The Corporate Citizen

By Debra D'Agostino  |  Posted 04-06-2007

NAME: Brennon Marcano
TITLE: Software Systems Specialist
COMPANY: Prudential Financial Inc.
QUOTE: "To me, 'no' always meant 'not right now' "

Brennon Marcano has no direct reports, but he does have a growing throng of young, loyal followers. Marcano, a 33-year-old software systems specialist at Prudential Financial Inc., where he manages online client account services, spearheaded a student mentoring project at the firm that's giving disadvantaged youth new opportunities in technology careers, allowing the financial services company's IT shop to think more creatively about how it staffs its projects.

The idea for the program first came to him in 2005, when Marcano, who has worked at Prudential for more than a decade, was a part-time student in Columbia University's continuing education program. There, he met Art Langer, curricular development chairman of Columbia's Continuing Education Technology Programs and a faculty member in the university's Graduate School of Education. Langer is founder of Workforce OutSource Services, a not-for-profit that prepares disadvantaged high school graduates for careers in IT by training them in a three-semester certification course offered through Columbia University's Engineering School.

Marcano, who completed his master's in technology management last May, saw an opportunity: partner with Workforce OutSource Services and bring the young trainees to Prudential, where they could get on-the-job experience to enhance their skills. "Pru is very into these kinds of charitable ventures, but there is also a double bottom-line concept here," he says. "We are doing something for society, but at the end of the day we are getting a quality resource [student trainees] that can compete with offshore operations at a fraction of the price."

Marcano shared his idea with Prudential CIO Barbara Koster. She asked Marcano to write a formal internal business case detailing how the program would be managed, complete with cost and ROI estimates. She and Marcano then presented their case to the executive board. "Brennon is an enthusiastic professional whose never-give-up attitude and flexibility with people are definite assets," Koster says.

It isn't often that a mid-level employee gets his ideas in front of executives of one of the world's largest companies, and it took patience, persistence and a lot of preparation to convince upper management to give Marcano the green light. But then, Marcano isn't the sort of person who gives up without a fight. "To me, 'no' always meant 'not right now,' " he says. "Sometimes you have to give an idea a chance to swirl around in people's heads before it gets traction." It took several months to get the final go-ahead.

Now in its second year, the program includes 10 students, six of whom will work at Prudential as part of their applications and software development certificate training. Once training is complete, Prudential hires the graduates as full-time consultants, and they begin work on high-level, strategic IT initiatives that include Web 2.0 development, companywide system upgrades, and improvements in IT security. Prudential won't disclose how much it has invested in the program, but Marcano says the company is getting its money's worth. "These consultants are definitely contributing to the bottom line," he says.

Throughout the process, Marcano acts as a mentor, teaching some of the Columbia courses the trainees take and guiding them through their Prudential duties after they graduate. "He's an inspiration," says Rafaelle Danta, 19, one of the program's first graduates and a full-time consultant for Prudential. By day, Danta works on implementing single sign-on capabilities across all of Prudential's internal applications. At night, he's earning an undergraduate degree in computer science and information systems at Kean University in Union Township, N.J. "Brennon has encouraged me to diversify my skills, and to be willing to learn from everyone," Danta says. When issues spring up among the consultants, it's Marcano they turn to for mediation. "I have yet to see him unnerved, and that to me is a true sign of leadership," Danta says.

In an age when more and more IT jobs are going offshore, Marcano sees the program as a way to encourage corporations to turn to their own local communities instead of sending valuable jobs overseas. While he certainly doesn't expect such programs to replace offshore outsourcing entirely, "this approach could be an alternative to outsourcing someday," he says.

A bit idealistic? Perhaps. But as Marcano continues to move up the IT ranks at Prudential, aspiring to the CIO role and eventually to CEO of a corporation, he plans to remain focused on supporting Workforce OutSource Services' efforts to expand nationwide. "I want to help the Workforce consulting model become self-sustaining and expand to other Ivy League universities like Harvard. I see no reason why it shouldn't."