Making the Small Town Leap

Laura Centofonti is a senior customer executive at JDA who never imagined she would work in sales. From a start in public relations, she found connecting with customers and helping solve their pain points was what she was most interested in. Combined with an early career in restaurant customer service, she’s struck the right balance of customer satisfaction and success that has kept her motivated and successful.

Laura with her husband Matt and daughter Teagan

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in a rural, small town in Kansas, attended Kansas State University and moved to Dallas after college. I received my college degree in journalism/PR and worked for a large corporate PR firm in downtown Dallas before moving to supply chain more than 12 years ago. My husband, Matt and I have a 15-month-old daughter, Teagan who is the sweetest, most joyful baby.

What was your first job (ever)?

I lived in a tiny town so we didn’t have many options, but I started working in the summers at age 14 at a local sandwich shop that the owner and I ran completely on our own. I ended up working in restaurants all through high school and college. I found it to be the best training for customer service.

Tell us about your career journey at JDA – what brought you here? What did you do before that?

As mentioned, I started my career in PR working for a large firm in Dallas. I loved PR but didn’t like sitting in a cube all day – I liked to be out and about working with clients. I never intended to get into sales or supply chain, but I was offered a job by my client FedEx more than 12 years ago as a field sales rep and that began my career in sales and supply chain. I came to JDA because I was interested in getting into the software industry and also wanted to stay in supply chain. Prior to JDA, I was at NFI Industries and had spent the last seven years in the international freight forwarding world.

What are your favorite parts of your role?

Meeting clients and helping to solve their biggest pain points so their business can grow and flourish.

Sales roles are often seen as male-dominated. Do you agree and is it a challenge to be in what’s seen as a more male-dominated field?

I do agree and I think the 3PL industry is even more male-dominated than most industries which can add some challenges.  You don’t see very many women in the 3PL industry in leadership positions so I’m mostly working with men and some (certainly not all) have an old-school mindset and you can get a sense they’re not use to working with women. I do feel sometimes women have to “prove” their worth a little more to gain acceptance in these environments.

Can you point to a critical moment in your career that really made a difference in your path?

Taking the position at FedEx. At the time, FedEx typically hired their outside sales reps from their pool of inside sales reps. For me to come from the outside with zero sales experience or logistics experience was a big deal. I’ll be forever grateful to my hiring manager who took a chance on me, mentored me and gave me a great opportunity because of the potential he saw in me.

How has your life experience made you who you are you are today?

I think growing up in a small, rural community greatly shaped who I am today. In a small town, everyone knows you and you’re held accountable for your actions. You could never get away with doing anything without your parents finding out before you even got home. Also, I had the opportunity to participate in every sport and activity in Junior High and High School which I loved.

What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?

I took a risk moving to Dallas after college without a job and only what fit in my Honda Accord at the time. I liked growing up in a small town, but I knew I didn’t want to stay there. Dallas has been a great place for my career and I met my husband here which changed my life for the better in every way.

Have you ever been ‘professionally stuck’? How did you become ‘unstuck’?

After I was at FedEx for 7 years, I felt I had reached a point where I wasn’t growing and being challenged and didn’t want to become complacent. I took a risk and accepted a job offer to help start the International division for NFI, which was a great learning experience.

What is the best advice you ever received? Who gave it to you?

It’s not really advice someone gave me, but it’s a quote I always try to keep in mind: Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. When you get overwhelmed just start taking action and you will be further along than you were yesterday.

What makes a good leader?

A mentor, someone that truly has the best interest of their team in mind and their number one goal is to see them excel. Someone that is passionate about people and watching them grow.

Who is your role model?

I’ve had a few role models in my life throughout my career and they have mostly all been males. They’re people I admire for their overall character and the way they conduct themselves in the workplace and in their personal life. I think most of them have been men because truthfully probably 75% of who I work with are males and in the leadership positions around me.

What do you think are biggest obstacles of gender diversity in the workplace?

Lack of respect and appreciation for our differences. Women and men are wired completely differently, we have different perspectives, different motivations and different aspirations sometimes. I believe we need to appreciate the diversity each person brings to the table – one way is not better than the other always.

What advice to you have for young women seeking a career in technology?

Find a mentor quickly.

What are three key words you would use to describe yourself?

Resilient, stubborn and committed

What’s one fun (or surprising) fact about you?

My husband tried to date me on and off for more than 7 years and I never would go out with him. Finally, I went out with him and after one date the rest was history…I’ll always regret not dating him earlier!