At 24 years old, Sean Gildea, ’89, hung up his three-piece suit and put on flip-flops to work in a tiny house on Cleveland Street in Oceanside, California.
In 1992, three artists started a business making handmade tiles from recycled bottle glass. Boyce Lundstrom, Jon Stokesbary and Don Pettey had the creative energy but they still needed a business guy. Lundstrom, who owned a stained-glass factory in Oregon, reached out to his nephew, Gildea, an accountant at Deloitte & Touche with a degree in business economics from UCSB.
He accepted his uncle’s offer. “There we were - three artists and me, the bean counter,” said Gildea. “I was the young one who had a lot of energy, working with guys twenty, thirty years older. At our first meeting, we talked about their vacation in El Salvador for an hour. They were of a completely different lifestyle.”
Everyone at Oceanside Glasstile pitched in – from making the glass for the day, to packing and shipping the product. “We were lean and we were pioneering in a new industry,” said Gildea. “Glass tile really wasn’t a factor then. The industry was all about ceramic tile, porcelain and stone. We had to make it work. If we ever wanted to get paid, we had to go do something about it.”
Gildea’s entrepreneurial spirit existed way before he declared his major at UCSB. “As a kid, I was always interested in stocks and how I could make money,” he said. “At junior high, I would buy packs of gum to sell at school. Business was a natural focus.” In high school, he worked bussing tables at a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant. During his first summer back from college, he moved up to waiting tables. “I always had to have a job,” he said. “You learn so many lessons on how to be a good team player, with the benefit of getting paid as well.”
After his mother urged him to find a job in his field, Gildea went on to do office temp work. “When you are starting out, you don’t necessarily get that `great job,’” he said. “That doesn’t exist without putting in the time and the effort.” Gildea applied the same time and effort at UCSB. “I was an above average student,” he said. “I had a goal: I wanted to do well in class so I was more ready and prepared for life.”
Gildea wanted to attend a UC school, but veered from the family alma mater (both his parents are Bruins) after a weekend visit with a friend whose sister attended UCSB. “To me, UCSB was a blend of a really good school and a great social environment,” he said, recalling his first impressions of the campus and the Isla Vista scene.
An avid sports fan, Gildea enjoyed playing intramural sports and following the UCSB basketball team. He remembered going to UC Santa Barbara games against UNLV at the Campus Events Center. “At one point, UNLV was number one and UCSB was in the top 20 – that was fun for me,” he said. “There’s always a special spot in my heart to see them do well.”
Twenty-four years after he first joined as official “bean counter,” Gildea is president of Oceanside Glasstile, running operations with business partner John Marckx, ’91, a fellow Gaucho. The company leads the industry in providing sustainable, handcrafted glass tiles as a material for LEED-registered projects. “We take our product very seriously, but we do it in a fun way,” said Gildea.
Gildea still hits the court – but this time with members of his OGT team at their new Carlsbad headquarters. Sports are part of OGT’s “California mojo” emphasis on wellness, philanthropy and collaboration. The company also pays for volunteer work. This fall, the whole company participated at the third annual Pedal the Cause bike ride for local cancer research. Last year, the OGT team raised over $30,000 in donations at the event.
Off the clock, he’s into a different hands-on project. Every Memorial Day weekend, he travels to Mexico with his church group to build houses for families in Mexico. “This is all done from scratch with hand tools -- nothing electric,” said Gildea. He hopes to coordinate an OGT building team in the near future. “It’s cool to be able to help and connect with people without judgment.”