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Hard Work Or Luck: What Shapes A Career In Financial Services?

Many times I’ve been unsure, but that’s part of the challenge and part of the fun of doing something new, and my belief is that I’m as smart as anybody else, so if somebody else can do it, I can do it as well.

Elissa Sangster: Hello, and welcome to part one of our three-part series on careers at PNC. I’m Elissa Sangster, Executive Director of Forté Foundation. PNC is one of the nation’s largest diversified financial services organizations providing retail and business banking, residential mortgage banking, specialized services for corporations and government entities, including corporate banking, real-estate finance, and asset-based lending, wealth management, and asset management. It’s also one of the fastest-growing banks in the country, with more than 50,000 employees.

A couple of weeks ago, we paid a visit to PNC’s headquarters in Pittsburgh to talk to some of the dynamic businesswomen of PNC about what they do, what they like about their jobs, and their advice for women considering a career in financial services. Carol Cozen is a Senior Vice President and Credit Executive in the Public Finance/Healthcare Group at PNC.

Carol Cozen: And I manage nine people, and our job is to underwrite and ultimately approve transactions that PNC does with companies in the healthcare … Companies or institutions in the healthcare/public finance arena.

Elissa: We asked Carol how she navigated her career over time.

Carol: I guess what I’d like to say to that question is that I probably have not navigated my career over time. Most of the opportunities have come to me. I think it’s very difficult to determine a path, because the world is very difficult to predict. When I joined PNC 21 years ago, it was a very small bank, and now we’re so large, and no one could’ve ever predicted that. I guess I’ve been very lucky in some sense, but I also think I’ve worked really hard, and I think the harder one works and the better one does, the more opportunities will become available for that person.

There’s always a little bit of insecurity when one moves into a new opportunity or a new position, but that’s not a reason to shy away from it. Don’t shy away from the grunt work, because it’s really important, no matter where you are in a job, to know how to do the tasks, if you’re managing people that are doing those tasks, and it also shows effort on your part. The other thing is, always go the extra mile. Do extra research, come in early, stay late, volunteer to do new projects. That’s the way one gets ahead.

Elissa: Carol told us that what she likes about her job and working at PNC is that it is really busy.

Carol: I like to be busy all day long. You deal with a lot of different constituencies in the bank, and outside the bank. One thing I like about it, at least in my job, because I’m in credit risk management, is I’m not actually on the sales side, but I still get to see the clients. I get to visit the clients, but I don’t have to sell them anything, and to me, at this stage in my career, I’m happy with that. I like to see new deals, I like doing different kinds of things all day long, and also, a lot of my job is very management-oriented. In fact, I would say the most important part of my job is making sure that the nine people that report to me are doing the best they can, and getting the best out of them.

Corporate banking is very diverse. There are a lot of things one can do in corporate banking. You can be client-facing, you can do underwriting, which is a team I run, you can even do a little bit of marketing. There’s a lot of ability to move around, which I also think is great. In fact, early in my career, I was a lender on the line, and I loved doing that. It was really fun, I traveled all over the country, met lots of interesting companies, and then I moved over to the credit and underwriting side, and that was something different and fun too. So I think that corporate banking provides one with a lot of different opportunities. I like that. Gives you a lot of options going forward, because you might find that you thought you liked something, but you like something else. Your personal situation might change, so you might need to do one kind of job versus another kind of job, and I think you have the flexibility to do that in a large corporate banking environment.

Elissa: We asked Carol what personality traits make her well suited for her job.

Carol: I’m not afraid to ask questions. I don’t care how silly the question might be; if I don’t understand something, I’m going to ask, because that’s going to make me a better banker, and better at my job. And lots of times, I’ll ask a question that other people are afraid to ask, and everybody’s sitting back saying, “Boy, am I glad she asked that question, because I didn’t know the answer to that question either.”

Elissa: Carol has two daughters, one a junior in high school and one just starting college. She says her family is the most important thing in her life, but that doesn’t mean she sacrifices work.

Carol: Something very interesting about my experience at PNC is I’ve been on a flexible work schedule for 19 years, and during that time, I’ve been able to be promoted and work in positions that have increasingly more responsibility. I work home some days. It’s one reason why I’m not in a line position now, is because I want to have the flexibility to do work at home if I can. I get things done at very weird hours. My previous boss, whom I worked for for 14 years, used to say that he talked to me more on the days I worked at home than the days I was in the office, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to be emailing each other at 11 o’clock at night.

