Carol Sawdye is leaning in.

Carol Sawdye

CFO & Vice Chair

New York, NY

Sometimes you have to leave to jump-start your career, but it’s certainly wonderful when that decision paves the way back home.

From an early age, my parents taught me the value of financial independence. They expected my siblings and me to earn our own money and to support ourselves right after college. In fact, my parents told us that only by studying engineering or accounting would we achieve self-sufficiency. I didn’t like engineering, so I studied accounting and ended up working at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

I joined the firm’s New York office and loved the fast-paced environment. I was always learning and worked with a variety of entertainment and media clients. In a professional services firm, the ultimate career destination is partnership. The competition is intense, and you need help from strong sponsors along the way. Eleven years after joining the firm I became a partner. I can still remember how proud I felt the day it was announced.

Then, six years later, 9/11 happened. My husband and I lived seven blocks from the World Trade Center and we had to move out of our apartment temporarily. The experience caused me to do a lot of thinking and soul searching about what I wanted out of life. I realized that while I loved being a partner, my ultimate aspiration was to be a leader in the firm. Instead of advising my clients on their businesses, I wanted to be the person making business decisions. The career path to leadership was a lot less certain than the journey from associate to partner. At that time PwC had nearly 2,000 partners, the majority of whom were more senior than I was. It was going to take years to rise within the ranks.

So I decided to lean in by leaving. It was a huge risk. Many people I trusted thought I was crazy to give up the security of being a partner at PwC. And it was scary to leave a place where I had built 17 years worth of relationships. But when a recruiter called offering me the chance to be Chief Financial Officer at a prestigious law firm, I said yes.

For eight years, I was part of a small executive team and was able to make a significant impact on the firm. I led a number of exciting projects to restructure our operations and learned a great deal about managing a law firm. Eight years later, I was approached by the National Basketball Association to serve as its CFO. The CEO was a visionary who understood that sports leagues were actually partnerships for the team owners. I arrived just as the NBA commenced extensive collective bargaining negotiations with the players union.

In those intervening years I kept in touch with my PwC network, including a colleague of mine who had started at PwC on the same day as me. He had just been elected Senior Partner of the firm and wanted me to come back as CFO on his leadership team; it felt like coming full circle. Sometimes you have to leave to jump-start your career, but it’s certainly wonderful when that decision paves the way back home.

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