Technology

Home Tech Influencer Honored With Leaders In Other Sectors

Toll Brothers president of Smart Home Technologies Felicia Ratka recognized by Women We Admire as a Top 50 Tech leader.

Technology

Home Tech Influencer Honored With Leaders In Other Sectors

Toll Brothers president of Smart Home Technologies Felicia Ratka recognized by Women We Admire as a Top 50 Tech leader.

October 14th, 2022
Home Tech Influencer Honored With Leaders In Other Sectors
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Women We Admire is a platform whose focus is news and information on today's women leaders in business, entertainment, sports, motherhood, medicine, law, and many other fields. A special report on the site this week recognizes Felicia Ratka, Toll Brothers president of Smart Home Technologies, as one of the Top 50 Women Leaders in Technology of 2022.

A Cliff notes summary spotlighting Ratka's breadth of impact speaks to a confluence of domains her strategic role involves:

With over 22 years of experience in the industry and a strong passion for providing the best experience possible for her clients in the smart home space, Felicia takes a central role in engaging with trade partners, manufacturers, and platform providers to bring consistent quality and service to the sales and deployment of technology, while working to enhance the end-user experience.

The recognition – coming as it does in a moment of uncertainty and challenge for new construction housing unequalled since maybe 2007 or 2008 – provides access points to at least three areas crucial to doing business, surviving, and flourishing in the homebuilding and residential development sector through the throes of near-term disruptions.

  • Trust
  • Interoperability
  • Culture

We had an opportunity to speak with Felicia back in January of this year, and featured a conversation she had with Kohler director of sales Brian Humphreys on how tech solutions are evolving as new home value drivers.

Among her responses is one that gets at the most basic question of all when it comes to value-creation opportunity homebuilders engage with in relationship with prospective customers: "How do you want to live in your home?"

She says:

Smart home control is personal. What I value in a home is not necessarily the same as what my neighbor would value in a home as far as smart home technology.

That Ratka should grasp more fully than most of us the profoundly personal, primal needs underlying people's relationship with their homes is no accident, having come of age professionally in Toll Brothers' home security services and solutions business channel.

Safety and security – primal, biology-driven human instincts – may well be the very first answers to the question, "how do you want to live in your home," going back to the first archeological evidence of human houses 400,000 or more years ago, in  places like Terra Amata, in Nice, France. That far back, building technology and fight-or-flight brain chemistry reflexes of safety, security, and comfort were one and the same.

When it comes to these primal instincts, and you can obviously nest the protection of privacy under the umbrella of safety and security as a basic human need, people gravitate instinctively to what they trust versus what makes them nervous.

Importantly, a 2021 research initiative PwC finds, business leaders and people who live in households and work for companies tend to diverge in what trust means and how it works in their respective lives.

As a business executive, when you think about trust, you’re likely thinking many of the same things as your employees and customers. When asked what comes to mind when they think of trust, all three groups agreed on the top four items: data protection and cybersecurity, treating employees well, ethical business practices and admitting mistakes.
But past these top four elements, divergences grow. Business leaders tend to take a broader view of trust. They’re more likely to include both responsible artificial intelligence (AI) and several elements that relate to broader social impact (such as sustainable value chain management and ESG reporting) in their definition of trust. Employees, however, are more likely than the other groups to emphasize holding leadership accountable. These disconnects can also be opportunities. Businesses can better communicate how their disparate priorities collectively tie into trust. They can also lead with true accountability. That includes both transparency for mistakes and sustained, equally transparent efforts to make things right.

Here's where the PwC study gets at the challenge and opportunity for homebuilders in a moment many buyer prospects are being priced out and many other prospective customers have become psyched out, believing now may be a foolish time to commit buying a new home.

Consumers are voting on trust with their pocketbooks — and employees are voting with their feet. Almost half (49%) of consumers have started or increased purchases from a company because they trust it, and 33% have paid a premium for trust. On the flip side, 44% have stopped buying from a company due to a lack of trust. When we look at employees, 22% have left a company because of trust issues and 19% have chosen to work at one because they trusted it highly. In other words, one out of five of your employees who leave don’t do so primarily for a better salary or position. They leave because they don’t trust your company.

What Felicia Ratka has made it her business to understand is that a person or household's experience of basic necessities, essential routines, the little everyday parts and pieces of living in a home – whether it's in the physical comfort domain or in the parallel experience of connectivity – are where the sense of safety and security either add or detract from trust. To deliver value in those miniscule, highly intimate moments that make-or-break the sense of trust, software and systems technologies have begun to mesh interoperably with a home's structural building technologies. As she notes:

On the building side, we’ve actually started to integrate audio/video closets into our floor plans in some markets which basically provide a centrally located space where all of the homeowner’s wiring can be centrally run, that will house all of their home network equipment, and their routers, their switches, as well as all of their audio and video equipment, cable boxes, game consoles, things like that.
When it’s centrally located, you know that you’re always going to have the signal strength. You’re going to be able to access your equipment faster and easier.
That’s a big thing on the builder side, because real estate that’s in the home equals dollars.  So, it’s exciting because for us it means that technology is finally being recognized as an important category within the actual construction of a home.

Trust, then, is baked into the structure of a building, rather than included later as an ancillary add-on. Just as structural members of building enclosures need to "interoperate" rather than to perform in isolation from the whole-house, architects, engineers, and construction leaders increasingly recognize that interoperability extends from the envelope to the building's systems, and from the individual building to the entire project or neighborhood.

The thread of trust, beginning in our brain chemistry and its connection to our homes, now loops what are countless divisible parts into a single experience.

This eventual fusion of structural and systems technology – and looking at it as a single interoperable home system – comes through in this Smart Building's Technology piece by editor Wanda Lau, featuring International Living Future Institute ceo Lindsay Baker's insights:

Ideally, from a health and climate perspective, more buildings would have operable windows, and technology would ensure that the windows are not open when the air conditioning or heating is on. If we could bring the cost down of such technologies, that would allow us to utilize the outdoor air, make ourselves comfortable, ventilate the space, and reduce energy consumption. The pandemic showed us the importance of that important that control.
Technology does some things a lot better than humans. Sometimes we need technology to remember to turn the lights off at the end of day or to close the windows. Data is another good example. We don’t do a great job of gathering information about our buildings so that we can analyze how things are going. And that’s a huge opportunity for smart buildings.

We come full circle back to Women We Admire's recognition of Felicia Ratka in the context of culture and the capability a transforming and evolving business culture ignites.  That transformation and evolution – when it's fully and interoperationally fused into homebuilding and residential real estate development's business culture – would recognize Ratka as a "Top 50 Leader In Technology" without any necessary further qualification or description.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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