Professional Development

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

Jon Russell learned “delicate” management skills while preparing his team for the 2021 BBVA-PNC acquisition.

Jon Russell.

(Courtesy photo)

After a decade at the financial services institution BBVA USA, Jon Russell was excited to grow into his new role as executive director of partnership engineering. He was promoted in early 2020 — and within the same year, he learned about PNC’s upcoming acquisition of BBVA.

The acquisition was finalized 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 about the news and continue business as normal. In the back of his head, Russell knew his team of engineers was working on BBVA projects soon to be defunct after the acquisition.

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

Russell and about 500 former BBVA engineers were retained within PNC’s technology team during the acquisition. At PNC, he now manages lending technology solution architecture.

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

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Looking back on the acquisition, what did you learn?

It was complicated to answer questions people had about their lives and what would happen in the future when we weren’t entirely sure ourselves. It put me in a totally different place of management than I had been in previous years because working through the acquisition was so emotional and much more focused on the people, not projects. I grew a lot last year, as far as being able to understand the level of stress that everybody was under and manage through that.

Also, the fact that about 500 people from BBVA joined PNC is an opportunity that rarely happens — especially in an acquisition. I think that will help considerably with the learning curve of navigating through new processes because you have 500 people that you already know how to work with. I hope other companies use that method as a positive case study.

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How did BBVA prepare you for the work you’re doing at PNC?

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

I really credit my first job out of college with teaching me so many different skills. It was a small research and development company that’s now closed. It was just a handful of engineers, and we did everything. I had no idea how much of a goldmine I stumbled on by getting a job at a company like that early in my career because I learned so many different aspects of software development. At a larger company, it would take decades to learn what I had to learn in a few years at a smaller company, so that proved to be very valuable.

As someone who’s worked in banking for more than 10 years, what have you learned about the industry?

It’s undeniable that money is so influential in everyone’s life. I see that every day in banking. What I love being part of is developing technology and solutions that help our customers. I want to work on projects that, at least at certain points, make people excited about finances and make them see banking as a positive thing in their lives.

What do you anticipate about your future at PNC?

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

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