracting young women into the program, so I think we were probably twenty per cent or more women. I knew who she was, and I knew what she was trying to achieve. We all knew she was there and supporting us.
Did you work during your undergraduate studies? I did. My first couple of jobs, I worked for the province. First, I wrote specifications for buildings, which I thought was boring. There was another crew there of all men, they were the roofing crew, and they would go out and inspect roofs all over the province. They would travel around all summer long to do thermographic scanning and to write reports on roofs so that the province could plan the maintenance programs for the roofs on provincially-owned buildings. I decided I wanted to do that, but they told me I couldn’t because girls didn’t do that work, only the boys. It would cost more, they said, because I would need my own hotel room. I kept at it and at it and finally they let me do it. I had a blast that summer. After third year, I started working for a consulting engineering firm as the site engineer for water and sewer projects for a construction site. I loved that job. I worked for them for the rest of my summers until I graduated.
You held a number of part-time or temporary positions after graduation. Was it difficult to secure a full-time position? When we were coming out of school, there weren’t a lot of jobs available, especially in environment. I think our class, and the classes around us, found that hard starting out. Of course, it was frustrating. When I graduated, I got married. My husband was doing his PhD so I was supporting our family. It was tough. I went three months without a job at one point. That was pretty scary, but I just kept myself busy, kept looking, and actually did renovations on our house at the time. I needed to keep busy. You just have to roll with it. I remember when I was at the university, I finished the space allocation project, and they really liked me, and I worked hard, but they didn’t have an engineering job for me. So, I went and worked for their building group and did clerking type work just to keep myself busy and going. I used my positive attitude to get chances to take on more projects. Sometimes you have to do things that aren’t exactly what you had planned. In the end, it works out, as long as you’re eager and willing to contribute to the organization, you’re in.
Why did you relocate to the United States? My husband did a PhD in electrical engineering, his specialty was magnetic resonance. There are no jobs in Canada in this field. We had a choice of Cleveland, Ohio or San Diego, California. The job offers were fairly similar. We knew the cost of living was fairly high in San Diego. We took the map out and saw how far away San Diego was from home and picked Cleveland. I had no problem securing a position because I’d had so many different jobs. I had tons of experience and a lot of confidence. I secured a job before I went down. A consulting engineering firm [GGJ Inc.] hired me, and within a year I was a partner in that firm.
What factors influenced your quick advancement at GGJ? I was really good at getting things done. I kept everybody happy. I have a lot of drive. I was a good fit for the management team. I think there’s a certain advantage to being a woman engineer. I’m not the standard engineer. People often tell me they can’t believe I’m an engineer because I’m not the typical pocket protector, nerdy glasses, serious kind of engineer. I’m fun, smart, I get things done, and I’m just a little different so they like working with me.
Can you talk about the circumstances leading to the founding of Green Imaging Technologies (GIT) Inc.? My husband did his PhD there at UNB. He helped with a lot of early things in the MRI research department. We kept in touch with them and had good relationships with some of the people at the Office of Research Services. They had some technologies that they thought were ready for commercialization, but they had no one at UNB that had any interest in doing it, so the head of the research center, Dr. Balcom, thought of Derrick and contacted him and said, “Do you have any interest in coming home?” I can remember him getting off the phone, laughing, and saying, “Like we would ever move back home.” Life was pretty darn good down there in the states. But I kind of missed my family. We had little kids, and I was starting to think about how when our parents came to visit, we would have to reintroduce the children to their grandparents each time. So, I said, “Why don’t we just take a look and see?” One of the inventors of one of the technologies was doing a presentation on his technology in Toronto at a conference. Derrick drove to Toronto to see how well the presentation was received. I can still remember when he called me. He said, “I’ve got really bad news. I think we’re going to have to do this.” The response had been overwhelming. There was standing room only in the room. Everybody kind of mobbed this guy, wanting to know all about the technology.
UNB offered to bring us back and to explore the business opportunities here before we made a final decision. I had more flexibility with my job than Derrick, so we decided to send me back. They had meeting after meeting after meeting set up for me, and I was pitching at every meeting. I would change my pitch from meeting to meeting depending on the questions, and I kept changing and making it better before every presentation. Oh my, I was tired. I met investors, venture capitalists, and members of the local business community. I talked to some researchers at the university. In the end, I realized there was a very strong, supportive business community in Fredericton. We decided to go for it. I came home [to Fredericton] first. Derrick stayed and worked for a few more weeks to get as much money as possible before we jumped in with both feet. UNB was fantastic. They hired me to help them get a program together to have more chemical safety, with the understanding that I was going to be working on the company, too, so it was okay for me to spend some of my time on the company every day. How awesome is that? We had healthcare. I had a job. We were able to start the company, but the risk was mitigated because they gave us a break. I think I stayed working for them for a year before I took over the company full-time.
How did you fundraise? We did a friends and family round to raise money. There’s a First Angels Network in Atlantic Canada that helped fund us early on. That was a big deal for us. That and all the great government programs we had down here certainly helped with our development.
How did you manage starting a new company while raising children? We have twins. You do what you’ve got to do. You just bare it. There was great daycare on the UNB campus. Any time a kid was sick they would go to their grandparents. Thank God our parents were here.
What qualities make you a strong leader? The best quality I have is that I make decisions. You don’t have to have all of the answers, you just have to be willing to make the tough decisions.
What are you most proud of in your career? That GIT is a successful, healthy, profitable company that is 99.9 percent exporting out of Canada. I think that is a pretty cool accomplishment.
What have you enjoyed most about your work? Probably the people I work with. I love people, and I become energized being around smart people who are good at what they do. The best part about being in engineering is that it helps you solve problems. That’s a skill that you use in every aspect of your life. I feel I can do anything because I’m an engineer.
Where do you get your confidence from? I was driving in the car and my daughter said, “Mom, how did you get to be so confident?” I told her it’s because I have taken a lot of chances, and I’ve succeeded at things. Sometimes I have failed, but when I failed, I picked myself up, learned something from it, and kept going. When you realize that no matter what happens, you can pick yourself up and keep going, it builds your confidence.
How do you see yourself as an innovator? I’m really good at making sense of a whole lot of complicated things. I can find a pathway forward and navigate what is going on. I can create order out of chaos. I’m also really good at building relationships. We’ve been quite innovative in how we’ve grown our company and who we’ve partnered with. UNB’s our partner and the University of Oklahoma. We have a really strong relationship with Oxford Instruments, a very large company in the UK. They are our closest partner. Everything we do is built around relationships, either with business partners, clients, or research partners, so I’ve had to be quite innovative in how to set up and structure those relationships. We’re as successful as we are because that has worked so well.
How can we encourage young people to be innovative? You need to give them opportunities to experiment, to take risks in a safe environment, and to let them fail.
To read more about Jill and the other Women of Innovation, purchase the book here.