If you’ve been considering a career change lately, Leslie Gildea is all the inspiration you need. After working as a human rights attorney, she transitioned to business development within the technology industry—a path that led her to her current role as the VP of Growth Development at ServiceTitan, a startup that provides management tools for trade businesses (think plumbers, electricians, and the like).
In this role, she’s responsible for strategic partnerships that drive company growth and customer success. “My team focuses on identifying partnerships and integrations that unlock new business opportunities, and not only address our clients’ biggest needs today, but also position our clients for success in the future,” she says.
Her success did not come easy, especially working in the male-dominated tech world. “Imposter syndrome affects women at a higher rate than men, and it’s something I’ve worked hard to overcome simply by taking big leaps, no matter how much self-doubt I was plagued with,” she says. “After each leap, I was able to prove to myself that I was capable, and my horizons broadened each time. If you have the desire and passion to do something, go for it.”
Here, Gildea shares how ServiceTitan has helped her grow (three promotions since 2015!), what she loves about the company culture, and how women in tech can set themselves up for success.
Tell us about your career journey, and what led you to your job at ServiceTitan.
I started my career in human rights law and worked internationally with NGOs. Due to personal reasons, I had to abruptly pivot careers to focus on for-profit work. I felt a little lost because human rights law was what I had dreamed of doing my entire life. But I started thinking about career options that would allow me to make a positive impact on people’s lives while leveraging the same skill sets I had been developing in human rights work, including alliance-building, marketing, negotiations and fundraising. Business development in tech seemed like a natural choice, and I worked at a couple of early-stage startups before joining ServiceTitan.
What attracted you to work at ServiceTitan?
When I interviewed at ServiceTitan, my panel was comprised of highly motivated and intelligent people who exuded a palpable passion to help their customers. The prospect of being surrounded by individuals who could inspire me to continuously challenge myself and enjoy the ride while doing it wasn’t something I could pass up.
The company was also at a very early stage then, with about 40 employees, and I am always attracted to opportunities that enable me to build something from scratch. Our strategic partnerships program at that time was in a very nascent stage, which was appealing because it allowed me to get creative and scrappy. Interestingly, that initial appeal is what continues to excite me even today. While our partnership strategy is more mature, the opportunities and scale at which we get to work feel limitless.
You’ve received three promotions since joining ServiceTitan in 2015. In what ways has the company supported you in this growth, specifically as a woman advancing to a leadership role?
At ServiceTitan, team members are encouraged to take initiative. If you see a void, fill it. If you see an opportunity or a better way to do things, go for it. I’d say it’s this type of culture that has enabled my success by encouraging and allowing me to do what I think is right for the business even if it wasn’t part of my core set of responsibilities. Along the way, I’ve been offered opportunities to assess my skills gaps to allow me to take control of my own development path in a more targeted way. I’ve also had access to countless peers to learn from, and a mentor who gives me constructive feedback and actively helps me get greater visibility and influence both internally and externally.
ServiceTitan also fosters an inclusive, community-oriented environment for women through Diversity Charters, panels, book clubs, and other events. For example, we launched a monthly women’s leadership dinner where a group of women will share a meal with a rotating leader in the organization, giving them an opportunity to feel both visible and supported.
What learning and development programs or mentor support do employees have access to at ServiceTitan? And why is this important?
Development is quintessential to being a Titan and we’ve built numerous opportunities to allow our employees to grow both personally and professionally. Our in-house Learning & Development team has created multiple workshops focused on discovering your strengths, communication style, and change management, to name a few. With access to LinkedIn Learning, employees are also given the opportunity to continuously learn, grow, and cultivate their knowledge and skill set. We most recently launched a mentorship program with our leadership team; however, ServiceTitan as a whole has an open-door policy where Titans are encouraged to reach out to any leader they wish to learn from.
What does a normal day in your job look like?
There is no typical day in my role, which is what I love about it! We are cultivating many partnerships, all at different maturity stages and requiring individualized strategies. Some days I work more closely with our product and engineering teams to get robust partner integrations off the ground. Other days I work more closely with our sales team to equip them with partnership messaging in their outreach efforts, or with our customer success teams to help them convey the joint value partners bring to our customer experience. And yet other days are much more partner-focused, where I get to find new ways to work with other companies to help our mutual customers. No day is the same and that is one of the best parts of my role.
