Penny Pennington on Philanthropy, Confidence and Feeling Terrified

In 2006, Penny Pennington was named a principal of Edward Jones and moved to St. Louis to join the company’s New Financial Advisor Training department. New to the region, she didn’t anticipate just how much the generosity of the people of St. Louis would impact her professional growth.

Now, as the leader of Edward Jones’ Client Strategies Group, Penny shares why she invests in her community, what she’s learned from St. Louis’ inspiring women and why it’s good to feel terrified.

How did you end up in finance?
Finance was a bit accidental. In college I recognized that a finance background would allow me to be pretty flexible in my career choice. I went into banking and got into the side of the business of working with individuals and individual investors. I’m now at a place where I get to help people with their personal finance goals and I think that financial resources fire the strength of our country.

What is a typical day like for you?
I wish that I could exercise in the morning, but I can’t because I love my sleep. I’m a seven- to eight-hour sleeper. I get up between 5:30 and 6:00 and make it into the office around 7:00 to 7:30. In the morning, you can always catch me with a venti cup of English breakfast tea in my hand. My typical day consists of meeting with people throughout Edward Jones and in the community.

Edward Jones’ environment is built around consensus building, so I spend a lot of time in meetings. Seventy percent of the time I spend in meetings consists of working on Edward Jones’ business plan and my other meetings are comprised of one-on-one mentoring. I look forward to my days at work and my evenings at home with my husband.

What spurred you to incorporate philanthropy into your career?
Philanthropy became much more a part of my life living in St. Louis than it ever did before. When I first moved here in 2006 I learned of Edward Jones’ involvement in United Way and how important United Way is to Edward Jones and St. Louis. Merry Mosbacher – a fellow principal – told me it would be easy to put my head down and work hard at Edward Jones, but that when I started to meet the incredible people of St. Louis I was going to want a venue to get to know the amazing women in this city.

Ellen Sherberg also influenced me with her message that women need to be a part of what positively influences the community. I heard her message as “Step up!” I see philanthropy as a very effective and powerful way for me to impact this community. It’s part of the opportunity and the responsibility.

Penny Pennington QuoteHow do you approach philanthropy?
Over the years, philanthropy has come together for me as a way to invest in and get involved in many different sectors of our community. I’m involved at United Way; I see that as making the community at large a better place. I’m involved with the Shakespeare Festival – which is my investment in St. Louis’ arts community – and American Heart Association, which addresses vital health issues that affect women in our community. I think of my community involvement as a portfolio of philanthropy. My engagement in the community through philanthropy adds certain experiences and textures to my life that I don’t get at work.

What do you admire in other women?
I go back to Ellen Sherberg and Merry Mosbacher because they are women who make bold, important statements to other women about their responsibilities and opportunities all while prompting them to think about where they should be going in their lives. I admire women who push and challenge and expect bigger and better things from the next woman, generation or initiative. I believe in women who hold other women accountable to doing really great stuff.

So what do you believe keeps women from doing great stuff?
I recently read The Confidence Code. One of the things that the book really challenges is how women feel that until they have done the job, they are not qualified to do the job. This means that women sometimes are less likely to step up into a new role or opportunity. Women are less likely to take risks, to step forward into what for them, personally or professionally, is uncharted territory. We just need to feel confident enough to step forward.

What advice do you have for women who want to follow in your footsteps?
I know I’ve been lucky that I’ve always had the opportunity to pursue different opportunities and have never been in a place where I couldn’t take a step in a different direction towards something where I could be meaningful. Find something that you’re happy doing that makes you feel significant. It’s about discovering that thing for yourself in your personal or professional life. If you don’t have that, take the steps to figure out how you can thrive.

What is one myth of success?
That success is not a feeling, it’s a behavior. People who look like they’re successful do not necessarily feel successful. Inside, they may be experiencing sheer terror. I feel terrified everyday about something I’m facing. If you’re really thriving in your own development in your profession or personal life, you have moments like that every day. When I have those moments I know I’m learning something.

What can young professionals learn from your perspective?
Know that you’re not fully formed today; that you will keep growing every day. Any sense that you might have that you’re stuck in your career, or in a moment in your personal life, is not true. Time looks like it’s spread out unending before you, but it does go quickly. Know that you can make a difference in charting your path and changing your community. Look for opportunities to be challenged and terrified.


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Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is a St. Louis-based marketer and writer who focuses on content marketing, career development, and personal finance. She enjoys meeting people pursuing inspiring career paths. She’d love to meet you at the next United Way event. Say hello to Emily on Twitter at @emilyknippa.