Leslie Firtell Shares Her Growth Story
Oct 7, 2019
Leslie Firtell learned a lot about being her own boss by working in sales for a legal services agency.
First, there was a growing need for law firms to outsource services. Second, there was money to be made in the field. Third – and most importantly – she could come up with a better way to do business and soar in what was then a fledgling industry.
“I had been in the business for 10 years, and was a successful salesperson making lots of money,” recalls Firtell, herself an attorney. “Then I lost my job when the company was sold.”
She turned to her entrepreneurial father for advice on the next steps in her professional life.
“My father said to me, ‘Try it on your own. You can always go back to working for someone else.’”
Firtell founded Tower Legal Solutions, a service-oriented model that empowers clients with effective control and oversight, and engages quality candidates through targeted job opportunities. Tower now has a national presence and operates offices in New York, Dallas, Washington D.C., and Charlotte, North Carolina.
She is the latest winner of the Vertex Award, an honor given to a woman founder who has changed the face and direction of women’s high-growth entrepreneurship.
Firtell has been interested in growth from the time she was a little girl.
“Starting when I was 6 years old, I would create things and sell them,” she says. “I took flowers, planted them in a Dixie cup with dirt, and sold it to a neighbor.”
In growing her business, she bootstrapped, investing money she had tucked away during her sales career.
“There was no one else pulling the strings,” she says. “I had total control over the way I wanted to conduct business.”
At the top of her list was establishing a workplace in which employees felt a sense of purpose, respect and trust.
“I wanted to create a culture in which people didn’t have butterflies in their stomach the night before they went to work,” she says. “I strongly believe that people should not be micro-managed so they can exercise their own entrepreneurial spirit.”
Identifying self-starters with a sense of independence is a key to her success.
“I hire people who can work autonomously, who roll up their sleeves, do what they need to do, and get rewarded at the end of the day,” she says. As part of scaling her business, Tower expanded beyond New York to other markets. Achieving that goal was a delicate dance, requiring both a broad vision and sweating the small stuff.
“You have to be flexible, agile, and learn how to respond quickly,” she says. “You need to keep your eye constantly on your overhead, yet still remember that you need to spend money to make money.”
Early on, Firtell learned she should not wear too many hats in leading a growing business. She made the decision to hire a chief operating officer.
“It was more money than I ever thought I could pay but she wound up saving me money,” she says.
She also learned to seek out white spaces in the market in order to propel growth in those unfilled niches. In the beginning, 90 percent of Tower’s business focused mainly on document review, a task that required hundreds of individuals to accomplish.
But now, “With technology, you now only need 40-50 people to handle that,” she says.
Responding to shifts in the market, Tower began specializing in more substantive temporary attorney engagements, such as placing corporate lawyers in a firm that needs extra help during an acquisition. Tower also added contract management and permanent placement services.
“You have to keep up to date on technology, regulations and what’s going on in your industry so when things change you can get on the bandwagon faster,” Firtell says. “The biggest challenge is keeping up with growth, then dealing with the challenge to growth created by technology and other environmental factors. Most importantly, industry changes must be countered with new offerings.”
She has learned many lessons on the path to prosperity including the importance of maintaining and developing your most talented employees. Firtell works hard to retain valued employees, whose insights are a great resource for the company.
“It’s really important to elicit information and advice from people who work for your organization and keep them engaged,” she says.
Initiatives have included contests and rewards for the worker who has interviewed the most candidates, and a day off to volunteer at a designated charity.
She says AWE and other organizations provide an important framework for founders to thrive.
“It’s important for women to be a resource for one another,” she says.
The Vertex award is presented each year at The AWE Intersection. This event gives startup founders the opportunity to pitch for capital and also provides a platform to recognize a high-growth founder and a member of our larger community who have both moved the needle for female founders. This year, it will take place on November 4, 2019 from 3:00-8:00PM at Convene at the Cira Center.