Forte Connect
Women of Leadership Profiles

Carole Brown Forged Success as a Black Woman in Finance

Current role: Helping people and institutions grow their wealth

Tell me about PNC.

PNC is a financial services firm with approximately 8 million clients across three key businesses in the U.S.: retail banking, commercial and institutional banking and asset management. I lead the asset management area; we offer insights and solutions for individuals, families, and institutions on how to invest and grow their wealth. 

Describe your role as Head of PNC’s Asset Management Group.

There are three key businesses within Asset Management. The personal wealth business comprises high net worth (millionaires) and ultra-high net worth (billionaires) investors; Institutional Asset Management supports schools, universities, hospitals, endowments, and foundations; and there is a strategy group that looks at the markets, does industry research, and comes up with investment strategies for clients to help meet their financial goals.

My role is to work with leaders of each of those businesses to help set strategy, work with their clients, and support the overall growth of the businesses. 

What is your favorite part of your job? 

I work with a great team, and we get to help smart and talented people build successful businesses.

What characteristics does someone need to be successful in a role like yours?

There are universal characteristics of good leaders, regardless of their business. Be a good listener and manager, know how to bring out the best in people, pay attention to detail and have the capacity to work hard. Some subject matter expertise is also helpful so you can be supportive in running the business. 

 

Be a good listener and manager, know how to bring out the best in people, pay attention to detail and have the capacity to work hard.

 

What about the financial services industry do you find most interesting or exciting?

Growing up in the financial services industry, my 20-year-old self liked seeing how deals got done and how it all fit together. Being on the institutional side, I understood how businesses, cities, or schools accessed the capital markets to grow or raise money, for example. 

What is most challenging about your current role?

I have only been in this role for a relatively short time, so right now the biggest challenge is getting up to speed on the business. It’s not complicated, but it is a big business. We have $160 billion in assets under management and $125 billion that we advise – so a total of $285 billion that we manage, and there are 3,000 people in our organization.

Early influences: Valuing knowledge and civic engagement

Is there someone or something from your upbringing that influenced your career path? 

I come from a close family with three siblings. Both my parents were teachers, and they stressed education and civic engagement. It was important that we were informed, made thoughtful decisions, and were well-educated – not just as it related to school, but also about the issues of the day.

Did you ever think about doing something different?

Early on, I wanted to be a short story writer. My dad wanted me to go to law school, and I thought about law school, too. I was always interested in government, and my entire career has been influenced by a focus on public engagement.

Career path: Developing the habits to stand out

What work experience have you had prior to joining PNC?

Before joining PNC, I was chief financial officer at the City of Chicago for four years.  Prior to that, I was an investment banker at Lehman Brothers and Barclay’s Capital.  At the same time, I was chairman of the board of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). I basically had two full-time jobs.

I left Barclay’s to become CFO of the City of Chicago after it was downgraded by rating agencies – its loans had gone into default, and it had $6 billion of exposure that needed to be paid off. I had known Mayor Rahm Emanuel when I was at CTA and worked on his campaign, and he needed a CFO with capital market experience and a public finance background.

How did you juggle the equivalent of two full-time jobs?

I was single with no kids, and I had great teams at both organizations. Having a strong team with that level of talent makes it easier to juggle. 

What hurdles have you faced along your career path?

Being an African-American female in financial services has had its challenges. It is still a very white, male- dominated industry. At times in my career, people have assumed I was a secretary or had some junior position at the firm. When I used to recruit as an investment banker, I’d be honest and say, “You have to have thick skin – there are lots of sharp elbows in this industry.”

 

Being an African-American female in financial services has had its challenges.

 

Are there important lessons in business that you always keep top of mind?

There is no replacement for hard work, being prepared and knowing your subject. When you are younger, being over-prepared and paying attention to detail matters. Financial services is relationship-driven. If you differentiate yourself and get noticed by a senior executive, that opportunity will take you far. Develop the habit of being over-prepared.

I have had some incredible mentors who have followed me throughout my career. You can leave a job, but try not to ever burn a bridge. Always make sure you are nurturing your professional relationships the same as your personal ones.

Educational choices: Honing the skills to succeed in business  

What inspired you to pursue an MBA at Kellogg?

Every summer between college semesters, I had interned at Pepsi in New York. By the second summer, I really liked the transactional nature of business because you saw tangible results quickly. I wanted a career in business as opposed to law, which seemed boring to me.

 

I really liked the transactional nature of business because you saw tangible results quickly.

 

What did it mean for your career in the immediate and long term?

In financial services, you can learn a lot through a good training program. But business school gave me the credential and also the ability to hone the disciplines that I’d need to pursue a business career. 

How did it complement your undergraduate degree in Government? Has a liberal arts education been useful to your business career?

When I hire folks early in their careers, the ones with pre-professional backgrounds do not always have the same critical thinking and writing skills as those with liberal arts backgrounds. 

Final thoughts: Showing a flare for her artistic side

You support several nonprofit organizations. Is there one in particular you would like to talk about?
Chicago is so civic-minded and engaged. I love serving on the board of the Steppenwolf Theater. It was started in a church basement by John Malkovich and Gary Sinise, among others. I don’t have that kind of creative talent, so I find it incredibly fascinating. It is so different from what I do for a living!

Is there something you can share that many people may not know about you?
When I was in college, I was a deejay at Harvard’s radio station. I had a weekend radio show called the “Darker Side,” and we played R&B dance music. I would spin at parties on the weekends to make money. I still have my mixer and turntable in storage.

What is on your “bucket list”?
I have not been to South Africa or seen the Taj Mahal yet. South Africa, in particular, interests me because of its nature, its wildlife, and its history. Many friends who have been there tell me that it’s transformative.

Why is Forté’s mission important to you?

I’ve been lucky to have role models and mentors who have supported my development and guided me throughout my career. It is important for me to help young women by providing access, support, advice, and resources as they try to navigate their careers, too.

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