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Morgan Stanley executive shares secrets to success

Carla Harris to speak at Simmons Women’s Leadership Conference

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Morgan Stanley executive shares secrets to success
Carla Harris, vice chairman of Global Wealth Management and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley, and one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 Simmons Leadership Conference on Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy the 2016 Simmons Leadership Conference)

Named to Fortune Magazine’s list of “The 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America,” Carla Harris has been blazing trails for more than 30 years. The financial powerhouse is the vice chairman of Wealth Management and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley.

In 2013, Harris was appointed by President Obama to chair the National Business Women’s Council, a panel that advises the president and Congress on economic issues important to women business owners.

Harris is also an accomplished author of two books, “Expect to Win: Proven Strategies for Success from a Wall Street Vet” and “Strategize to Win: The New Way to Start Out, Step Up, or Start Over in Your Career” and a renowned gospel singer who has performed five sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall in New York City. But, she may be best known on the lecture circuit as a motivational speaker who distills her words of wisdom known as “Carla’s Pearls” — culled from her years navigating Wall Street.

Harris will present the opening keynote address at this year’s sold out Simmons Leadership Conference on Tuesday, March 29 at the Seaport World Trade Center.

In a recent phone conversation, Harris spoke about the origins of “her pearls,” moving past one’s fear, and one of the biggest lessons she’s learned working on Wall Street.

At what point in your career did you develop “The Pearls”? How did that all come about?

Carla Harris: I acquired the pearls very early on in my career. In fact, I gave my first speech around “the pearls” in February of 1990 out at the University of Michigan, and I was only a third year associate. I wasn’t even a full three years but I had already acquired a couple of the pearls, and a lot of the pearls were acquired, really, by making mistakes. Something didn’t work out and then you reflect on it and then you say ‘Aw, that’s what I should have done.’ And of course the way life is it will send you that event again just to see if you’ve learned something. Of course when I found myself in that situation again, then I would apply the learning so that I could make sure that I had gotten the lesson life came to teach me again. I could confirm that the pearls worked. That’s why I can look at people so confidently and say ‘use the pearls. They work.’ Because they’ve been tried and tested in all kinds of environments: very intense, dynamic, competitive environments across all economic cycles, and they still work.

You talk about fear and that it has no place in our success equation. How do we get past that fear or remove that fear from preventing us from doing what we really want to do?

CH: The way that you remove the fear is that you ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ And, then get yourself comfortable with the worst outcome. Then you know it’s all upside from there. Let’s say you’re going to try to do something risky at work and you say ‘Wow, but the outcome could be I could get fired.’ Chances are it’s probably not going to have that kind of repercussion but let’s say that it did. Then the thought process ‘OK, if I got fired because I tried this thing,’ I would have learned something from my try and I know how to do it better the next time it comes around. And then you say to yourself, ‘I got this job. I will be able to get another one.’ Clearly, this is not the only one there, and I’m not suggesting that you take risks like that, but in the bigger scheme of things, and you know at the end of the day, you will be able to get another one. Then you can say, ‘That’s not my outcome that I want, but that happens.’ And at the end of the day, I’ll be okay so I’m going to go for it. That’s kind of how I get past those fears as I say ‘worst that can happen? What is it? Can you live with that?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ then I move forward.

You’ll be speaking at the Simmons Leadership Conference later this month. Why is it important for you to continue to speak at these events, to be a mentor, and to give back?

CH: Because these pearls, these lessons, I wish I had when I started my career. People were not as forthcoming in talking about what their challenges had been, and certainly not what their strategies had been, or certainly were at that time when they were speaking. I’ve found these have been so useful to me, that if I can help somebody further their career or propel their career then it’s worth it for me. If the only person that is benefitting from your learning is you, then what’s the point?

You’ve been on Wall Street for nearly 30 years. What’s been one of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned being there and that you’d like to pass on to the next generation?

CH: That your destiny really is in your control and it’s about not giving away your power. That’s a really big lesson. I realized how easily we give away our power by taking on things that other people say about us or feeling insecure because someone makes a comment here or there. You have to remember that if you have got to the seat that you’ve got to, then you deserve to get to that seat. Nobody gave you anything. You were that smart. You were that good with respect to your execution skills. You belong in that role. So, how dare you question whether or not ‘well, did they make a recording mistake? Should I be in this room? Oh, maybe they’ll find out that maybe I shouldn’t be here and they’ll kick me out of the room.’ That’s negative talk that we give ourselves sometimes that frankly impair your ability to move forward. The big lesson is, know you have the power and own that power, and don’t give it away so easily.