Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > Purpose Driven: PNC Taps Harold Ford to Harness Power of Market to Promote Equity

Purpose Driven: PNC Taps Harold Ford to Harness Power of Market to Promote Equity

September 19, 2021
By Paul Vachon

Former congressman Harold Ford Jr. is optimistic about change ahead.

In his current role as CEO of Empowerment & Inclusion Capital Corp., and Vice Chairman of PNC Bank, he sees a not-to-distant future when most, if not all, American companies will be led by boards and management teams that practice diversity that extends to women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.

He has good reason to be confident. His employer, PNC Bank, has introduced several initiatives aimed at achieving equality. In the wake of the racial justice movement in 2020, the PNC Foundation committed to contributing $1.5 billion to efforts working to combat racism, empower African Americans, and bring about economic opportunity for low- and moderate-income communities.

Providing share holder value while promoting inclusive economic growth

In 2020, a PNC board member who is a senior manager at Microsoft noted that just as the tech company leverages technology to work toward equality, a financial giant like PNC can do likewise with its resources.

The idea was then hatched to sponsor a SPAC, or Special Purpose Acquisition Company, with the goal of purchasing an existing private company to further promote diversity. PNC Bank approached Rep. Ford to spearhead the initiative. Hence the creation of the Empowerment and Inclusion Capital Corp.

SPACs exist for the sole purpose of raising capital and acquiring another company with the intention of achieving a predefined goal, in this case a more equitable and inclusive society. Sponsors come together and put up the at-risk capital, including the costs of consultants, lawyers, etc.

Ford explains that once the partner company is acquired, the mission is to “take all of the profits and invest them in initiatives supporting the economic empowerment and inclusion of underrepresented groups.”

The Empowerment and Inclusion Capital Corp., debuted on the New York Stock in March 2021 and trades under the ticker symbol EPWR. To date, it has researched several potential partner companies, but is not yet ready to consummate an acquisition.

In the meantime, PNC continues with its broader goal of promoting diversity and inclusion at every opportunity while setting a positive example.

“A number of other companies are working toward achieving diversity,  including Netflix, Google, and Microsoft,” says Ford. “We (at PNC) want to be part of the pantheon of awareness that leads to an even bigger intentionality for companies to make a difference in this way.”

What is the key to bringing more diversity to the financial sector or mortgage industry? 

Stacey Cunningham, President, New York Stock Exchange

We need to advance diversity across the entire corporate landscape, Wall Street included. Our capital markets can play a powerful role when investors demand change by allocating dollars to companies that are prioritizing diversity. At the NYSE, and through our parent company ICE, we arm investors with ESG data that informs their investment decisions. We are also leveraging our brand and CEO network to deliver a solutions-based approach by identifying and placing diverse independent directors with our Board Advisory Council. The key is for us all to take action, as our collective efforts are critical to driving meaningful change.”

Jay Farner, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Hiring diverse talent is a top priority at Rocket Companies as we continue growing our FinTech businesses. We have partnered with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and diverse student organizations at many other universities, to recruit new talent. In fact, we surpassed our goal of hiring 10% of this year’s summer interns from HBCUs. Rocket Companies remains committed to keeping DEI in our DNA and leveraging our culture to enact lasting, positive change.”

Suzanne Shank, President and Chief Executive Officer, Siebert Williams Shank & Co., LLC

After 33 years on Wall Street, what’s most encouraging is that improvements in DEI in employment and procurement are at the forefront of senior leadership team and corporate board agendas. The most glaring issue is that diversity declines dramatically as you move up the corporate ladder.   Wall Street must look at the pipeline of talent and do a better job ensuring bias and preconceived perceptions are not playing a role in advancement decisions. DEI must be viewed as a responsibility and priority throughout each firm at every level.”

Paul Vachon is a freelance writer in Metro Detroit.