As chief financial officer at BlackRock, Ann Marie Petach works in a soaring skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. It's a long way away from the greasy, gritty Ford Motor plant in Michigan where she started her career.
When Petach took an entry-level job as a financial analyst in Ford's electrical and electronics division, she thought it would simply be a good way to learn corporate finance, and that her stay with the automaker would last no longer than three years. But it turned into a 23-year journey that spanned three continents and led to Petach becoming Ford's treasurer.
It also led to her job at BlackRock, which helped Ford with its debt issuance and pension fund management. Petach got to know BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink, and once asked for his advice on a job opportunity that came her way. He told her not to take it, and soon hired her himself, bringing her on board in 2007 as head of business finance, and making her CFO a year later.
Petach defies the stereotype of the CFO as corporate bean counter. She is a strategic adviser both internally and to key clients. In addition to chairing BlackRock's capital committee and co-chairing its corporate risk committee, she sits on the firm's global executive, global operating and government relations steering committees.
It was Petach who pushed BlackRock to increase its credit line from a negligible amount to something closer to $2.5 billion, which eventually helped position the firm to be able to acquire Barclays Global Investors in 2009. The $15.2 billion deal-Petach was instrumental in the due diligence process-vaulted BlackRock's assets under management, now at $3.56 trillion, past that of State Street and Fidelity Investments. She also spearheaded major secondary offerings that pushed shares formerly held by big stakeholders like Bank of America into the public market. In less than two years, BlackRock's ownership has gone from 80 percent privately held to 80 percent public. Along the way, as the public float crossed the 50 percent mark, the firm qualified for inclusion in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, which it joined in April 2011.
There were few women in upper management at Ford when Petach began her career in the auto industry in the 1980s. But at Black-Rock, she notes, two of the eight founders were women.
"I do believe success breeds success," Petach says. "I was coming into a place where I walked in the door and knew there were senior women with a seat at the table. I wasn't filling a statistic or breaking the barrier. The barrier didn't exist."
One of the "uncelebrated positives" of the Barclays Global Investors deal, Petach says, is all of the networking and development groups that came with the acquisition. Petach is active in the firm's Women's Leadership Forum and OUT Network.
A married mother of two school-age children, Petach advises mentees to be flexible in their approach to balancing work and home obligations, and promises this can be done without hurting future advancement. "It's impossible to have a plan or strategy. You have to recognize that every single day, every year, every period of time, your priorities are going to be different based on your needs for that moment of time."