A Q&A with alumnus Angela Blanton: VP and CFO at Carnegie Mellon University
From electrical engineering to University CRO
Angela Blanton (BSE EE 1993) was recently named vice president for Finance and chief financial officer for Carnegie Mellon University. After graduating from U-M, she worked at Delphi and Chrysler Motors Corp. as an electrical engineer. She then returned to academia to earn her MBA from the Tepper School of Busines at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). She returned to her second alma mater after nine years at PPG Industries and another 8 years at PNC, where she rose to the rank of VP and CFO at PNC Financial Services.
At CMU, Blanton is responsible for providing strategic leadership for the university’s business and finance functions, as well as for the management of its financial and capital resources. She oversees Audit Services, Treasurer’s Office, Controller’s Office, Procurement Services, Budget and Financial Planning, and Business Systems and Services. [read more about her role at CMU]
We asked Angela a few questions about her career.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up on the northwest side of Detroit. I attended Detroit Public Schools including Cass Technical High School.
What did you do at Delphi and Chrysler?
I spent my early career working as an electrical engineer at both of these companies. At Delphi, I worked as a Manufacturing and Process Engineer to maintain and improve test equipment for analog and digital circuit boards. I also initiated a bar code scanning system to track products through the process. At Chrysler, I worked as a Resident Engineer for the Minivan Platform Group to diagnose product and process problems at Chrysler and supplier manufacturing locations. This included reassessing new product designs and developing alternative solutions for improved manufacturability.
Why did you decide to get your MBA?
After working as an engineer in manufacturing environments in summer intern positions and as my first full time jobs, I wanted to understand the business of manufacturing from a more holistic point of view. This included having awareness of internal and external factors and applying management tools to strategically position an organization for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
After getting married [to U-M and EECS alumnus Shawn Blanton], I moved to Pittsburgh where I decided to make the career change – so I enrolled in an MBA program. The Tepper MBA program at Carnegie Mellon was full of engineers, so I fit right in! I was able to enhance my project management and leadership skills and delve deeper into business administration, in which I’ve always had a keen interest. The Tepper School of Business at CMU is a top-ranked program, and my great experience there was part of the reason why I decided to pursue a position in CMU’s Finance Division.
Working in the world of finance seems to be a fairly typical non-traditional career path. What is it about finance that complements electrical engineering?
Engineering and finance require strong teamwork as well as analytic and problem-solving skills. In both disciplines, you have to think in a logical and analytical framework to evaluate data and then quantify, which is useful in performing analysis.
My process orientation as an engineer has been invaluable in my efforts in finance to streamline processes and increase effectiveness. Both fields require constantly looking for opportunities to improve processes and performance.
Has your EE degree and/or being a Michigan graduate helped you in your current job?
Attending the University of Michigan helped me to develop an appreciation for the role research universities play in addressing problems that are important to society. My team works with CMU leaders as they make decisions to strategically allocate resources to support the university’s educational and research mission. It’s exciting to see how our students, faculty, staff and alumni are having an impact on the world in areas such as brain science, robotics, the arts, policy and the environment.
What are some of your best memories from Michigan?
Hanging out in the Engineering Learning Resource Center (ELRC). Derrick Scott and his staff were extremely supportive and provided a ‘comfortable’ and ‘safe’ space for minority engineering students to learn from each other, support one another and to develop lasting friendships. Other fond memories include time spent in my favorite dorm Stockwell Hall, serving the community with my sorority sisters, pizza at Cottage Inn, pancakes at Angelos, the craziness of game days when I lived in an apartment on Main Street, the hype of the Fab 5 and the commencement address by Hillary Clinton the year of my graduation. The education I received both in and outside of the classroom, interacting with my sorority sisters, classmates and professors, has had a lasting impact on me.
Do you have any advice for students based on your unique path?
Education continues long after you graduate, so you should approach each day as an opportunity to learn something new. It will help you to embrace new personal and professional challenges, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, take risks and grow. But also make sure to take time out to celebrate your accomplishments and to relax and reflect.
Issues of Diversity –
Was the lack of diversity at Michigan an issue for you?
Have you done anything in your own career to help with issues of diversity?
After growing up in the city of Detroit which is majority African-American, there was a bit of culture shock when I arrived in Ann Arbor. Luckily, I had several friends from Detroit who also attended Michigan. Through this support network as well as my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, and the ELRC, I had the outlets I needed to feel more at ease. The availability of these groups to lean on helped me to feel more comfortable exploring cultures and perspectives from different parts of the country and the world while at Michigan. Michigan provided me a rich experience of exploration in many aspects that contributed to my ability to adapt in different work environments.
While at PNC, I was a part of the leadership teams for two different employee business resource groups, African-American Employee Business Resource Group (EBRG) and Finance Diversity EBRG. This allowed me the opportunity to advise executive management on diversity issues, leverage the EBRGs to enhance business opportunities and provide opportunities for employees to engage with executive leadership and celebrate diversity. The African-American EBRG was recognized as number one in 2014 by PRISM International Inc.’s ERG [Employee Resource Group] and Council Honors Award for implementing initiatives that grew revenue, increased productivity, improved customer service and also led to demonstrated leadership in the community. The Finance Diversity Council was ranked eighteen in the same year.
As part of CMU’s senior leadership team, I regularly participate in discussions about our commitment to creating a collaborative, interdisciplinary environment open to the free exchange of ideas, where research, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship can flourish. CMU is committed to attracting world-class talent, so we actively look for opportunities to retain and promote individuals within our organization.
I’m very proud to be a part of a university community that is making great strides in building a culture of support for women in technology. This academic year, CMU reached a new high-water mark, with women making up 48 percent of the incoming undergraduate class in the School of Computer Science and 43 percent of our College of Engineering, between two and three times the national averages for those fields.
Do you feel you have work/life issues to deal with, and if so, any advice for women?
Achieving that balance is a universal challenge. It affects all of us who work in an office, home, field or elsewhere. I can’t say enough how important it is to make sure to take time out to celebrate your accomplishments and to relax and reflect as a means to recharge. Here at Carnegie Mellon, we take work/life balance seriously and we keep that in mind at all levels and as part of our strategic plan. We strive to build an organizational culture in which health and wellness is considered a foundation for lifelong success and happiness.