When Deanna Byrne was named the first female managing partner in the 120-year history of PwC’s Philadelphia office in 2017, she admits she didn’t focus on the significance—or novelty—of the achievement.
Then, responses from students, fellow alumni and current and former PwC employees started to come in, and they made the 1992 LeBow graduate reflect more on the position she attained and the path she took to get there. “I’ve heard from alumni who said they never thought this would happen,” she says. “That’s very meaningful to me.”
That path started 30 years ago with her co-op at Coopers & Lybrand, which later merged with Price Waterhouse to form the company known today as PwC. She went on to spend her entire career thus far with the same company, and she has been a partner at PwC for 15 years.
Byrne says she was first drawn to Drexel due to the co-op program, as well as by a spot on the softball team. Like many Drexel graduates who went from co-op to career at the same company, Byrne credits the early introduction to corporate culture and to working in a business environment that she received through co-op with her long-term success.
“When I went on co-op at C&L, I had just finished my freshman year—I hadn’t even had an accounting class yet! What they decided to do was put you not on a client services staff role but in an internal facing role so you could really understand the way the firm operated as a business,” she says. “It gave me a leg up on my peers because I really understood not just the client-services side but what our business looked like and how it ran.”
That initial co-op experience led to her working and attending Drexel at the same time, deepening a professional connection that has lasted for decades. “The people I’ve worked with, both within the firm and at our clients, have been the friendliest, smartest, most creative and intellectually challenging that I’ve known, and they’ve become some of my best friends,” she says, adding that several fellow LeBow alums have had a major impact on her career at PwC: Dean Simone ’84 and, more recently, fellow partner and Dean’s Advisory Board member Carlos Moreira ’91. “Working with great people and doing challenging work have been a constant, and that combination has just made it something I always wanted to stay with.”
In assuming the managing partner role last year, Byrne had the occasion to look back on her career at PwC and the influence of one particular female mentor, Jean Cavuto. “I remember she always wore red to audit committee meetings,” she said—a wardrobe choice that stood out in a conservative industry in the early 1980s. “She really impressed upon me that our gender ultimately didn’t have anything to do with our success as long as you continue to put in the work and take advantage of opportunities, and that we could do that while being ourselves.”
She also notes that she worked closely with the previous managing partners and held them in high regard. “I had such respect for them, and so to be considered in their space was something I’m really grateful for,” she says. Having attained this position, “I take it as a responsibility that we continue our efforts in making sure we’re a really inclusive environment and that we demonstrate our commitment to diversity.”
Her advice to current students, both in accounting and in other fields? “Be confident: What you’re learning at LeBow and in the co-op experience will provide you with such a great opportunity to springboard your careers,” she says. “Work hard, think about what goals you have and set a plan to achieve them.”