How to manage a merger? This engineer learned on his way to PNC

After a decade at the financial services institution BBVA United States, Jon Russell was excited to move into his new role as Executive Director of Partnership Engineering. He was promoted at the start of 2020 – and in the same year he learned of the existence cabin crew next acquisition of BBVA.

The acquisition was completed in June 2021, making PNC the fifth largest commercial banking organization in the United States. The national bank is headquartered in Pittsburgh.

Russell’s instructions were to say nothing on the news and carry on with business as usual. In the back of his head, Russell knew that his engineering team was working on BBVA projects that would soon disappear after the acquisition.

“It was a tricky situation over the last year of work with all the employees and the doubt they had,” said Russell, who lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his family. “Just before the announcement of the acquisition, people were working on projects that we knew would be abandoned, but we couldn’t say anything about it. I was torn about losing that job myself.

Russell and around 500 former BBVA engineers were retained on PNC’s technology team upon acquisition. At PNC, he now manages the architecture of lending technology solutions.

Read on for a Q&A on what the acquisition taught him, why he loves working in banking, and more.

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Looking back on the acquisition, what did you learn?

It was difficult to answer the questions people had about their lives and what would happen in the future when we weren’t quite sure of ourselves. It put me in a totally different leadership role than I had in previous years, because working on acquisition was so emotional and much more people-focused than project-focused. I grew a lot in the last year, in terms of being able to understand the level of stress everyone was under and dealing with that.

In addition, the fact that around 500 people from BBVA have joined PNC is an opportunity that rarely arises, especially in the context of an acquisition. I think it will help the learning curve of navigating new processes a lot, because you have 500 people you already know how to work with. I hope other companies will use this method as a positive case study.

How has BBVA prepared you for the work you do at PNC?

I had many titles and varied experiences at the BBVA. I started as a senior developer in early 2010 and then worked my way up through several different positions.

I really credit my first job after college for teaching me so many different skills. It was a small research and development company that is now closed. It was just a handful of engineers, and we did it all. I had no idea what a goldmine I stumbled upon getting a job with a company like this early in my career, as I learned many different aspects of software development. In a large company, it would take decades to learn what I had to learn in a few years in a small company, which turned out to be very valuable.

As someone who has worked in banking for over 10 years, what have you learned about the industry?

It is undeniable that money is so influential in everyone’s life. I see it every day in banking. What I love to do is develop technologies and solutions that help our customers. I want to work on projects that, at least at times, pique people’s interest in finance and make them see banking as a positive thing in their lives.

What do you envision for your future at PNC?

Now that we’ve settled into PNC, I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of their innovative technologies. What is very similar between PNC and BBVA is how much the culture is focused on making sure we are doing everything with the customer in mind. We are trying to transform the banking sector so that it brings value to people rather than bogs them down.

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