Catching up with … Linda Bowden

Former head of PNC Bank talks about retirement: How she’s learned to love golf — and how to guard her time

Linda Bowden, known as much for her longtime leadership at PNC Bank as her commitment to the state’s business and philanthropic communities, gives the obvious answer when asked about her favorite aspect of retirement.

“Time is our most precious resource — and the greatest advantage of retirement is that it gives you control over your own time,” she said.

One of the ways she has been spending that time hasn’t been so obvious — or, at least, it wasn’t initially obvious to her that it would be a big part of her retirement: golf.

“I confess — the only thing that I didn’t expect was that golf would actually play a prominent role on my list of fun things to do,” she said.

Of course, controlling one’s time easier said than done. Bowden said has been a lesson in retirement, too.

“I’ve learned to trust my instincts and stop saying, ‘Yes,’ to everything,” she said. “Instead, I needed to take a few months off and practice saying, ‘No.’

“In the early months of retirement, I tended to want to stay connected, so I eagerly said, ‘Yes’ to multiple requests. However, I learned that, when I stepped back, opportunities developed that I did not foresee.

“So, I’ve learned to judiciously guard my time and to spend/invest it carefully in people and activities that really matter to me.”

Bowden, who retired from PNC last summer, talked with ROI-NJ about what’s she has been doing since. Here’s a look at the conversation, edited for space and clarity.

ROI-NJ: How did you plan for your retirement? How far in advance did you begin preparing? In retrospect, was there anything you would’ve done differently?

Linda Bowden: This is a great question to start our conversation. I have often heard people say that they did not plan for retirement far enough in advance. In fact, many people I have talked to acknowledge that they ignored their own good advice concerning having a strategic plan in place long before making a significant change. Knowing when and how to retire is a tough decision. But, once you finalize your plans, having a strong team behind you makes a big difference in the process.

At PNC, we allocated the right amount of lead time to ensure the integration of my successor, Enrico Della Corna. This enabled him to draw on his many years of experience as an influential leader as he eased into his new responsibilities in the bank and in the communities we serve.  Our leadership team worked seamlessly with Enrico and me to foster a smooth handoff based on honesty and candor, which resulted in building the confidence of the entire PNC staff. In doing so, we eliminated much of the stress that can occur when significant organizational changes take place in an atmosphere of distrust.

ROI: Was there any part of the retirement process that you wished you could do differently?

LB: Unfortunately, the presence of a global pandemic changed some of our well-laid plans.   Although completely out of our control, one thing I greatly regret is that because of COVID, I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye in person to most of the people I worked with for more than a decade.

This unusual set of circumstances had a negative impact on my ability to reach out to friends, business associates, team members and community leaders. But, at the same time, the shelter-in-place concept provided me with a bit of a ‘practice run’ at what it might be like when I no longer went into an office on a daily basis! In fact, the sudden end of the routine I had been following for my entire career gave me a sneak peek into the what the future could look like.

ROI: You talked about having a new appreciation of time. Tell us more.

LB: Throughout my career, I always followed a rigidly scheduled day. But all of that has fallen away during retirement, freeing me to prioritize my days as I choose. For decades, I thoroughly enjoyed my career in banking, finding it ultimately both satisfying and rewarding.

But the newly discovered gift of unscheduled time expanded my horizons instantly, allowing me the opportunity to pursue some things outside the scope of my professional life that make my heart sing. I’ve joined a hiking club, a kayaking club, I read books (sometimes in the middle of the day), I make time to visit with beloved aging family and friends, while also making space in my day to ponder a crossword puzzle.

My golf game is improving — that’s the best I can say about that aspect, but what matters most during retirement is that I have the chance to do the things I feel passionate about.

ROI: What has been the best part of your retirement?

LB: Getting married was the highlight of my retirement so far. And I can’t imagine anything else that can top it!  In November 2021, I married John Sims — a terrific man — and I can assure you that he is helping me fill up my freshly acquired spare time.

ROI: You were known as much for your efforts in the community as at the bank. How have you been able to stay connected to that part of your life?

LB: I continue to contribute to five boards; three these are nonprofit boards, including the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Hackensack Meridian Health. Additionally, I remain very involved on two corporate boards: Jersey Central Power & Light and the Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation.

My post-retirement engagement on these boards affords me the chance to continuously be exposed to smart people, participate in problem-solving while staying connected to local issues that greatly impact New Jersey, as well as participating in decisions that affect us regionally and nationally. I am delighted to spend time supporting these organizations.

ROI: Is there anything you miss from your pre-retirement world?

LB: The one thing I really miss are the wonderful people I worked with over so many years. I was fortunate enough to enjoy many warm and fulfilling relationships all across New Jersey and the Northeast — and those friendships will never really be replaced.  I do stay in touch with many people, but, of course, COVID has put some tight restrictions on that as well.

ROI: Any words of advice for those who are about to retire?

LB: I never thought of myself as a philosopher, but, as I was thinking about what retirement advice I might offer, I realized that many of the insights I have gained during this past year are actually lifelong lessons that I only considered recently.

One is to give yourself grace.

We all need to savor the moment, have gratitude for each day and be grateful for having the chance to do absolutely nothing sometimes. In other words, stop expecting so much of yourself.

Sally Glick, the chief growth strategist at SobelCo and widely regarded as one of the top networkers in the state, is a regular contributor to ROI-NJ.