Laura LoCosa joined Morgan Stanley as an administrative assistant 40 years ago, when the financial services industry was majority men. Now, she’s part of the Private Banking Group’s senior management team.
Laura LoCosa was offered three positions after reluctantly following a recruiter’s advice for women: Take off your engagement ring when interviewing.
It was 1977 and the financial services industry was a different place, where many assumed women may leave at some point to start a family. “It was a different time,” says LoCosa, who accepted the opportunity as an administrative assistant in Investment Banking.
LoCosa didn’t just survive—she thrived, moving from assistant to a variety of other roles over the years with increasing responsibility. Today, she is a Managing Director and the Chief Operating Officer of Morgan Stanley Private Bank, National Association. LoCosa’s path to success reflects her personal perseverance and determination to seize any and every opportunity that came her way.
LoCosa’s first chance came when she had been on the job for three years. It was the early 1980s, and the U.S. stock market was just beginning to emerge from its recent doldrums. Morgan Stanley needed extra hands in its securities business, and LoCosa seized the opportunity to leave her desk and landed on the trading floor. “It was baptism by fire, sink or swim in an unforgiving environment,” she recalls. “It was tough. I had to step up or be run over, and I was determined to survive.”
Her efforts and work ethic did not go unnoticed. She worked with such grit and tenacity that six months into the job, someone asked her whether she had taken assertiveness training. LoCosa took the comment as a compliment. The opportunity proved to be an inflection point in her career.
Over the years, LoCosa moved into a variety of challenging new roles with different business lines in the firm, including Fixed Income and Operations. She also accepted the challenge of management roles, including crisis management and executing contingency plans in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and again during the financial crisis in 2008.
“It says something to be able to reinvent yourself over the course of decades as the industry and environment change,” LoCosa says. “It takes hard work to stay relevant.”
It also takes discernment and self-reflection. When Shelley O’Connor, then CEO of Morgan Stanley Private Bank, National Association and now Co-Head of Wealth Management, asked LoCosa to join the leadership team of the expanding Private Banking Group, she didn’t immediately say yes. Instead, LoCosa began the conversation with “Well, why me?” Eventually, she understood that the Private Banking Group, which helps provide clients with access to cash management and lending products and services, needed strong leadership to help support its rapid growth. “I am tactical and strategic and know how to complete large-scale tasks in a challenging environment,” LoCosa says, and that’s why she was asked.
Over the course of her career, LoCosa has felt a need to give back; particularly, as an advocate for diversity and inclusion. “People weren’t talking about diversity 40 years ago, and mentors weren’t in vogue,” she says. “The change has been evolutionary, and it continues to evolve.”
LoCosa acknowledges that leadership is becoming more inclusive and diverse, with more people in influential positions championing and recognizing the importance of diversity. “It’s not because of some metric,” she says. “This is the firm and its senior leadership putting effort, time and money into making a real difference.”
She’s doing her part through Morgan Stanley’s Latino Employee Network, an internal organization that sponsors professional development, community awareness and philanthropic initiatives aimed at Latino and Hispanic Americans. The group continues to grow and helps further advance Morgan Stanley’s inclusive culture.
“It’s always about doing what’s right for the firm, doing what’s right for clients and taking care of your teams. When you have those three things as guiding principles in your corporate life, it’s hard for anyone to find fault,” she says. “These principals have helped to guide my career for 40 years.”