Women in Capital Markets: Shelley S. O’Connor

To celebrate Women’s History Month, SIFMA sought to spotlight several of its female board members. In this edition, we spotlight Shelley S. O’Connor, Chairman & CEO, Morgan Stanley Private Bank NA and Morgan Stanley Bank NA. She shares how her grandfather influenced her tireless work ethic, her leadership philosophies and how she developed her own career path.

How would you describe your role and responsibilities at Morgan Stanley?

As Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley’s U.S. Banks, I’m responsible for growing our banking offerings to help meet the borrowing and liquidity needs of our wealth management and institutional clients. Currently, one of my key focus areas is expanding our U.S. Banks’ digital capabilities to help extend our offer to a wider range of current and future clients. I also serve on the Boards of Catalyst and [email protected], two organizations dedicated to celebrating and advancing women at work.

When did you decide to pursue a career in financial services?

I never planned to work on Wall Street. I joined Morgan Stanley in San Francisco in 1984 right out of college, with the intention of working for a year before going on to graduate studies in Psychology. But after several weeks, I discovered the Monday morning Research meetings broadcast from New York, and soon after that, I was hooked. So I stayed and never looked back. This is such an exciting business, with endless possibilities for people who are willing to work hard, raise their hand and take risks. I also believe this is a noble profession, knowing that we can make a truly meaningful difference in the lives of our clients and communities.

Who is one of the biggest influencers/mentors in your life and career? Why?

My first — and possibly most influential — mentor, was my grandfather. He was born in 1898; he grew up on a farm and went to the University of Missouri. Out of a family of nine, he was the only one who kept a job during the Great Depression. He supported his entire family and, most impressive, he put his three sisters through college in the early 1930s. When I was young, he would come to visit my family in California, and these visits had a lasting impact. He introduced me to the world where I would make my career, as I sat with him on Friday nights and watched Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser. And we talked often about the importance of working as hard as you can, not compromising and being accountable for what you do. My work ethic today comes from him.

What was your experience as a woman in financial services at the beginning of your career and how has it changed over time?

When I started almost 37 years ago, there were very few women role models. Almost no women in senior roles at the firm, very few women in management roles or line jobs, and three women financial advisors. I was pretty much on my own to create my career path. Unlike today, there were no mentoring programs; I didn’t have a formal training program; no peer learning circles. It was hard going at first, but over time I found a number of very supportive male colleagues who served as mentors and then sponsors.

Today the industry is very different, reflecting the growing influence of women everywhere. Financial services firms today have so many women role models along with a wide range of programs to help attract, support and advance women in their careers. We have made a lot of progress, but there is always more we can do.

What are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?

Successful leaders today build a strong and diverse team that embraces a culture of excellence, and then they delegate responsibilities to that team and allow them to grow.

Successful leaders are also great listeners. We have seen over the past year how important this is as organizations responded to the effects of the pandemic on employees’ professional and personal lives, and as firms addressed the impact of last summer’s demonstrations for social justice through important firm-wide dialogue that has often led to meaningful action and change.

We thank Shelley for her service on SIFMA’s Board and remain humbled by her leadership, commitment, and passion. It was a pleasure to speak with her as part of this series and collaborate with her as an organization. 

To learn more about SIFMA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts, visit sifma.org/diversity.