A Master Inventor and Inspiration to Others
February 09, 2022
How Susan Mairs became the first female master inventor in Trane Technologies’ history and is paving the way for generations of girls to follow.
3 min read
People doing bold things are an important ingredient in the culture of Trane Technologies. As we celebrate people who inspire us by doing what they love in their careers, we’re featuring another amazing role model who shows what happens when you boldly go.
You don’t often meet an engineer with a psychology degree, but for Susan Mairs, it’s a combination that just makes sense.
Though she was always interested in computer programming and loved the college courses she completed in that subject area, she never envisioned herself as an engineer – taking a liberal arts path instead. “My philosophy at the time was that I didn’t want to do what I love professionally, because then I wouldn’t love it anymore,” Susan explains. “But the notion of taking an individual’s problem, dissecting it, then finding a solution, always lingered.”
The personal computer market was just starting to emerge and as Susan helped some of her dad’s clients set theirs up, a light bulb went off.
“I realized the learnings I’d gained from focusing on people for several years were intertwined with the analytical side of software development and product design,” she says. “I finally connected the two, and my whole world exploded. I’ve been chasing new solutions and innovations ever since.”
That explosion would ultimately lead to a 25-year career with Trane Technologies – and the distinction of becoming the first female in the company to achieve master inventor status, with at least 10 utility patents (plus 3 additional design patents).
A few years ago, I saw the need to start teaching others how to do what I do so there wouldn’t be a gap. I became the teacher, not the doer.
Susan started as an entry-level programmer and was quickly drawn to new challenges that prompted out-of-the-box thinking and building on continuous improvement.
“I loved facing a new project, working with others to solve problems, then leveraging those insights on the next one, and the one after that, and so on,” she says. “Bringing together all the initial chaos, risk, and uncertainty, then iterating and collaborating to find solutions, attracted me early on and has served as a focal point throughout my career.”
Susan and family on a hiking trip in Bend, Oregon
While she knew Trane Technologies’ designation as a master inventor status was within reach, Susan was still surprised when she learned of the news recently during a one-on-one with her manager. “It was an exciting moment, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “Being the first is remarkable, and a daunting reflection of how far women have had to come in engineering.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly given her background, Susan’s inspiration for securing patents has always centered around collaborating with others.
“When you’re working together, those creative moments keep building and building until you reach that moment where you can say, I think we have something here!” Susan says. “True collaboration sparks the ideas that have a positive impact on our customers and protects our competitive position in the field.”
Diversity of thought also plays a critical role. “If you only have like-minded thinkers, you simply won’t advance as much,” Susan says. “Significant advantages come from leveraging diverse thinking and diverse backgrounds. That’s when you can really raise the bar.”
Susan and wife Patty
When asked about her advice for the next generation of thinkers, Susan says visibility and exposure must start at a young age. The world can’t afford to wait another 100 years for the next female master inventor.
“If you don’t see something you could be, how would you ever know what the possibilities are?” she explains. “By college you’re likely already on a certain path. That’s why educating elementary school students on STEM careers is so important.”
Susan has helped lead several student tours and other activities over the years in Minnesota – sparking ideas about her own future in the process. “Maybe that’s my second or third act in life – to connect everything I’ve done, back to where I would’ve liked to have started years and years ago.”
And though she may not realize it, Susan’s next act is already in motion after transitioning to an agile coach role for controls and software teams, focusing on operational excellence in the engineering space. She’s now teaching others how to think, behave, and innovate – ultimately chasing exciting new solutions themselves.
“A few years ago, I saw the need to start teaching others how to do what I do so there wouldn’t be a gap,” she says. “I became the teacher, not the doer.”
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