REP.: At the beginning of your tenure, you took some bold steps, changing around divisions and leadership roles. What was gained through the changes?
Shelley O’Connor: I’m a believer in having a streamlined, tight management team. But this was really about talent. It was about putting the best people in front of our financial advisors and our clients, pure and simple. These are people I’ve known for years, so it’s a very transparent, very direct relationship with all of them, which is how I manage.
REP.: Many advisors want that personal interaction with senior management. Do you think streamlining those roles takes away from that at all?
SO: No, I don’t. Our structure is division directors, eight regional directors, and then complex managers. We have about 80 complex managers across the country, and I didn’t make any changes with respect to complex managers.
REP.: Technology has been a hurdle for Morgan Stanley in recent years. Any plans to change that?
SO: A few pertain to the client. We’re planning a complete overhaul of our online systems. We are also going to completely upgrade the client bill pay functionality. We launched a mobile app on the iPhone a few months ago, and we’ll launch one on Android early next year. We’re also completely relaunching our performance reporting that we send to clients.
We feel like we have a new platform that has taken us two years to work on and we will continue to make enhancements on. From a reliability and speed standpoint, we’re making a big investment this year to replace all the desktops and workstations on every advisor’s desk in every branch. We’re very focused around efficiency, so speed and stability of the overall platform is very important to us. We feel that with these new desktops, we’ll be in an even better position than we are today.
REP.: How do you view your role as a female in senior management?
SO: I’ve held many different roles, from junior positions when I walked in the door in 1984, all the way up to my current position. I’ve been given an extraordinary opportunity, and I would say the reason I’ve never left Morgan Stanley is that I truly believe it is a meritocracy. The harder you work, if you stay focused and work very hard, over time you benefit in many ways. There have been some high highs and low lows. There were few women on Wall Street back in 1984 when I started. But it really hasn’t been a barrier for me.
I am keenly interested and very focused on bringing more women into this business, particularly in the role of either a financial advisor or as a manager. I’m going to be enlisting a lot of our senior women across the country to help us recruit new women coming into the business as well as women from other firms, because I want Morgan Stanley to be the best place for women to work. I just think that women are so well-suited for the wealth management business.
REP.: I’ve heard that you used to watch Wall Street Week with your grandfather growing up. Did that have an impact on your career?
SO: Yes, wow, that’s true. We watched “Wall Street Week” every Friday night with Louis Rukeyser back in those days when I was in junior high school. My grandfather had a major impact on me. He was born in the late 1800s and grew up on a farm in southeast Missouri and put three of his sisters through college in the early 1920s. He was just a huge believer in women and women in business. I learned a lot from him. I never would’ve thought then that I’d be on Wall Street for 30 years. But some of it stuck.