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The Sound Judgments and Elusive Balance of a Juggling GC
For Helen Pudlin, the just-retired general counsel of PNC Financial Services Group Inc., the job's legal challenges were never the problem. Rather, it was the airplane ride every four days between her home near Philadelphia (where her husband is cofounder, president, and CEO of the law firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller) and her work in Pittsburgh.
Pudlin, 63, retired from PNC on May 31 after 18 years as GC, leaving behind a legacy as a strong business and legal strategist. Before joining PNC, she did legal work for the company while a partner at Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia.
PNC chairman and CEO James Rohr said in a statement, "In her 18 years as general counsel, Helen has become more than a trusted legal adviser. Her sound judgment and masterful strategic counsel have been decisive in some of the most important business decisions this company has ever made."
But it wasn't easy for Pudlin to find that elusive balance. Senior reporter Sue Reisinger spoke with her days before she retired. Reisinger also spoke with Pudlin's 27-year-old daughter, who missed her mother during many of those years, but is now a lawyer herself. Excerpts from those conversations follow.
Corporate Counsel: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Helen Pudlin: Being part of a team that helped the company grow from a small one to one of the largest, most successful, and best run financial services companies in the country. Then, building and leading a team of 113 very talented lawyers; being a member of an extraordinary executive team in a rarified culture. And, finally, helping to recruit a very strong successor [Robert Hoyt].
CC: What was your most difficult moment or issue?
HP: I can't talk about PNC legal affairs in detail, but I will say that recent changes in the law and in the regulatory process created an atmosphere where problem solving was interesting and exhilarating. But the toughest time was having a sick child in bed on the phone, and me trying to calm her from a different city. The most challenging times were balancing my family and business life.
CC: What is your funniest memory?
HP: Well, several years ago the airlines started a new rule that you could only have two carry-on bags, but I came, as usual, with three. I was wearing a suit and had one garment bag with three more suits to take home and get cleaned. At the front of the line they told me I could only take two bags. I offered to put one in my seat and sit on it, but they said no. It was very hot, and people in line were getting restless. So finally I said, "Okay, you want two bags, you got it." And I literally put all three suits on over mine, and I threw my garment bag away. People in line were laughing and clapping.
CC: How many children do you have?
HP: Two. My son, Alex, is 30 now. I started at PNC when he was 12 and my daughter, Julia, was 9. Alex works for Xerox, and is involved in a project that is revamping the parking meter system in Los Angeles. Julia is a newly minted lawyer and an associate at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C. She went to the same law school as her father and I, the University of Pennsylvania.
Julia Pudlin: My mom had a superhuman ability to be extraordinarily present throughout my childhood despite her physical absence for much of the week. She always showed up when it mattered, even if it meant flying in for a race (I was a runner) or a play (my brother is an actor). From the time I was 9, we talked on the phone every night, often for close to an hour. My mom told me about her experiences as a lawyer, a woman, and a leader, and listened to and advised me on my own experiences. My mom absolutely inspired me to be a lawyer.
CC: You met your husband in law school; tell me about how that happened.
HP: On the first day of class as freshmen in 1971, we were seated in alphabetical order. He's David Pudlin, and I was Helen Pomerantz then. One person was between us, and I turned and asked them if either wanted to play tennis after class. David said yes, and the rest is history.
CC: What will you miss most and least in retirement?
HP: It's really a dream job. I cannot imagine doing anything that I love more. I'll miss being part of a company that continues to grow and a group of people who continue to challenge one another to do their best. But I won't miss that knot in my stomach, from commuting.
CC: What are you going to do next?
HP: We'll travel for a few months. And I recently became chair of a biomedical institute in Philadelphia; it's a volunteer, not-for-profit job. I want to explore different things on the personal and civic level. I've been very privileged, and it is time to give back.