Q & A with Rahwa Teklai, Senior Vice President & Market Leader of PNC Private Bank
150th Anniversary, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Local Stories

Rahwa Teklai is senior vice president and market leader for PNC Private Bank in Central Pennsylvania. Based in Lancaster, Teklai is responsible for leading a highly experienced team in Central Pennsylvania to deliver PNC Private Bank capabilities and solutions to help clients reach their financial goals.

What brought you to Lancaster County?

My husband Dawit has been working at Armstrong Flooring, headquartered right here in Lancaster, for more than 20 years. Shortly after starting his career here, we moved to Southern California where our two children were born. In 2013, we left Southern California, and since then, we’ve lived in State College, Pa, Madison, Miss. and finally, in 2016, we made our way back to Lancaster and have been so glad to be living in this great region ever since.

How do you maintain a life work balance?

I’ve always been keenly focused on growing and accelerating my career, so creating work-life balance has not been easy. When our children were younger, working in Southern California and navigating Los Angeles traffic was very difficult as commuting added a few hours to the day away from my family. However, we were fortunate enough to have had excellent child care during that time. Knowing our children were in good hands allowed my husband and I the opportunity to focus on our careers. Now that we are back in Lancaster, work-life balance comes a little easier without that long commute. During the last eight years, I have also gotten back into running, which is something I do for myself. Now, running plays a big part in my work-life balance as well.

As a leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career that you had to overcome?

I was born and raised in Eritrea and arrived in the US at age of 14 with a 4th grade education. Needless to say, I had a lot of catching-up to do, from learning the English language to developing social skills and navigating the complexity of living in a new culture. What I’ve learned over my nearly 25-year career is that the process of building a powerful professional network can be extremely challenging, but it starts with each one of us. Individually, we need to assess and understand our natural leadership tendencies, have clarity around our goals and values so that we can connect with those individuals and work for organizations that are aligned with us and will help propel us forward. I have done that, and it has helped tremendously with my career. 

What was the opportunity/event etc. that defined a turning point in your career?  made you grow as a leader?

About 15 years ago, my manager saw my leadership potential and signed me up for a two-day speaking conference. At this point, I knew I wanted to be a leader and that I had natural leadership tendencies, but I felt my background as an immigrant and woman of color was holding me back. I had a realization that I was just surviving and not thriving the way I wanted to and was looking for a breakthrough. The training I attended was called The Speaking Intensive in Colorado Springs, Co. conducted by a hall-of-fame speaker Alan Parisse. I vividly remember the impact of those two days on my confidence and career. I had a breakthrough when I spoke to the audience openly about the challenges and struggles in my background. That speech showed me the power of vulnerability and authenticity when it comes to leadership, and it ultimately gave me the confidence to be me.

Who has inspired you along your career journey and why?

Every manager I’ve ever had has been a great leader and contributed to my journey by modeling true leadership for me. Through their great example and the interest they took in my career development, they have inspired me to get to where I am today. The author Brené Brown also comes to mind, and her book Dare to Lead is one of my favorite leadership books. Brené’s leadership research aligns with my leadership style, particularly leading “with strong backs, soft fronts and wild hearts.”

As a person of color how have you navigated to help others like yourself to elevate themselves within the community?

This is incredibly important to me, and I have found a lot of opportunity to get involved through PNC. Namely, I co-chair a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council for PNC Private Bank, which focuses on employee retention, attracting diverse talent and aligning our business strategy to ensure that we are is best serving our increasingly diverse clients and communities. I also give back to young women in our community through Lancaster Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that helps young girls build confidence and make intentional decisions, while fostering care and compassion for self and others. I truly believe this organization changes lives and is building the next generation of leaders in our community. That said, there is so much more I want to do. It was important to me that I established myself as a community member and leader, so that I would be well-positioned to lift others up.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders of color?

My advice to the next generation of leaders of color is to surround themselves with a solid network of peers and mentors to support them along the way as they build their career. I also encourage them to find a career they are passionate about so the job doesn’t feel like work. That is what I’ve done, and I can say I truly love my job leading PNC Private Bank in Central Pa. and working every day to help clients reach their financial goals.

The Lancaster Chamber is proud to be celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, alongside our business community. Our goal is to produce content related to our community’s collective business history, diversity, equity, and inclusion and our community’s commitment to thinking ‘future forward’ among other topics. As we transition from February (Black History Month) into March (Woman’s History Month) we are honored to be raising the voices and stories of Black women leaders in our community.

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