Face to Face: Cecilia Padilla
No stranger to our readership—and those that have followed the Centered on Solutions column for the past several years, On Center Software’s Cecilia Padilla has retired. A true industry pioneer and ambassador for new technologies, she leaves the company in good hands with her successor Angelo Castelli. Here, she speaks to the magazine just following retirement.
W&C: The news seems pretty sudden. Why are you leaving?
CP: It was only recently announced, but my plans to retire have been in the works for quite some time. Last year, my husband Art retired from his career as an oil and gas engineer, and it’s always been our plan to retire together. Succession planning can be complicated, so early this year I began coordinating my retirement with Angelo Castelli, our chief operating officer and Chris Buzz, our vice president of finance and services.
W&C: Are you retiring properly or just moving on?
CP: Yes! I’m definitely retiring. I’ve had two amazing careers. First 26 years in the wall and ceiling industry and then nine years at On Center. Art and I are looking forward to traveling and generally enjoying life.
W&C: Let’s go back and start with some basics: Where are you from? How did you get involved in the trades?
CP: Wow! That’s a very long time ago! I actually followed in my father’s footsteps. When I was 3-years-old, my parents immigrated to the United States from Argentina. My father began his life in America working as a residential drywall hanger in Southern California. He eventually moved to the commercial trades, and for a time, was a foreman at The Raymond Group. It was because of his reputation as a hard and loyal worker that I was hired as a junior estimator at Raymond almost 20 years later. Our roots in the wall and ceiling industry run very deep. The industry has been supporting our family for over 50 years.
W&C: Eventually, what led you to On Center Software?
CP: In 1994, my husband took a transfer to Houston, which involved my leaving Raymond to find a new home. Fortunately, I found a great one at Marek Brothers Systems. On my first day at Marek I was introduced to Quick Bid and it changed my life. During the 14 years I worked for Marek, I met and collaborated with Leonard Buzz, the founder and CEO of On Center. He tried to hire me several times, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He was planning to retire and asked me to come onboard as his successor. It was an amazing opportunity and one that I couldn’t turn down.
W&C: Have you always been interested in software/technology?
CP: I’ve always been interested in finding an easier way. I’ve joked that I’m a fundamentally lazy person and hate doing boring work. So yes, software and technology were the best way to achieve that goal. I’ve found so many ways over the years of improving the quality and quantity of my work by using software and technology. Fortunately for me, my employers encouraged that vision and allowed me to implement many technologies over the years.
A Look to the Past
W&C: What was OCS like when you started with the company?
CP: We were very typical of a founder lead software business. OCS had grown very quickly and had a very loyal following. We have always been customer focused, but that growth was starting to stretch us pretty thin. We needed a growth plan that would allow us to scale and the internal discipline to achieve that successfully.
W&C: Given you came from a background in contracting and were familiar with the wall and ceiling industry, can you tell us what type of tailoring/customization you advised on OCS’ software?
CP: That’s a huge list! As a customer, I would submit feature requests to Leonard all the time. Whenever I was using On-Screen Takeoff, Quick Bid or Digital Production Control and I reached a block or a stumbling point, I would just zip off a feature request right then and there. Most of those ideas made it into the product and others didn’t. But, I have always known that OCS has the customer’s best interests at heart and we genuinely listen and try to help.
W&C: What are some periods where you felt the technology made giant steps?
CP: Well obviously the invention of Quick Bid in 1988 changed everything for the industry. Prior to that, every wall and ceiling contractor used their own manual or spreadsheet methods for estimating and project management. The fact that the entire wall and ceiling industry came together around Quick Bid as the industry standard was significant.
Our invention of On-Screen Takeoff in 1994 was another huge leap. We were way ahead of the construction industry as a whole. It wasn’t until architects and general contractors began to release electronic files that OST was able to change the way the entire industry worked.
W&C: How much farther do you think software companies can take the technology for the end user?
CP: The innovation will never end. In 1985 my husband and I bought a 10 MB hard drive for our IBM PC. We were certain that 10 MB would be all the hard drive space we would ever need. Now our phones have 64 GB of storage. When you look at the technology you’re using today, you believe that is all you’ll ever need. But it’s our job to see beyond that and prepare for the future. It’s also our job to make that future technology better, faster and something a contractor really needs to run their business. We don’t build Angry Birds or Candy Crush, we build serious business applications that are easy to use and will make a difference in a contractor’s life.
W&C: What are you most proud of during your period with OCS?
CP: There are two decisions actually. When the recession started in 2008 no one really knew how long it would last. We did know that as long as our customers didn’t have backlog or decent margins it was going to affect our business too. But innovation couldn’t wait for the recession to be over, so we made the decision that regardless of sales, we would continue to innovate and doubled the size of our software engineering department during those years.
And second, it was a personal goal of mine that we would get through the recession without ever laying off any of our staff. They are a great, well trained group and understand our culture of always taking care of the customer. I didn’t want to lose their knowledge and passion and have to start over later.
W&C: In what condition are you leaving the company?
CP: I’m happy to say that OCS has never been in better shape. We have a best of class management team, led by Angelo Castelli, and a professional, highly competent and very dedicated staff. We have now grown to about 100 employees and are hitting on all cylinders. As you know, Leonard Buzz retired in 2013 and On Center is now a subsidiary of Roper Technologies. We have a permanent home with a great parent company.
W&C: How was Angelo Castelli selected?
CP: Angelo is by far the most qualified choice as the next leader for On Center. He has been with On Center for almost 14 years, and worked in the wall and ceiling industry for a decade before that. He is smart, hardworking and has always been passionate about what we do. We believe that one of the reasons On Center has grown into such a successful business is that our leadership; Leonard, me and now Angelo come from within the industry. We have walked in the shoes of the estimator, project manager, chief estimator, branch manager and owner. We know firsthand their problems and pains and have a passion for making their lives better. On Center’s future couldn’t be in better hands.
W&C: What beach are you retiring to? It’d be a shame not to have something indulgent post-career.
CP: It’s probably cliché, but we truly are moving to the beach! Art and I have been planning our retirement for a very long time. We have recently moved from Houston to Destin, Fla. where we will be spending most of the off season, and also have a summer home in Canmore, Alberta (outside of Banff). They are two very different and beautiful places and we are extremely excited about starting this next phase of our lives together.
W&C: Finally, what final words/advice would you like to leave to the wall and ceiling community?
CP: First, I want to say thank you to all of the friends, mentors, colleagues and customers that I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with over the last 35 years. There is no way I could have foreseen what an amazing career I would enjoy in the wall and ceiling industry. I wish you all much health, happiness and success in all that you do.
As for advice: I’ve learned that contractors hate change. And when it comes to embracing technology the construction industry lags behind almost everyone else. My advice would be to lead and embrace technology rather than run from it. It’s like water levels and lasers. They both work, but one makes your life so much easier than the other. Make sure you have not only the best tools, but the best training. Strive to become an expert at the software you own. It will make your life and your business better, and you’ll never regret it.