Kathleen Pierce-Gilmore

VP & GM Credit Americas at PayPal

Washington, DC

LinkedIn Profile


The central theme of “helping people in their financial lives”  repeatedly came up during our conversation.  Why is this your personal Notesmantra?

My passion for helping people achieve financial health stems directly from my own experience growing up.  I watched my parents struggle to make ends meet, leveraging credit cards to survive, and then eventually getting stuck in a vicious cycle that took them decades to recover from.  In reflecting back on what could have been different, I can’t help but think the banks that served them should have operated with more accountability, integrity and compassion.  I am fortunate that my experience growing up shaped my values around money and financial discipline in a positive way, but I see so many people who are truly underserved. I have so much energy for finding ways to do better.

How did you come to work in the financial services industry?   Is this the industry you thought you’d end up in studying at university?

I actually wanted to be a scientist and studied in a very special program at Northwestern to accelerate my journey to achieving that dream.  I was fortunate enough to have an internship over my first summer in college, where I realized my passion for science wasn’t enough for me to make it my career.  I liked the idea of leveraging my analytical skills and strong sense of curiosity to explore different opportunities, with no real destination in mind.  Translation: I went into management consulting.  Eventually, when I decided to leave consulting to have more connection to a brand, a product, a customer value proposition, I came up with the dream of working for American Express.  I was a loyal customer and loved the sense of financial discipline and wisdom built into their products and services.  The rest is history.

You’ve worked for three companies all known for their innovative products and emphasis on “brand”;  yet all have extremely different cultures.  How important is cultural fit to you?

Culture, to me, is absolutely fundamental to my ability to be successful in an organization.  It is the DNA of an organization- the values that bond employees together and guide their choices in every way.  I have been fortunate to be a part of several organizations where I have felt a strong sense of alignment and connection with the culture and I have also been fortunate to experience the opposite.  While it is hard to put words around what makes an effective culture or not, I believe it always starts with common core values and what draws people in.

“See the humans on the other end of the product.”  What did you mean by this statement?

I feel strongly that by staying present with the human your product or company serves is the only way to ensure quality and success.  Developing empathy for the people, the humans, the lives you aim to serve means getting it right.  It is deeply emotional to think of humans, not just data points and the insights you gain in doing so are more powerful.

How would you grade the industry with respect to the development of financial inclusion products?  I loved your quote “Don’t create products that are unintentionally destructive.”

 I believe we are making progress, albeit slower than many of us would like and with a lot of inefficiency.  I strongly believe in building business models that have inherently aligned interests between the customers and the company.  A revenue model that depends on customers “winning” rather than one that benefits when customers are actually losing value is easier to grow and manage.  Models that depend on customer penalties rather than a fair exchange of value are inherently flawed, in my opinion.  Call me idealistic, but I believe every business should have some greater purpose beyond their P&L.

What was the deciding factor in coming to work for PayPal?  You mentioned you found a “soul mate” during the interview process.

It sounds crazy, but I do believe in soulmates.  I don’t just mean spouses, rather, people who connect deeply based on an ingrained belief system- and when they come together the possibilities are exponential.  I met several when I was interviewing with PayPal.  My leader, Steve Allocca, shared his vision for the business and it really captured my attention.  Each subsequent conversation added another layer of intrigue and connection and eventually I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.

“A fish that is swimming thru water doesn’t realize it is in water. “  You used this phrase to describe your own experience as a woman in the workforce.  What did you mean by this?

I was referencing a piece by David Foster Wallace titled “this is water” and it really touched me.  It is about bringing consciousness to your existence when you might otherwise not and developing compassion in doing so.  Whether it is about developing empathy for others who are a different gender, race, sexuality or simply acknowledging what forms your own views. It is powerful in enabling deeper connections with others.

You’ve focused, as all successful leaders do, on surrounding yourself with great talent, and many on your team are women.  Has this been a focus for you?

Yes, unabashedly yes. I am very proud of the team I have assembled, including some amazing talented senior women. Having them on my leadership team and in the business more generally has evolved the dynamic in a positive way.  It sounds so trite, but I believe diversity really does make life better, decisions wiser, and teams more effective.

For me, the best piece of advice you mentioned during our discussion was to “experience a role or place that you don’t totally agree with”.  Can you expand on this.

Yes, it goes back to my comment on experiencing a culture I didn’t connect with. Sometimes it is easy to take for granted what matters most, and experiencing a situation, whether it is a culture you don’t like, a leader you don’t connect with, or a product you don’t love, you learn more about what you value.  Isn’t there a saying that you see someone’s true values when they are put to the test?

Who(m) do you believe has had the most influence with respect to your own career?  

My husband.  He has been my biggest supporter in life and in my career.  There are so many days where I feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, and he emphatically reminds me how capable I am and why it’s worth going back at it.