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Martha St Jean

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Winning: A Talk with Carla Harris

Posted: 09/30/09 05:22 PM ET

For the fifth conversation in this series, I spoke to Carla Harris. Carla Harris is a managing director at Morgan Stanley. She has received numerous accolades and awards. She wrote the book, Expect to Win: Proven Strategies for Success from a Wall Street Vet. Within the book you will find Carla's "pearls," which are lessons she has learned during her twenty-plus year journey. She is also an accomplished singer.

I first heard you speak at a women's power breakfast and was captivated for the 45 minutes you spoke. How do you do it? By it, I mean stay focused and relate to people from all walks of life.

First of all, I sort of think of myself as every woman, if you will. Relating to people is not a problem. I honor everybody's power. No matter who they are or whatever station in life they are in. That in itself is the connection.

You are considered a titan on Wall Street. And you happen to be an African-American woman and Wall Street titan. How has that shaped you? In what ways has that changed how you use your voice?

It has not shaped me particularly. I don't necessarily think of myself as a titan. I think of myself as a woman who worked very hard to get to the top of her profession; and I use the platform and voice to motivate and help others to reach their potential and goals.

This question is personal for me. I have been speaking to many women -- peers, colleagues, and younger women, including teens, about their futures. My career is in its initial stages. It is at times hard for me to give advice. How do I help people figure out if something like journalism is right for them?

Your focus is to try to give them the tools that you have learned so far, whatever that is, and their focus is to execute what you have given them. If you are focused on helping other people, you will get your returns; you don't really do it to expect something back. You will get your returns in ways that you can't even imagine.

You recently wrote a book, Expect to Win. Growing up did you picture yourself as someone who would one day wield such power and influence?

I knew that I would do something that was important. I always wanted to have power, in order to motivate others to reach their goals.

When did you see yourself as an author?

Probably within the last five years when I was giving speeches at college campuses, at Fortune 100 companies and professional conferences. As I would articulate the pearls in the speeches people would invariably come up to me afterwards and say, "Do you have a book" or "I didn't get the sixth pearl, could you repeat it?" I finally got the divine message and decided to put the pearls in a book.

There's no doubt about it that you are successful. There are so many different definitions of success. Can you give us a piece of advice about defining success for ourselves?

The one piece is know yourself well and make sure that you can hear your own voice.

Many times we lose our voices.

Easily. We give away our voices and our power so easily. If you think about it, from age zero until age 22, i would argue, we are really articulating somebody else's definition of success for us. It's probably around the college age through age 25 or 26 that you begin to find your own definition of success and you start hearing your own voice. It is imperative that you hear your own voice when trying to define what success means to you. If you don't have that, how do you define what success means to you? Success really becomes what others have said should be your definition of success.

From my understanding, your family was supportive in your endeavors. What should young women do who do not have the support?

You should actually continue to find other people who will be supportive of your endeavors. None of us chooses the family we have been born into. You can find other people and meet other people who are excited about you and will celebrate towards you and the things that you want to accomplish. It could be teachers, friends, parents of friends, clergy people. There are a lot of people that you could come into contact with that will serve as that support and as members of your success team.

The first thing that struck me when I met you was your attitude of humility. How do you maintain grace under pressure?

Again, it goes back to the first question of feeling like I'm every woman. Really owning that is what comes across as humility. I don't think that I am better or worse than anybody. That's what people would recognize as humility.

Grace under pressure is really about faith -- recognizing who really is divinely running my show. If you know that you know who is running the show and that things will always turn out for your good, then you don't get frazzled and let things get to you.


I would like to talk about the economy. Morgan Stanley refashioned itself about a year ago as a bank holding company making itself more or less like a commercial bank to survive the economic crisis. How are things going now?

Things are going well and we are well positioned to take advantage of an improving environment. You've probably heard me say that I'm a bull and that I'm bullish generally. As we speak, the market is up 137 points.

What conversation about the economy do Americans, especially the younger generations need to be having now?

Number one -- assert their voices. The younger generation should assert their voices about opportunities they see for growth. My generation cannot see everything and certainly don't have the perspective of the millenials. Number two -- assert themselves. Get involved now with the growth and put your imprimatur on it now because you will be leading things in the next twenty to thirty years.

Is America headed in the right direction?

I think so. Here's the bull talking again. I am very excited about where we are headed as a country and the opportunities that lie ahead of us.

What should college students and young adults be thinking about money? Is there a certain way we should be thinking about money?

They should be thinking about learning to manage money, having a good relationship with money, understanding money. The requirements of managing their money will be a lot different than the requirement of two generations before them. Financial education is an important imperative for college students and below right now.

I have heard you say some things about maintaining a balanced life. Can you speak about the outside activities you participate in?

I think it's very important that you have other things in your life besides your professional pursuits that bring you joy, that you are passionate about, that will keep you balanced. If all you have is work -- then your life becomes a function of someone else's day. I am passionate about serving. So, I am involved in non profits focusing on education, the arts, health care, and hunger. So those are some of the things I do. I am passionate about singing, so I do a lot of that as well.

 

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