As the Head of Strategic Client Management, Elizabeth Dennis embodies the “One Firm” philosophy of Morgan Stanley. She believes the company promotes a distinctive culture that’s hard to replicate. “Morgan Stanley is a place that values and nurtures a particular type of person—one who is highly competitive but also highly collaborative,” she says. Today, she serves Wealth Management clients who have Investment Banking and Capital Markets needs—helping deliver on the firm’s goal to provide excellent service across all aspects of finance.
Dennis’s 19 years at the firm prepared her well for this position, with in-depth experience at various divisions within Morgan Stanley. She started at Morgan Stanley as a summer analyst during college at Georgetown University and, upon graduating in 2001, accepted a full-time position on the debt syndicate desk in Global Capital Markets. For the next 14 years, she focused on underwriting debt offerings for a wide range of companies, countries, entities, structured products and project financings. Shouldering increased responsibility at a relatively early stage in her career, Dennis thrived on the energy and client-facing nature of the underwriting world.
In 2015, Dennis got the chance to make a significant career move to the Wealth Management side of Morgan Stanley. Her first position in this new role was to help manage the division’s capital markets operation. Shortly thereafter, she became Head of Strategic Client Management, a centralized client development group that brings the full firm’s evolving services to clients across Institutional Securities, Wealth Management and Investment Management. She shares her insights on Monetizing Small Business in this Morgan Stanley Minute and reflects on the rewards and challenges of her nearly two-decade career in finance here.
Given your long tenure at Morgan Stanley, you must have a good perspective on the company. What do you most appreciate about it?
Morgan Stanley is a place that values and nurtures a particular type of person—one who is highly competitive but also highly collaborative. That combination is less common than you’d think. From the time I started here, the most constructive and consistent feedback I got was to speak up and have a point of view. I probably thought, “I’m still figuring this out—what do I know?” But it was invaluable to have people around who saw potential in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself, the way a great coach would. The message was, “We believe in you, and we're going to force you outside of your comfort zone because we know you can do it.” That has always been the case here, across leadership and managers, but also with people in my peer group.
The third “C” that’s a company hallmark, in addition to competition and collaboration, is creativity. Even in a field like bond underwriting, where some aspects might seem routine, there are many ways to be innovative. Today, for instance, the team is leading the way on environmentally sustainable bonds and solutions across global markets.
It has been wonderful, because I was able to transition from a job with a narrow and specific skill set to my current role, where I have a much broader perspective across a wide range of client bases. And even though I previously felt very connected across the firm, that sense of connection has expanded substantially now that I'm in a position to see all the different parts of the firm and manage opportunities across those various silos.
I'm now managing a group of over forty people, bigger than I’ve managed before. Building and evolving the group into a cohesive team that I can feel proud of has been incredibly fulfilling. And the second thing, from a business perspective, has been seeing the effect of having the right team in place covering the right advisors or bankers or clients in the right way—and doing it with transparency and efficiency and the velocity afforded by these opportunities. That’s when you truly grasp the power of the network of 60,000 people at Morgan Stanley around the globe and how we can monetize those connections and serve clients in a way that few firms can. That really excites me.
We hire people who are diligent and focused, who can handle tough discussions, because we're at the nexus of financial advisors and investment bankers—two high-octane populations. So our team members must be able to steer clear of emotional discussions and say, “Okay, let's talk about action plans and facts.” That requires insight.
Of course, you also need to be interested in the markets and in optimizing client coverage. You have to know a bit about either the institutional side of the business or the wealth management side—or ideally, both! A lot of our people are generalists, but since they cover certain sectors or products, they naturally start to acquire expertise in that sector or product.
I keep it practical: Work darn hard and learn to recognize those little moments where something could propel your career. Sometimes those moments are big—a major project, that you have tons of time to prepare for. Other times, they seem much smaller, and you have less time to prepare, but they're actually just as big. There are inflection points in a career where you can tell that something represents a huge opportunity, where you think, “If I can do this one thing really well, for this one client, that's going to give someone else confidence that you can replicate.” And then it snowballs and you're in a good position to move up.
I also advise against trying to network like crazy at the entry level. You need to impress only a small group of people who’ll support you. If you trust those people and do right by them, everything will follow from there.