Leadership Lessons: Blazing a Trail by Trying New Things
Christine Shambach is beginning the next chapter in her career at PNC. In her new role, she leads mergers & acquisitions, strategic planning, resolution and recovery planning, and other duties in PNC's Finance organization.
Studies show that the M&A space remains a male-dominated field, especially at the senior level and when it comes to holding leadership roles in M&A deal making.
"It feels like it's gotten better since my investment banking days but, overall, I think M&A still has a long way to go," Shambach said. "I have participated in financial industry peer forums and I'm generally one of only a handful of senior women in the room."
She got there by following some tried-and-true career advice – consistently taking on more responsibility and taking a personal interest in her own advancement. "That's one of the things that helps – you have to want to drive results and ask, 'What can I do to be impactful?'" she said.
Carving out a career path
After earning both bachelor's and master's degrees in chemical engineering from Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, Shambach went through the motions of interviewing for roles in that field. She loved the analytics and problem-solving, but quickly started to feel she wasn't going to make the impact she wanted.
She tried strategy consulting for several years and, through various client engagements, discovered that what she really enjoyed was the quantitative aspect of finance. She headed to The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University to pursue an MBA, with her eye on becoming an investment banker. "I had a consultant's siloed view of business, so I wanted to learn what I didn't know," she said.
Shambach's investment banking career led her to New York, where she worked in mergers and acquisitions at one of the largest banks in the U.S., advising clients on several multi-billion-dollar transactions.
"I loved discussing strategy with clients, M&A and doing deals," she said. "But I wanted to move away from client services and the lifestyle requirements of an investment banking career. So, I decided to see what else I could do."
After making a change to merger arbitrage trading strategies, in 2010 she made a connection with PNC through a former New York colleague and was hired to join the Mergers and Acquisitions team.
Shambach's profile at PNC increased when she was part of several deals between 2010 and 2012, including the 2011 acquisition of RBC USA and the subsequent sale of an RBC business.
Since that time, PNC has significantly grown in size. In 2021 the acquisition of BBVA USA fueled PNC's continued growth into one of the largest banks in the U.S. by assets. The company expanded its product offerings through the acquisitions of Solebury Trout, Sixpoint Partners, Tempus Technologies, Ambassador Financial Group and several other acquisitions. “As the needs of PNC's clients evolve, and technology advances in banking continue, M&A is likely to play a key role in expanding our product offerings," Shambach said.
'Do something you've never done'
Like many senior leaders, Shambach has been on both sides of good mentorships. Some of the advice she has received might have surprised her as an early career professional when, like many, she envisioned a successful career would involve continuously moving up, like rungs on a ladder.
“The most helpful advice I've received has been that it's OK to take a risk and try something new, even if it's a lateral move," she said. “If you decide it's not for you, you can always make another career move. You're going to learn something from every opportunity, so take calculated risks and don't be afraid to fail."
Following that guidance has resulted in a career that hasn't been at all reflective of rungs, including Shambach's role leading Liquidity Management within Asset & Liability Management (ALM) for the past seven years.
“There have been steps up, dips and valleys, lateral moves and taking on new challenges that were completely unplanned," she said. “I swapped investment banking for trading while in New York and knew quickly it was not going to be a long-term career, but as a result I now have a good understanding of the markets, and how M&A is viewed by investors.
“Additionally, I never expected that I would transition to a role in ALM when I joined PNC. However, I now have a strong understanding of how PNC manages its balance sheet, and how to build and grow a talented, cohesive team, which makes me a stronger PNC leader."
'Demonstrate your expertise'
As you move through roles, Shambach added, it's equally important to be confident in your ability to succeed as it is to be willing to take on the next challenge.
“Over the last several years, I've heard more women openly discuss imposter syndrome, and I've experienced this at times in my career as well," she said. “But when I walk into a room or a big presentation, I believe it's important to show your expertise both through your preparation and through how you present yourself."
That's especially important when it comes to combatting stereotypes. As an Asian American woman, Shambach has been mindful of encountering those with conscious or unconscious biases. “I think that's one reason I'm so focused on body language and sharing my views," she said. “Unless you show an outward confidence and ability to have a voice, some will unfortunately overlook your skills and your value.
“We each have unique experiences and strengths that make our viewpoints valuable. You know what you have to offer, so don't limit yourself from reaching your fullest potential."