Ize Idemudia brings to her role as COO of the International Legal department in our London office a deep understanding of the power of diverse perspectives.
Ize Idemudia has spent a lifetime navigating different cultures across three continents. Born in the U.S. when her Nigerian parents were each working toward a PhD at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Idemudia grew up in Austria and Nigeria. Her family later settled in the UK, where she attended Swansea University and earned an undergraduate degree in law.
“Wherever we lived, I was always surrounded by people who were from many different backgrounds,” she says, adding, “At the same time, my parents instilled a pride in our Nigerian culture and created a sense of community and security for our family.”
She also credits her parents with “the gift of education,” which led Idemudia to the U.S. to study for her Master of Laws at Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans, LA. After her first year, she landed an internship at a large global law firm but quickly realized that the environment there wasn’t the right fit for her in the long term. “I didn’t see any role models of women who looked like me,” she says. Idemudia eventually joined a different investment bank after law school, drawn by our industry’s “diverse international talent pool and colleagues from different cultures and countries.”
An opportunity to lead the buildout of our Financial Crimes team, an area of expertise for Idemudia, brought her to Morgan Stanley London in 2015. A few years later, in 2020, Idemudia took on the role of Chief Operating Officer of International Legal and Global Investment Management Legal. In addition to her day job, Idemudia is Chair of the African and Caribbean Business Alliance, an affinity network that provides a leadership and career platform for members. The volunteer position is the embodiment of her passion for promoting diversity and inclusion, while striving to empower others. “I’m hyper aware of making sure people have a voice and that they’re brought to the table. And that is valued and expected at Morgan Stanley. Everyone, regardless of who they are or what their background or culture is, has the right to be heard and thrive.”
I was on maternity leave in 2015, working for another financial services firm as the EMEA Head of Anti-Money Laundering Assurance. Morgan Stanley reached out with a really interesting role that drew on my skill set around reading patterns and listening and identifying themes to solve complex problems, so I was intrigued. I was at my previous firm for 10 years, and I knew I could either be safe and keep on doing what I knew, or I could challenge myself and come into a new organization.
This role didn’t exist before I stepped into it. As a Chief Operating Officer, I oversee the Legal Department to ensure that it’s operating efficiently. A big proportion of my role is what I’ve always loved—making sure that people feel happy, supported, and able to come in and contribute, regardless of who they are. That’s especially important right now, as a global pandemic rages around the world and most of us are working from home.
There’s an aspect of innovation to the job as well. The legal world itself is going through a shift right now. Everyone’s looking at artificial intelligence and technology as a way of enhancing the way things are done. Part of my job is horizon-scanning and thinking about what we need to do and how we need to adapt as a legal department, so we’re operating as effectively as possible.
I am a huge champion of mentorship. Before making any key decisions around my career, I consult what I call my personal board of directors, people who are mentors, both internal and external of Morgan Stanley, including peer mentors, more junior mentors, and family members. They’re all people who know me well and don’t tell me what I want to hear; instead, they tell me what I need to hear.
A key example is at the end of 2019, I had two options. One was continuing my path in Financial Crimes or coming into the COO role that I have now. To change course was a huge career pivot, so I went through the pros and cons with my personal board of directors. Those conversations convinced me this role was the right next step for me.
Throughout my career, I always have been heavily focused in the recruitment space, role modeling to people who might not be able to imagine someone who looks like themselves being in a particular seat or in a particular industry.
My work with the African and Caribbean Business Alliance has also been very important to me. During the last three years, we’ve really transformed ourselves from a social network into a career and leadership network. Today, I think we’re fully meeting our objectives of retaining, recruiting, and helping advance the careers of our network members.
I think that just being kind to yourself is key. I remember first coming back from maternity leave and just feeling guilty at work and at home. A phenomenal mentor of mine at the time said to me, “Stop it.” It’s as simple as that. I just had to turn it off, stop feeling guilty and use that mental energy on something way more interesting.
Sometimes the balance is a bit difficult, but for the most part, it has to be just how you live your life. Otherwise, I’d be juggling and trying to split myself in two and be work-Ize and home/mother-Ize. There has to be a symbiotic balance, and Morgan Stanley understands that. It’s just one of many things I’ve really come to appreciate about working here.