Lehigh University alum J. Penney Frohling ‘85, owner of the London-based Ethos Partners, has four decades of experience in financial consulting

Over the course of her 40-year career in financial services consulting, Lehigh University alumni J. Penney Frohling ‘85 has partnered with some of the world’s leading insurers, wealth managers, and consumer banks to deliver growth and create value for her customers.

In September, Frohling started her own firm, the London-based Ethos Partners, which specializes in corporate strategy and financial services. With her company, she sought not only to provide world-class management consulting services to her clients, but also to create a welcoming and robust work environment for women at all career levels. 

“I am very tired of dealing with male-dominated consulting environments where I am in a very small minority of senior individuals,” Frohling said. “What I’m very passionate about, particularly with my own firm, is really creating an environment where we frankly don’t have the nonsense of very male-dominated environments, where it’s very difficult for us to be successful.”

Lessons from Lehigh

A headshot of Penny Frohling
J. Penney Frohling

Frohling has long stayed involved with Lehigh initiatives and its alumni network, as well as supporting the work of Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs (OIA). Having lived and worked in London since 1996, she understands the importance of Lehigh not only being engaged internationally, but also in making that engagement a natural and organic part of Lehigh’s DNA.

“Lehigh can provide opportunities to do what I did, but it took me 10 years to get into that kind of situation,” Frohling said. “If Lehigh can lower some of those barriers and create that opportunity, you’re going to have an amazing cadre of people at a much younger age who are global citizens and have a much more worldly view. I think that’s quite remarkable.”

Frohling earned a B.A. in English in 1985. That prepared her for a career in financial services consulting in unexpected ways, she said, because that liberal arts major forced her to absorb massive amounts of information in very concentrated periods of time, while also developing an understanding of context and patterns within that information.

“The way I approach my profession is actually quite academic,” she said. “I'm always on the edge of learning something new, of dealing with ambiguity, but being able to do research and parse through massive amounts of information and find very logical patterns for explaining them. There's a level of learning that was forged at Lehigh that I’ve always carried with me.”

A 40-Year Career

Frohling was one of the nearly 100 alumni who attended a London event hosted by President Joseph J. Helble ‘82 in March. She feels Lehigh’s alumni community is “very enthusiastic and willing to help,” and they can assist Lehigh by staying engaged and sharing observations, best practices, and touch points with the university over protracted periods of time.

“People like me and my peers can help and support women coming out of Lehigh, both the younger, recent graduates, and also women at different points in their career,” she said. “There are a lot of very successful women alumni at Lehigh, and it would be great to tap into that network to help other women in the Lehigh family who are coming up through the ranks.”

Frohling spent the first decade of her nearly 40-year career working at Citibank, where she worked in corporate, marketing strategy, and product development positions, becoming a Vice President. During her final year at Citibank in 1994, she began focusing on international work in Asia, Europe, and Latin American, and decided she wanted to continue in that sphere.

She received her MBA from Switzerland’s IMD Business School in 1995. During her time at the graduate school, there were students from 82 different nationalities, and fellow students who spoke six languages fluently. This experience further instilled in her the importance of international engagement and education.

“If you don’t live a life where you have that kind of exposure, then you’re probably quite limited and missing out on a lot,” she said.

Moving to London

Penny Frohling on a beach
J. Penney Frohling has remained engaged with Lehigh University, and feels the Lehigh alumni community is "very enthusiastic and willing to help."

After receiving her MBA, Frohling moved to London so she could get maximum exposure to different industry sectors within financial services. She started working in consulting with the expectation of returning to banking within a few years, but instead she remained in consulting for the next three decades.

Frohling worked at Gemini Consulting Partners, A.T. Kearney, and Booz & Company before becoming a senior partner at EY-Parthenon in 2013, working with corporate boards and CEOs on issues related to growth and value creation. She has worked in “pretty much every country in Europe,” as well as nations like Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

“In my 40-year consulting career, I've lived through a lot of the very fundamental changes that have happened in the management consulting sector, from consolidations to split-ups,” she said. “So I'm kind of a living breathing example of what's happened in the sector over quite a long period of time.”

Frohling has been involved in various elements of Lehigh’s presence in London since moving there in 1996. As part of a project for former Lehigh President Greg Farrington, she interviewed more than 30 Lehigh alumni living in the United Kingdom as a means to reconnect the network and get input on ways they could continue to engage with the university.

She also previously joined the alumni board as an international representative at Farrington’s invitation, and she helped the alumni office arrange a major alumni gathering at the Royal Automobile Club in May 2003, which she described as one of the first events of its kind in London. She has also hosted gatherings for Lehigh students studying abroad in London.

An Engaged International Community

Frohling said Lehigh has always been very enthusiastic about connecting with and leveraging its international community, and she feels that Lehigh’s borders are becoming wider and more fluid as the world has become even more connected and porous due to social media and the ease of connecting virtually via software like Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

“It is exciting to hear about the number of students coming and going from Bethlehem, the increase in the number of applicants from abroad, and the vibrant communities of former Lehigh grads and post grads popping up across almost all of the seven continents,” she said.

Frohling began Ethos Partners after aging out of EY-Parthenon’s mandatory age cap for partners. In addition to her work there, she is a strong advocate for women in her industry, and is also an Angel Investor with Angel Academe, an Angel Investor network focused on funding for women-founded startups focused on disruptive technologies.

“It’s a very well-known fact that women struggle to get funding for their startups,” Frohling said. “There's an inherent, quite deep bias in funding sources, because a lot of these sources are heavily male-dominated, and women just naturally, regardless of their level of credibility and experience, there's a discount factor applied.”

Frohling has also been involved with articles and research projects supporting equality for women in the corporate world.

“I am quite passionate about the fact that women need to support one another, and those of us who are very experienced people can make a really significant difference in creating the kind of companies and creating the infrastructure where we help other women be successful,” she said.