What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?
I am excited about the partnerships we’re building with the vendors our customers use. Most businesses don’t build great synergies with their suppliers, and we are in a position to help address significant pain points for our customers. As we scoped these partnerships, we conducted customer interviews and they were thrilled that we are figuring out how to automate cumbersome processes for them. This may not be as “sexy” as augmented reality, but this type of innovation is going to make the day-to-day lives of our customers that much easier—freeing them up to focus on more strategic areas of their businesses. That is incredibly rewarding.
What do you like best about the company culture at ServiceTitan?
There’s a strong high-performance culture at ServiceTitan. Every Titan is expected to aim high, set lofty goals, and really think outside the box to hit those goals. When I first started, my goals felt intimidating because they were milestones that felt out of reach and there was no historical data to show that we could achieve them. But each quarter I would be surprised that we were hitting them over and over again. This type of performance culture has really challenged me to think big and erase any self-limiting beliefs I had. It’s also what drives innovation across the company since Titans are motivated to be creative and plow through roadblocks to do what they think is best for our customers and the company.
How do you recruit with diversity in mind?
One of my key hiring philosophies is to bring people on board who can add diversity of thought and round out skills gaps. When a team is comprised of individuals with differing perspectives, it challenges and enhances our strategy and way of thinking resulting in better outcomes. A critical risk that is obvious to one person could be entirely missed by others when there is uniformity in thought. Diversity is not just about gender, ethnicity, etc. There’s also neurodiversity that we’re seeking. And that often has the correlative result of driving other diversity metrics.
Other ways we recruit with diversity in mind is being mindful about the makeup of our interview panel. I try to make sure there is representation from diverse groups meeting with candidates. This not only helps diverse candidates feel like ServiceTitan is an environment where they can flourish, but also avoids the trap of “similar-to-me” bias in hiring decisions.
What skills are important for success in business/growth development?
The mission of the Growth team at ServiceTitan is to identify, validate, build, and launch new business opportunities and accelerate growth at ServiceTitan while making a massive impact to our customers. This requires strategic vision and customer empathy to spot new big ideas and develop business cases. And, of course, the ability to actually drive initiatives forward—which is where key skills like project management and cross-functional collaboration (internally and externally) are important. We look for candidates who have demonstrated success in leveraging all of the above skill sets while also being a strong team player comfortable with ambiguity as our focus changes to align with the company’s priorities.
What advice do you have for women looking to follow a similar career path as yours?
Adopt a strategic learning mindset. Strategic meaning you understand where you want to go and what skill gaps need to be filled in order to get there. Once you understand what career path you want to follow, seek out peers and mentors who can help you identify what skills are necessary to excel in that role and map your strengths and weaknesses against them to develop a learning path that tees you up for success.
I self-evaluate constantly (almost to a fault) and take inventory of my weak areas. But I don’t need every skill to be successful in the role I want, so I will focus on one strategic personal development goal at a time until I feel like I’ve shored up that gap. For example, I am notoriously bad at advanced formulas in MS Excel, but I don’t need to be an Excel guru in my role. I can rely on other teams to help me manipulate data.
An area that is critical to my career path is giving real-time feedback no matter how difficult the conversation is, so I focused on being better at crucial conversations. That helped me not only drive better business results, but also demonstrate key leadership skills.
For those seeking to pivot career focus, I encourage you to take risks if you’re in a position to do so. When I switched to business development in tech, I knew it would be a drastic pivot for me and that I had to prove myself. With a human rights law background, I didn’t have much to show as clearly transferable skill sets to tech. I started from the bottom at my first couple of startups and made it my mission to demonstrate value from the get-go, and was quickly given more opportunities to grow. I’m not saying that you need to take a step down to pivot, but always bet on yourself.
What is the best career advice you have received?
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. So many of my most rewarding career experiences have been moments where I was confronted with an amazing opportunity and doubted my own abilities, but pushed myself to take them.