Penny Pennington, recently named managing partner of investment firm Edward Jones, reflected on her career, lessons she has learned about leadership, and the values that make Edward Jones a success in a Nov. 29 event for MBA students at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. The event was part of the school’s Stanton Distinguished Leaders Series.
An ideal career is rewarding to the extent that it is challenging, Pennington said. She described the idea of a “50-50” career, where half of the job is meeting requirements and half is learning new skills.
In Pennington’s experience, strong mentors and sponsors have been important for taking those kinds of challenging positions.
“The opportunity I’ve had since being a financial advisor and now as an institutional-level leader has been leaders who said to me, ‘Penny, I know you’re not sure you have all the experience it’s going to take to be successful in this next role, but we want you to take this next role,’” Pennington said.
She found those roles at Edward Jones, after a background in banking that had been successful but not necessarily fulfilling. Edward Jones’ model of local practices in particular attracted her.
“We meet the public face to face in a very emotional way,” she said. “It was clear that it was going to matter if I showed up every day. It mattered that it was me.”
She also valued the company’s investment philosophy. “[Edward Jones] has helped clients for nearly 100 years build durable wealth in the only real way to do it, and that is to buy high-quality assets, lengthen your time horizon, and delay your own gratification for something greater that you desire for your future” she said.
Leadership was a key theme of the talk. During a panel discussion with students, Pennington told an anecdote about a time she identified someone for a promotion, but felt that it was better to hold off. Her boss told Pennington that if she knew all she needed to know about the candidate, she should promote him without waiting.
Pennington challenged the audience to look for this kind of guidance in their professional lives.
“Find leaders who are ready to sponsor you in those ways, who are ready to risk themselves but also to risk you, with good intention, to put you in places where you can grow,” she advised.