Today, we are doing a special feature in commemoration of International Women’s Day, which is a celebration of women around the world and their impact on business and culture. We recently sat down with two of PwC’s female leaders – Sam Yildirim and Jen Mantini – to learn more about their experiences as women who have enjoyed extraordinary careers in M&A.
Currently, Sam leads PwC’s asset and wealth management M&A practice in the US and Jen leads the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts for the firm’s US Deals practice. Below, Sam and Jen share a glimpse into their own personal experiences as women in the M&A industry, how they got to where they are today, and advice for other women seeking a career in deals.
Sam: I lead our asset and wealth management M&A practice for the U.S. firm. I have been doing financial services M&A for a very long time and have lived through several cycles. Our industry is large, complex and requires deep knowledge to deliver value to our clients. I find the challenge of this complexity and ever-changing environment invigorating. The industry landscape is currently going through big changes with technology, regulation, product innovation, globalization as well as significant competition.
Jennifer: I started my career with PwC 18 years ago, and made partner four years ago. I’m currently the firm’s diversity leader for our transaction services group, and I’m also the Advisory point partner on several key clients. I’m based in Philadelphia and serve on our market council, where my primary role is to lead our people development efforts for the region.
Sam: I have had many experiences over the course of my career that were rewarding. I am originally from Turkey and moved to London and joined Pricewaterhouse in 1996. After qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1999, I was ready for a new challenge and the firm sent me to New York in 2000. What I thought would be a two-year stint in New York became a 17-year love affair with this city. Being able to say that I’ve worked in both London and New York – two of the most prominent financial centers of the world – and with industry-leading financial services institutions during the financial crisis, and some of the most world-renowned brands since the start of my M&A career – has truly been an amazing experience for me. I would also say making partner in our M&A group in 2011 was my greatest professional accomplishment. I am very proud to be able to say I was the second woman to make partner in our group in New York.
Jennifer: I met my husband in Deals and I had my first daughter while I was a manager. At that time, there weren’t many women in the practice – and even fewer women with children. There were very few role models who I could talk to – particularly anyone who could relate to having two people in our household trying to juggle careers in deals. My husband eventually moved on to another role outside the firm, and then I had my second child. So my next challenge was raising two children while balancing my career and my husband was traveling out of state Monday through Friday. To me, it’s been a huge family accomplishment to be able to keep our careers going the way we wanted while maintaining a strong center for our family at home. Professionally speaking, as my career grows at the partner level, I’ve seen some leadership roles at the partnership level as well. I’m passionate about professional development and mentorship and have been afforded great opportunities to focus on what I love to do. I’ve had several great sponsors over the course of my career who have helped support me in my career for many years.
Sam: To me, leadership is all about encouraging and inspiring people around you to be creative and dedicated – and to value teaming and working towards the same goals. Our firm has grown so much in the last decade. We have brought in so many experts and industry leaders through hiring and our recent acquisitions. It’s about getting to know all the different talents and resource we have under one roof, and bringing people together to ensure we are sharing knowledge, relationships. Most importantly, it’s to make sure we are all working towards the same goals. It’s certainly not an easy job but when we do this well, it feels great.
Jennifer: It’s important for my daughters to see that women can be strong and independent in their career. My philosophy is to let people be the leader they want to be on a project – I don’t want to micromanage. I focus on supporting versus directing them. I believe in empowering people to learn on their own while be there to help guide them.
Sam: We are seeing more and more women reach leadership positions within M&A and the financial services sector. What helped me and some of my friends is being bold and fearless, not listening to self-doubt and surrounding yourself with good people. Instead of focusing on your differences (e.g. being in a conference room with 20 other people where most of them are white American males) focusing on similarities and shared goals. I find that knowledge, expertise, being prepared, gives me confidence and allows me to be more open and more willing to put myself out there. Having strong sponsorship is the key to unlocking career success. You can be very talented but if you do not have good sponsors who are vested in your growth and your career, you may never achieve your full potential. However, young women need to be proactive, build relationships and ask for help. Most people do not care whether you are male or female, they care about what value you bring to the table.
Jennifer: It’s hard to dispute the fact that women aren’t the most visible in this industry. I think it starts with reevaluating how you define a successful career. Fortunately, now there are more women than ever before. And there are certainly more women with children than when I started out. It’s about ensuring working moms can continue a career in deals and have a viable path forward – what we like to call “reimagining what’s possible.” It’s not going to be exactly the same for men in the profession because unfortunately for many, this is still a new way of doing business. But from my experience, I know that women are appreciated for what they bring to the table. I’ve had clients tell me they appreciate having me in the room. It’s about using the strengths of a women to our advantage and how can you use those tactics as a women to strengthen delivery of the clients’ needs. My advice would be to set goals for yourself and don’t be afraid to stretch those goals and ask for help to reach those goals. You can’t be a superhuman all the time.
Sam: I am passionate about many things particularly giving back to the community. The public education system in parts of New York City is so poor that kids from certain neighborhoods truly need help, encouragement and vision to see a way out and to a path to success. I am also very passionate about traveling and photography. When I have a long challenging day, looking at pictures of beautiful places I have visited gives me calmness and happiness.
Jennifer: I’ve run two marathons – which is something I’m pretty proud of. We are an athletic family. I’m very involved in charity work, including the Center for Literacy, which is focused on educating adult learners to advance in careers. Their mission is to help people in Philly to improve and get better jobs. I live and work in Philly so I’m passionate about the city – and I want to stay here. I want Philly to be a place people live their whole lives.
Sam: I lost my father when I was 7, my mother who got married at a young age, suddenly ended up on her own with three very young kids and she was pregnant with her fourth. This experience made me grow up at a very young age. I saw firsthand how my mother was not well-equipped to deal with the real world on her own but through sheer willpower and love for her children she refused to cave under the weight of that responsibility. I saw her toughen up, grow up and stand up for her children. She raised four kind and successful children. Whenever I face a difficulty, I remind myself that nothing I will live through can be as hard as what she went through.
Jennifer: What motivated me was being able to blaze a trail and be one of the first women to do something. Even today, as a woman working on deals, you will inevitably be the first to do something new and blaze a trail for others. There are so many opportunities to put your name out there, which should motivate women. We need to do a better job of supporting other women. There were – and still are – concerns that women can’t be successful in this industry because of their commitments outside of work. The idea of what it takes to be a successful woman in business needs to continually be challenged.