“Nobody can be you the way that you can be you,” said Carla Harris, vice chair of wealth management and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley. Harris has built a successful career there since 1987, holding one of the most influential roles in the wealth management industry, and was named to the National Women’s Business Council by President Obama in 2013. In addition, she is an author and a recording gospel artist with four CDs.
This month, Harris spoke to Broad students in a fireside chat as part of a series of virtual speaker presentations organized by the Broad College’s Financial Planning and Wealth Management program and Morgan Stanley. Although the program was only introduced four years ago, it is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after academic pathways at MSU.
Christopher Letts (B.A. Finance ’06), cofounder of the Pine Harbor Group (a wealth management firm within Morgan Stanley) and a member of the finance department’s advisory board, introduced Harris and urged students to ask her questions.
Although wealth management can seem like a daunting career, Harris provided “pearls” of advice for everyone at the event. Her first pearl was all about being yourself in the workplace.
“Your authenticity is your distinct competitive advantage. Whenever you get any opportunity, including being in a seat at MSU, that means that somebody else did not get that opportunity because you were the best person,” she said.
Leaving an impact in any industry involves putting yourself out there. Sure, math is important in wealth management, but as her second pearl, Harris advised that making relationships with coworkers, mentors and clients is more important.
“You will need somebody else’s relationships in order to successfully prosecute any endeavor,” Harris said. She insisted that you can forge your own path in wealth management, but you need to build a base of professional and personal relationships to learn how to best succeed. When you’re authentically you, those relationships will naturally form because people will gravitate toward your creativity.
Harris also emphasized to students that clients do not just pick financial planners because of their professional skills and previous client history, but because of their personality.
“The entire business is built on relationships. There is so much information that is in the marketplace, and the business is always evolving. Even though you can study, read and learn, you’re going to need access to a relationship,” Harris said.
Oscar Garner, a senior studying finance and wealth management, was at the event and thought that Harris’s insights were unforgettable.
“Carla’s advice is timeless and will always be relevant, so I plan to use it as a compass to success,” he said. “I look forward to using her relationship building advice and her quote, ‘No one does it alone,’ as soon as I start working. I am very excited to navigate a new environment and try to build relationships along the way using the insights that Carla shared.”
Harris ended the discussion with her final pearl of advice, on the importance of failure.
“Failure always brings you a gift, and that gift is called experience. At the margin, it is always worth taking the risk,” she said. Wealth management is a constantly evolving field, and it is easy for students to feel overwhelmed by the endless possibilities that the industry offers. Harris guaranteed that the hard times always lead to something great.