“How’d You Get That Job?” is an Indy Maven series where we chat with women who have some of the most unique and fascinating jobs you’ve ever heard of.
As the excavation and sales lead manager at Hope Plumbing, Kate Sullivan heads a team of nearly a dozen professionals who customers turn to when their sewer systems break—a job some might find a bit unexpected for a woman. But she thinks it’s perfect for her.
Sullivan studied tourism, convention and event management at IUPUI before spending a couple of years as an event planner. But, she decided she wanted a new challenge that would also provide a more reliable schedule. Turns out, managing yard excavations is surprisingly similar to orchestrating a large event—you need to stay organized, communicate, and listen to people’s needs. Then, you have to deliver the goods. And if you can weather challenging moments with “ease and grace,” she said, you’ll carve a path that’s right for you.
What did you know about the job when you started?
(Laughs.) Nothing! On my first day (as a customer service representative), people were calling and saying they have this problem, and I’m on the phone, like, ‘Okay…’ I was just writing down everything they said, hoping that it would make sense to somebody.
Because I hate not knowing things and I don’t like feeling that somebody is trying to dumb things down to explain things to me, I went online and printed off common plumbing terms and studied them. I paid attention to what the customers were saying, and as I was inputting invoices, I would read what they said to help cultivate that working knowledge of the job.
We joke that I could probably diagnose what’s going on in a house by just talking to somebody over the phone.
“If you want to go into a path that’s not female-driven, being able to take a hit or two with ease and grace will help.”
You’ve been doing this now for almost five years. Do you still get “looks” when people find out you work for a plumbing company?
One hundred percent, yes. We just went to training to formulate our business plan for the year, and someone from one of the other local companies was asking, “Who runs your excavation department?” And Jack (Hope) one of the owners, quickly pointed out, ‘Katie does.’ And you could see the guy was kind of taken aback, processing like, ‘Oh, ok, cool…’ I get these weird looks, like it doesn’t compute, because I’m a petite girl. I love fashion. I love makeup. I’m a girly girl.
But also, my dad’s an electrician and growing up, he would have me be an electrician’s apprentice in the summer. So I’m a girly girl, but I’m also not afraid to work and get dirty.
I’m excited that I’m changing someone’s perception of what this job should be.
For other women who might be pursuing careers that aren’t so-called “typically female,” what advice might you share?
Be confident in yourself. I’m very confident in my ability to do things in my life, work-wise.
If you want to go into a path that’s not female-driven, being able to take a hit or two with ease and grace will help.
My goal is not to stop at excavation manager. I’d love to move up to the general manager or to the controller—a visionary position in the company one day to help it grow.
Lisa Renze-Rhodes is a freelance writer in Indianapolis.