Chicago’s former CFO Carole Brown lands at PNC in senior strategy role

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PNC Bank hired Chicago’s former chief financial officer, Carole Brown, to fill a newly created strategy position of chief change management and risk officer.

Brown, who has also held a series of senior public finance banking positions and did a stint as the Chicago Transit Authority’s board chair, officially starts Aug. 5 and will be based in Chicago.

“We are fortunate to add someone of Carole’s caliber to the Corporate & Institutional Business and the Asset Management Group senior leadership teams,” said Mike Lyons, who leads both teams at the PNC Financial Services Group. “Her incredible knowledge and breadth of experience will bring fresh perspectives that will greatly benefit our business strategies.”

Brown served as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s CFO during his second term beginning in May 2015. Emanuel announced last September he would not seek a third term and Brown said she intended to depart along with her boss when Lori Lightfoot took office May 20. Brown handed the CFO reins over to former Chicago Public Schools finance chief Jennie Huang Bennett.

Brown was courted by several banks and she said in interviews last spring that she did not plan to return to a traditional public finance banking job, with her interest now geared toward a more strategic role at a firm in Chicago. The city also imposes restrictions on former employees, banning work on transactions involving their prior role for a year and banning former mayoral staff from lobbying for two years.

“I wanted to build on the experiences of the last four years. I wanted a senior-level position at a quality organization focused on strategy. This opportunity checked all the boxes,” Brown said Thursday of her new position.

Brown was a managing director at Barclays and head of its Midwest municipal practice before she took over from Lois Scott as Chicago CFO.

The city was dealing with a potential $2 billion liquidity crisis after Moody’s Investors Service cut the city’s rating to junk when the state Supreme Court blocked state pension cuts. The ruling created doubts, which ultimately proved correct, that city pension reforms would withstand a court challenge.

Defaults with bank counterparties on swaps, credit lines, and letters of credit could have demanded repayment or accelerated repayment. The city resolved the crisis over the next year by restructuring the impacted debt.

During Brown’s tenure, the city continued to chip away at its structural budget deficit reducing it to less than $100 million last year, increased ending cash balances, made modest deposits in reserves, and phased out scoop-and-toss debt restructuring and borrowing for operating expenses, practices frowned upon by analysts. Brown also continued to improve on investor communications initiatives begun under Scott and won praise from the buy side for the effort and fiscal changes.

Pension strains and operating costs still weigh heavily on the city’s balance sheet heading into 2020, but the former administration succeeded in raising taxes and fees to bolster pension funding and won state legislative approval over former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s opposition.

The city’s actions won praise from investors and the reward came when the city saw its yield spread penalties cut in half on its general obligation sale earlier this year.

Brown also left a deep mark on the city’s debt structure as she spearheaded a nearly $3 billion securitization program that refunded general obligation debt at lower rates. Brown also backed a proposal to issue up to $10 billion of pension obligation bonds that stalled after Emanuel became a lame duck.

Brown is a Baltimore native who graduated from Harvard University and received a master's degree from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. She entered politics when former Mayor Richard Daley tapped her to serve as chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority Board from 2002 through 2009.

Brown served on Emanuel's transition team as chairman for his tax-increment financing reform panel. At the state level, Brown served on the state's Budget for Results Commission and she served on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget and innovation transition team following his November 2018 election.

Brown joined Barclays in 2011 from the firm that is now Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co. LLC, where she had worked since 2009. Brown had previously been a banker at the former Lehman Brothers but left when Barclays acquired Lehman's public finance assets following Lehman's 2008 bankruptcy filing. She joined Mesirow Financial Inc. to lead its public finance group. She moved to Siebert from Mesirow in 2009. Brown also has held positions at the former First National of Chicago and Midwest Management Consultants.

Brown received the 2017 Freda Johnson Award for Trailblazing Women in Public Finance awarded by Northeast Women in Public Finance at The Bond Buyer's Deal of the Year ceremony and she is also received the Women in Public Finance Founders' Awards for lifetime achievement.

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