What does it mean to grow up as a first-generation immigrant and a military brat? If you’re Kristine Carpenter, you literally keep moving.
“Living in vastly different places from an early age really pushed me to become comfortable with the uncomfortable because my surroundings were constantly changing,” Carpenter reflects. “Dealing with an ever-changing environment gave me critical skills of being able to connect with everybody and quickly adapt to new situations.”
She leaned into the chaos of new cultures and embraced the opportunities that come with them. Carpenter became the first in her family to attend college when she enrolled at the University of Virginia in 2004. There, her professors encouraged her to broaden her horizons and encouraged her to be inquisitive and pursue fields of study that would enable her to find her passions.
Carpenter followed their advice: She decided to study English and psychology. After she graduated college in 2008, she earned her JD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2011. By the end of that year, she landed her first role as a corporate associate with a mid-sized law firm in Pittsburgh. While at the law firm, Carpenter honed her skills by working every facet of a transaction, from drafting to diligence to negotiating.
Once Carpenter entered her third year at the firm, she evaluated her career options, hoping to find a position that would allow her to utilize her corporate training in an international context to work on cross-border transactions. Then, she took a leap of faith: she joined rail equipment manufacturer Wabtec Corporation, a multinational business headquartered in Pittsburgh, as an attorney in 2014. She joined a small in-house team of lawyers where her broad-based corporate background lent itself well to an in-house practice.
“I was able to have a substantive role very early on in my career, simply because I wasn’t at a law firm where there were thirty-five corporate associates. I was hired as the fifth lawyer at my company,” Carpenter says. “I had an exceeding amount of responsibility from the start. It was a really energetic time.”
In her eight year-tenure at the company, Carpenter has held the titles of senior corporate attorney and director. Currently, she is vice president of legal, M&A, and corporate governance.
Since joining Wabtec, Carpenter has architected over thirty deals that catapulted Wabtec to $8 billion in annual revenues and a Fortune 300 company. She considers her work on its $11.1 billion merger with GE Transportation the proudest moment of her career. “For a deal lawyer, that was my Super Bowl in the sense that all of my training led me to this moment where I could work on a deal that had people in multiple countries across multiple disciplines that would be transformative for the company,” Carpenter says. “For deals the size of [GE], the fundamentals and the training become crucial to staying grounded and pushing the deal forward.”
Behind the scenes, Carpenter thrives in an in-house environment because she goes beyond acknowledging teamwork as a nice-to-have. She embraces the challenge of juggling competing interests in a global conglomerate. “It’s that focus on having the right team around you and making sure it’s a team that you trust,” she explains. “Because you’re relying on many people to feed you information so that you can make these critical decisions.”
She also leads Wabtec’s employee resource group (ERG), the Asian Pacific Forum, for Wabtec employees based in the Americas. “For a very long time, there weren’t a lot of women or people of color in the spaces that I was working in, and I hope to change the perceptions of who belongs in the corporate space,” Carpenter says about what inspires her work with the ERG.
According to Ascend and the Harvard Business Review, Asian Americans represent less than 5 percent of directors at Fortune 1000 companies and are the least likely group to be promoted to management roles. As such, she refuses to sit back and allow the status quo to continue. “I am now in a place where I can help the people who are coming up behind me,” Carpenter says. “I feel a deep sense of responsibility to make sure that I’m opening doors in the same way that doors opened for me. A commitment to service has given me a new sense of purpose in my job as well.”
Meanwhile, Carpenter advises young attorneys on embracing every opportunity to develop in their careers. “No one will invest more in your career than yourself,” Carpenter says. “Always know the journey that you’re on. Be questioning, open, and curious about the projects that you take and how they can lead to your personal and professional development. Architecting a long-term career is intimidating, so I always break down each step and think about how each project will lead to the next opportunity.”