On September 12, 2023, the CFA Women POWER Breakfast Series welcomed Carole Brown for a discussion at the Chicago Club. Deborah Bielicke Eades, a shareholder in the Investment Services Group of Vedder Price, interviewed Brown.
Carole Brown is the head of the Asset Management Group for The PNC Financial Services Group. In this role, she is responsible for leading PNC’s wealth management and private banking services for high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individuals and families, as well as custom investment and advisory solutions for institutional clients. Prior to being named to her current role, Brown was chief change and risk officer for the Asset Management Group and Corporate & Institutional Banking businesses. Before joining PNC in August 2019, Brown served as chief financial officer for the City of Chicago under Mayor Rahm Emanuel from May 2015 to May 2019. She received an A.B. in government from Harvard University and an M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
The discussion began with Brown highlighting the strong influence that her parents, both teachers from the Baltimore area, had on her work ethic and career trajectory. While she originally imagined following in their footsteps and becoming a teacher, Brown ultimately opted for the business world after graduating from Harvard and began her career with First Chicago Bank. Brown described falling in love with both the city and the banking industry during her time at First Chicago and Kellogg, then went on to detail stints at Lehman Brothers and Barclays during which she was responsible for managing sizable derivatives books.
The conversation then turned to Brown’s involvement with the city and her roles as Chicago’s Chief Financial Officer and the Chair of the Chicago Transit Authority. She touted the Brown Line restoration project and the stabilization of the city’s fiscal picture as some of her proudest achievements in these capacities, while humorously reminding Society members that she is the one to blame for the $0.07 tax on plastic bags at Chicagoland grocery stores. It was particularly interesting to hear that Brown was originally hesitant to take on a position with the city given her existing role at Barclays. According to Brown, it was only after then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel personally called the bank that she became able to accept the role.
Brown was asked by a member of the audience about the differences between working in the public and private sectors. In response, she noted that objectives are typically more straightforward within the corporate world (e.g., maximizing revenues, etc.). Government officials, on the other hand, must contend with myriad stakeholders and bureaucracy, which can make the accomplishment of goals more challenging. Nevertheless, Brown credited her strong team with resiliency in the face of these obstacles and mentioned that her time in government made her strongly in favor of civil service requirements for most citizens.
When asked about the most significant challenges facing her business today, Brown mentioned increased competition for deposits among large banks, the impact of recent actions by the Federal Reserve, and the upcoming wealth transfer between generations that will likely create logistical difficulties for those in the financial services industry. She was also quick to note that these challenges present opportunities for those in the business, especially given the more nuanced guidance that younger individuals will likely demand when it comes to customized investment portfolio solutions. She also mentioned that roughly one-half of new millionaires are women, so tailoring advice to this demographic should be top of mind for financial professionals.
The event concluded with Brown answering questions from audience members that involved networking and diversity initiatives within the financial services industry. Brown implored younger Society members to not be transactional when it comes to their business relationships and to identify both mentors and sponsors who can foster the development of useful skills. She also mentioned that young professionals must have a willingness to fail, which can be difficult for those with “type A” personalities in a competitive industry like financial services. Brown ended her remarks by re-emphasizing the importance of community services and noted that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
CFA Society of Chicago President Chris Vincent even remarked that Brown’s performance had “earned her a spot in the CFA Women POWER Breakfast Series Hall of Fame.” Thank you to both Carole Brown and Deborah Bielicke Eades for a fantastic event!