Pearls of wisdom from a Wall Street veteran

Who doesn’t feel a shiver of trepidation when walking through the door of a new job for the first time? Imagine then being equipped with knowledge that will stock you up not only for the immediate knee trembling first few days but will also help you to keep your career on your specific chosen path for the future as well. Carla Harris Managing Director of Morgan Stanley Asset Management has written a book entitled ‘Expect to Win’ which promises just that. Carla was in Cayman recently to promote her book at Books and Books. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull has an exclusive interview with the Wall Street veteran and reports.

Being able to withstand 22 years on Wall Street in the high powered often frenetic world of high finance is a testament in itself to the strength of character and sheer determination that Carla Harris possesses in order to succeed. Having the ability to recognise and then share all the nuggets of wisdom gleaned over the years is a special talent that Carla has managed to develop with remarkable insight. Initially sharing her knowledge at the many conferences and lectures that she was asked to attend, Carla explains it was at such events that she realised she had a message to share in written form.

“I’ve had the privilege to speak at a number of college campuses and on MBA programmes as well as with Fortune 100 companies,” she says. “It was at these conferences that I would be approached by enthusiastic attendees asking me whether I had written a book with the divine message in for them to read!” she exclaims.

Carla says the penny dropped and she decided to compile her wide knowledge of business life into the much-acclaimed book – Expect to Win.

Learning to take control
Expect to Win was initially written to help college graduates and anyone starting a new job to take that first step into their new business environment, properly equipped to deal with the political environment, which, according to Carla, is often extremely difficult to navigate.

Carla says that people often forget their own power when they start a new job: “When you walk through the door you have already exercised your power. You made a choice to work for that particular company. You therefore need to take control of the situation and you can easily do that at the very start by exercising voice control.”

According to the author, it is in the individual’s power to control people’s perception of themselves, even from the very beginning.
The tools of the trade
Carla says her book is “industry agnostic” and furthers: “My pearls of wisdom as I like to call them are relevant to working professionals across the board, industry-wise – the financial services industry, marketing, media, medicine, anyone. They are tools that are useful in any working environment and indeed are useful not only to young college graduates but to seasoned professionals such as myself!”

Last year Carla moved out of investment banking into a new field of asset management and implemented her game plan from the get go.

Carla’s Pearls

Have a plan
Carla says this is vital because it sets out what you want to achieve in the first three months of your new position and allows you to make a mark on the organisation by being able to chart your progress and offer this information to your employer.

“Think about what you want out of this new job and how you are going to go about achieving your goals,” she says. “And then extend that personal plan to include the first 12 months. Having a plan helps you from making decisions based upon emotion that might deter you from your plan.”

Carla says that for example you might be tempted to resign after a particularly bad day, week or month. “But if the job you are in will help you to achieve your goals quicker than another job then you ought to stick with the plan,” she states.
“Have you completed what you set out to do? If the answer is no then you may have to refocus your energies and bear down harder on your goals to ensure that you reach them,” she adds.

Leverage your network
“It is not good enough to simply be good at what you do. You need to make the right connections and find people who will be there to teach you the ropes,” she confirms. “Find yourself a sponsor; someone who will be looking out for your welfare, someone who will champion your cause.”

Think how others see you
Carla suggests finding three adjectives that you hope others would use to describe yourself and work hard to then achieve that description.

“You will not be in the room when new promotions are given or new assignments handed out, so you need to constantly live up to who you really are and be authentic, to ensure others know the real you,” she explains.

But while thinking about these adjectives, Carla says it is vital to bear in mind what the company is actually looking for in its personnel, and understand the core values of the organisation.

“You need to appreciate what is valued in the company and align your strengths with what is required,” she confirms. For her own part, Carla says she chooses “tough”, “commercial” and “fair” as her own three personal traits.

“It really depends on your environment as to what adjectives you might choose,” Carla concedes. “I chose tough because in the high pace intense world in which I work some decisions that I have to make are tough. Commercial has been an important attribute for me since I first started work, so this has been an adjective that I have used constantly about myself. It is important for me to be valued by my employer. Finally, I chose fair because I manage a team of people and it is important for me that they respect me so that they will follow my leadership. I don’t think you can earn that respect without being fair.”

In her early years Carla says she described herself as “analytical” and “quantative” but says these adjectives would most definitely change depending on the industry.

“You might choose “creative” if you were in the media, for example, or perhaps “solutions-orientated” if you were in consulting,” she says.

The path to knowledge
Using her long career as a font of knowledge, Carla says she has lived through making mistakes along the way, and these mistakes have helped her to shape the important guidance steps she now promotes.

“In particular, I learned how to manage perception,” she says. “I learned the hard way and realised after the fact that it was actually in my power to change perception from the very beginning. You need to learn how to leverage your voice and be heard in an organisation, because if you don’t ask you don’t get! I also learned how important a sponsor is in your career and that you just cannot go it alone.”

Looking ahead
Carla says that her book has been so successful that she is now working on a second book, highlighting even more life lessons that she believes will be useful to any professional in the workplace. In particular, she is currently expanding on the idea of the concept of the tool chest.

“We all have four useful tools in our own tool chests,” she explains. “We have our spiritual world, our academic background, our learning on the job and our network of partners. We should all be using these tools regularly, but we often don’t tend to make the best use of all four. I want to explore this notion further as I think the combination is such a positively useful asset for success.”