March 31, 2022

PagerDuty’s Ross Burrell On His Journey To Leadership As A Black Sales Director

PagerDuty is hiring on

PagerDuty is a known global leader in digital operations management, but the company, according to London-based EMEA senior sales director Ross Burrell, is also leading the way when it comes to a good working culture for its staff – particularly those from minority groups.

“There’s an open-door policy,” he told POCIT when asked how he’s been able to grow at the company. Ross, a father and an experienced salesman said there’s no hierarchy issue at the firm, no micromanaging or aggression. Instead, you receive a warm welcome from everyone, even those much higher up. 

This type of environment was a shock to Ross because he had experienced uncomfortable situations where people of color typically felt unheard or cast to the side in previous roles. 

Last year, PagerDuty appointed Roshan Kindred as its first chief diversity officer. Kindred is responsible for amplifying PagerDuty’s inclusion, diversity, and equity (ID&E) initiatives and is a strategic new member of the company’s executive leadership team.

In addition, as international revenue was 24% of total revenue for the year ended January 31, 2022, consistent with the year-ago period, PagerDuty also announced Jill Brennan as its vice president of sales, EMEA. 

Much is happening at PagerDuty, so we thought to sit down with Ross to learn more about what it’s like working at the global company, the challenges of working in tech, and what advice he’d give to those keen on following in his footsteps.

The Journey

Ross has been working at PagerDuty, a computer software company, for almost two years now as a sales director. The company, a leader in digital operations management, provides organizations of all sizes with solutions to manage their urgent and critical work. Just before he started his journey with the firm, he had spent five years working for TrustPilot.

Asked about his career trajectory, he said: “I’ve always known that I’ve loved sales – from working in retail, selling clothes, being an estate agent, and selling properties to working in software sales. It’s always been my passion to understand what people need and to be a part of the solution.” 

“I think all my experiences have given me the right platform to take on a journey that was a little bit more comprehensive, like software sales. I first took that leap of faith in a company called SiteMinder, a hotel technology company.

 “I did that for a year as a business development manager and did well in it, and I got poached, which was a compliment and a validation for me that I’m good at my job. Then afterward, I moved to a company called Trustpilot.

“And that’s when I figured out there was an art and skill to sales in general, not only around sales methodologies but also the fact that it’s important to reverse engineer a process to be successful.”

“Eventually, I landed at PagerDuty. I’ve been here now for almost two years, and I’ve just been working my hardest to hit 100% of my targets year in year out. This year I probably hit a landmark number of 176% of my target.”

Experiences as a POC in tech 

Although Ross made it clear he was constantly working hard, going above and beyond, that didn’t stop him from feeling like he couldn’t always be himself at work or that he had to code-switch just to fit in.

Speaking about an incident before PagerDuty, he said: “I was at a company sales achievement offsite, and there a leader asked me about a situation where a member of staff used a derogatory term towards a Black person.

“He asked me how he should have handled it – bearing in mind we were sitting around a table with peers. I told him that he handled it the wrong way, and it sent a really poor message around the importance of ensuring that people didn’t feel fear or like a minority.” 

“I gave him that honest feedback, and his answer to me was “Ross, there’s black and white, and then there are grey situations. And in my opinion, this is a grey situation, and if you don’t see it that way, you [aren’t] progressing in this organization.”

“I was quite taken aback by his response but was also embarrassed by how I responded because I just accepted it and held my tongue. At that time, I felt I wouldn’t have progressed in my career if I hadn’t accepted the grey area- if I hadn’t just accepted what he said. Through organization bias, I believe many people of color have chosen not to speak up when they do not agree with something; they believe they would be missing out on opportunities or promotions by not holding their tongue. It’s wrong that we have to feel this way.”

“It’s wrong that we have to feel this way.”

What kind of support did you find valuable in advancing in your career?

Ross is quick to turn to PagerDuty when asked this question. He says the company is quick to equip its staff with the necessary tools to do their job to their full potential. 

“I think from a personal perspective, PagerDuty always had a big lean on equality and making sure they’ve attracted diverse talent. I feel I’ve had the opportunity to learn from leaders, but equally, I’ve had the opportunity to share my knowledge. This is one part as a person of color, I felt that that was important, and it sends a clear message.” 

PagerDuty also has many Employee Resource Groups, employee-run, company-funded communities to advance the ID&E strategy. The mission of one such group, Array, is to enable a community of continuous learning that fosters empathy and understanding of the lived Black and Latine experience. 

“It’s an integral part of our culture here, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Ross remarked on his experience as an Array member.

“And then from an enablement perspective, the company has always been ahead of the trend when it comes to applications that can be used to allow people to do their job easier, whether it be improving our data set, open collaboration, and being able to meet with leadership with ease. This has all helped me grow in my career,” he told POCIT.

Ross mentioned PagerDuty has something that very few companies have, and that’s an “open-door policy.” He said, “the fact that PagerDuty has this open-door policy has really helped build relationships.” 

This has been particularly important over the last two years, where many people have gone through challenges that impact their day-to-day work – having colleagues you can freely speak to may come in handy.

“[I’d also like to add] I think Slack is really great because it gives you loads of channels and you can have topical conversations irrespective of where someone is based,” he added.

POC looking to get into tech sales

Getting into tech is hard, but the statistics prove that things are changing slowly. POCIT asked Ross what tips he’d give for someone looking to get into the industry.

He said: “The first thing I’d say is just be yourself because sometimes we’re taught that if our hair is too long, or we leave our hair out, then it’s going to be perceived in a particular way or that if we talk in a particular way, then we’re going to be seen as unprofessional, but I say just be yourself. Sometimes people put a mask on when they go to work, but you shouldn’t have to.

“Another tip I would give is to find an operational rhythm that works for you to help you build up positive habits. And number three, always remember that pressure makes diamonds.”

PagerDuty is hiring! Are you interested in working with Ross at PagerDuty? They are hiring for Sales and Customer Success roles in the U.S., Canada, and EMEA. Check out their careers site to learn more!

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Abbianca Makoni

Abbianca Makoni is a content executive and writer at POCIT! She has years of experience reporting on critical issues affecting diverse communities around the globe.