Helen Greiner Speaks: Next Up After iRobot is Service, Kite-Boarding, and Gearing Up for a New Adventure…in Robotics

10/22/08Follow @bbuderi

Helen Greiner just called me. She didn’t go into any particulars of how or why she came to step down as iRobot’s chairman today, but she did sound upbeat about the next phase of her life—and told me some history about she got hooked on robotics at age 11 and wasn’t about to leave the field. “I don’t think I can tell you that much, because my plan is to take some time to think about it. I believe that when you do something you do it 200 percent, and that’s what I’ve been doing with iRobot,” she says. I took that to mean she was going to consider carefully what would light her fire to the same degree it has been lit at iRobot, which she helped found in 1990.

“I know what I’m going to keep doing, which is being on the board of iRobot,” she says, also noting that she plans to keep working with the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council’s Robotics Cluster and serve as the first president of the Robotic Technology Consortium, a national organization with about 90 robot companies under its auspices. She also just joined the MIT Board, and serves on the board of Boston’s Museum of Science. “I’m going to keep doing all those of those things while I take a look around at what I want to do next,” she says.

Over the Christmas holidays, she’s also going to go kite-boarding. But, at age 40, Greiner isn’t going to kick back and take it easy, she says. And when she goes back to work, you can bet it will have something to do with robotics. “I am a robot person and I’ve been a robot person all my life, since I was 11.”

Greiner was born in London (she is a true Cockney, she says), but grew up on Long Island and later in Boston—and it is the mix of those three accents that is a big reason why people are always struggling to guess where she is from. She says she went to see Star Wars when she was 11 and living on Long Island. “I was enthralled with R2D2, and I’ve wanted to build robots ever since. That’s why I went to MIT. Once robots grab you, you’re kind of hooked.”

So, I wondered, was she about to join iRobot co-founder and her former mentor at MIT Rod Brooks at his new company, Heartland Robotics? She denied having plans to join any other venture. “I honestly don’t have any entity that I’m thinking about right now. I really want to be able to take a look around, and I would never feel comfortable doing that as chairman of iRobot,” she says.

As I noted, Greiner didn’t go into detail about why she’s stepping down as chairman, and it’s hard not to speculate that it was at least partially involuntary—but at the same time, it’s easy to imagine that she has simply had enough of the grind and has decided to move on. Either way, it’s clear to me that she will still give her board service that same 200 percent she always gives. “I think I can continue to add a lot of value,” she says.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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