Heidi Roth Stays on Top by Working on Her Foundation

Heidi Roth of Kilroy Realty outlines her recruitment and technology initiatives that keep the company competitive in a saturated market

When working in one of the most competitive markets in the country, the first challenge is to stand out in a crowded field. With a focus on sustainability and creative work spaces, Kilroy Realty owns, operates, and develops commercial real estate in California and Washington, some of the most competitive markets in North America. In these West Coast markets, Kilroy must find ways to distinguish itself and innovate.

For Heidi Roth, executive vice president, chief accounting officer, and controller at Kilroy Realty, two major priorities toward this goal are recruiting and retaining talent and implementing new technology to improve efficiency. Roth is one of the most senior women at the company, and her workload includes overseeing the core accounting functions, payroll, SEC and tax compliance, and participating in the quarterly earnings process with investors. Still, she’s identified talent recruitment and leveraging technology as two areas in which Kilroy Realty should focus on being an industry leader.

CEO John Kilroy supports the company’s culture of hiring the best and brightest talent it can and listening to ideas across the board—not just from the top down. For Roth, a way to ensure these ideas are heard is through an employee engagement initiative.

This initiative, which Roth works on with a team of individuals throughout the company, has both informal and formal components. Informally, it’s been about shrinking the divide between company leaders and employees: talking to people daily, keeping doors open, and team-building outings. “It’s about being a resource for people and breaking down barriers,” Roth says. Formally, however, it’s about focusing on recruiting and mentoring people in different career points and roles—and making sure they have the tools to succeed.

Creating a culture that emphasizes engagement is critical not only for Kilroy, but for Roth’s department. She works to ensure her team has a good relationship with business units across the company, which she says is crucial to Kilroy’s success. “To avoid surprises and ensure we are making informed business decisions, it’s helpful to include the right people from the beginning,” she says. “Unintended consequences can be avoided with education and strong relationships between the accounting team and the business units.”

But recruitment and relationships are only part of Roth’s work to keep Kilroy an efficient and enjoyable place to work. Another is improving technology for her team in accounting, which also creates efficiency throughout the company. This is important to Roth because of the accounting department’s purpose within the company: “We’re a service department. We have to be cognizant of that in order to help the business operate efficiently,” she says.

For the past four years, Roth explains, Kilroy has been focused on better leveraging technology to improve efficiency. This focus has benefited her team in several ways. One is that they have automated many processes that save time and reduce the risk of human error, which is critical for a public company. Automating processes, Roth says, has also improved efficiency for other departments in the organization. Introducing new technology is difficult, she adds, but has been worth the effort in the long run. “Once you start implementing solutions that make people’s jobs easier and allow them to perform administrative tasks more efficiently, people are more open to future initiatives,” she says.

Engagement initiatives, leveraging technology, and automating routine processes have all contributed to the kind of culture Roth believes is important to Kilroy’s success. Still, company culture is only part of any individual employee’s success. At Kilroy Realty, there are many opportunities to achieve success, but employees have to be just as invested in the company. “Kilroy has a promote-from-within culture,” Roth says. “If you put your head down, do a good job, and make contributions to the team, you will be recognized.” She adds that confidence in yourself and your team is crucial. “Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you,” she says. “Invest in your people, and give them opportunities to learn and grow as professionals and individuals. Figure out what is important to your success, and weed out the distractions that won’t help you get there.”

Roth’s focus on these initiatives at Kilroy has made the company a workplace that provides opportunities for success. Ultimately, staying competitive is about nurturing the real estate company’s biggest asset—talent.