Dr. Sophie Vandebroek, who currently serves as CTO of Xerox Corp., recently visited Canada for her final time in her role at Xerox. After a highly awarded, 25-year career at Xerox, Vandebroek will retire on Jan. 1, 2017.
IT World Canada caught up with her during her busy visit north of the border to chat about what’s next for her and what she’s reflecting on most during her last month as the Xerox CTO.
Question: So, what brings you to Canada on this visit? And what will you be doing during your time here?
Vandebroek: I come here on a quarterly basis as part of the operation of the organization. It happens to be my last quarterly visit in this role. In addition to visiting the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC), Paul Smith [current head of XRCC] and I spent some time yesterday in Ottawa visiting our strong partners, the National Research Council (NRC).
The Canadian researchers are extremely prolific when it comes to innovating new, valuable things and we’re recognizing all the inventors of 2015 [for all the new patent holders].
Q: What originally sparked the partnership between Xerox and the NRC, which spawned the Canadian Campus for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing? And what’s CCAMM’s aim?
A: We thought, why not create a campus that startups or other companies can use to work with researchers or us to help de-risk technologies and build real commercial opportunities. Because I think Canada struggles a lot with converting a four-person startup into a 100-person SME. We can help them get over that hurdle and turn them into an SME.
Q: Why have you been so dogged in your promotion of collaboration across the border? What makes Canada special?
A: The lab here, the XRRC, is our only lab centralized around materials, which is key to our core business and also to help us to into adjacent markets.
Paul and his team [at XRCC] are doing research on 3D printing, moving into devices, etc., so we only have one of the six labs around the world and the only centered around materials. A lot of our profits and cash flow comes from selling materials in the printing business. So that’s obviously one big reason I’m a great champion of this organization in addition to the fact that being in Toronto allows us to attract experts in the field from all over the world.
Q: What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of from your time at Xerox?
A: A moment where I was touched recently was when the Xerox caucus groups and the Xerox employee resource groups came up with a new award — a Lifetime Diversity Award — that they gave for the very first time just the week before my retirement was announced. And they offered it to me.
It was extremely touching to get an award from the employees themselves — it’s from the people in the company that I’ve always fought hard to create an inclusive environment for.
Q: So, what’s next for you?
A: We made it public in August that I was going to retire at the end of the year. I live in Boston, and I feel way too young to actually retire. Paul has been telling me that you’ll go nuts if you actually retire. So, I’m looking in the Boston area, as we have a large innovation ecosystem, from universities to public companies to startups and consulting firms.
It’s a great time of reflection.