At the same time, both my daughters are very involved in sports, and I did not want to miss any of their sports events. I’ve been to … Not missed many basketball, lacrosse games, or tennis matches. I try to be at almost everything I can. But I never say that I can’t get anything done, and I never say I won’t do anything because of my schedule. If I need to be at the office, I’ll be there; if I need to get something done, I find the time to do it.

Elissa: We asked Carol what she looks for when she’s interviewing a job candidate.

Carol: The first important thing is, is the person smart? Doesn’t even matter if you’re a liberal arts graduate. If you’re really smart and can apply yourself, you can learn this job. The other thing is I like to see if somebody’s easy to talk to. I’ve had interviews where it’s hard to get through a half hour, but when I can talk freely to somebody, and they’re personable, and they ask good questions, that’s very important.

I love PNC. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be here for almost 21 years in January. It’s a dynamic place to work. It is so different than when I joined in early 1990, and that’s one of the things that makes it a fun place to work. I really like the people, and so I have a lot of friendships here. PNC has been really, really good to me in allowing me to have a really good work/life balance and not miss those tennis matches and lacrosse games, and I appreciate that, but on the other hand, I’ve really given back to PNC, and there’s never a weekend that goes by that I don’t get a lot of work done, so PNC knows that it will get out of me what it needs as well.

Marsha Jones:  Well, diversity at PNC is the presence of differences that make each person unique.

Elissa: To truly understand PNC’s approach to diversity and inclusion, we also spoke with Marsha Jones, Chief Diversity Officer at PNC.

Marsha: And so what that means is that every single one of our employees is, in fact, diverse. So when we approach diversity from this way, we then recognize the fact that we are now looking to be able to identify the individual and appreciate the individual skill sets, experiences, education that every single one of our employees brings to the organization, and then to be able to work toward making the organization an inclusive place, where each of the employees does, in fact, feel engaged. And when we have this inclusive environment, which we define as full engagement and development of all of our employees, we then are able to have what we believe is greater profitability, greater creativity, because the individuals that are working recognize the fact that they are very much appreciated for all of the ideas, et cetera, that they bring to the table on a daily basis.

Elissa: PNC has received a lot of recognition for encouraging and developing female leadership.

Marsha: We are developing a culture which is being recognized outside of the organization as one where female leaders can come into the organization, have tremendous experience, be able to move up throughout the organization to very senior leadership areas of responsibility. There are a large percentage of women who are actually running P&Ls, and there are many women that are actually heading up lines of business. And so it is definitely a very female-friendly — if you want to use that terminology — culture, with many, many role models.

Elissa: Marsha herself started her career as a teacher.

Marsha: And, as happens very often, your career takes various twists and turns, and similar to what happened in the … A couple of years ago, with the meltdown in terms of financial services, a couple of decades ago, there was a meltdown in the economy in New York City, and there were no teaching jobs. And so, as a result, I had to find another way of making a living, and I found financial services, realized that it was important to be able to get registered with the New York Stock Exchange to give me greater flexibility. And I had, throughout my life, always felt that there was an importance that women can make in any situation that they found themselves, and I found that situation in financial services.

So there was an opportunity to be able to, in my mind, make a difference, first as a financial advisor, because as a diverse financial advisor back in the early ’80s, there were very few, and yet there was the opportunity to be able to do well not only for myself and for my family, but also do well in terms of making a contribution to the community by being able to bring financial education to the community, which was not very widespread at the time, as well as to be able to develop relationships with female clients who needed assistance in terms of being able to prepare financially for their future. So there was a great opportunity for me to blend my experiences in terms of education, as well as my desire to make a difference.

My move into management, candidly, was for the same reason. There were very few female managers, there were very, if any, diverse managers. I focused on excelling so that I was able to have the criteria to be able to move ahead, and things kind of moved one from another, to ultimately I led a region of financial advisors.

Elissa: I want to thank Carol Cozen and Marsha Jones for sharing their wisdom and inspiring stories. Special thanks to Robin Simon for her generous assistance in making our visit to PNC happen. In the second part of our series, we’ll talk with a PNC executive about her unique career path from English professor to CFO for PNC’s asset management business. Stay tuned.

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