Morgan Stanley’s Chief Operating Officer for Technology & Global Head of Innovation has always looked for chances to succeed and to help others do the same.
When Peter Akwaboah faced frustration in high school, he didn’t take it lying down. In fact, he soared. Literally.
Akwaboah had been a superstar, multisport athlete in Ghana, but when he moved as a teen with his family back to the UK, where he was born, he found the competition stiffer and the chances to excel fewer. “My peers were better, faster and stronger, given they had access to better facilities,” he says.
Instead of giving up, he decided to concentrate on one sport—the triple jump—and wait for his opportunity to shine. “At one competition, the first pick didn’t show up, so my coach brought me in,” says Akwaboah, who until that point had been an alternate. “‘This is my big chance,’ I thought—a chance to show everyone I am good enough. I dug deep, remembered everything I had learned in training and went for it,” he recalls. “I broke the school record that day.” Akwaboah went on to represent the UK at competitions around the world.
It’s a lesson that Akwaboah has taken with him, from his college days at the University of Birmingham in the UK, where he majored in civil engineering, to his work as a software developer for various financial institutions in Europe, to his current role at Morgan Stanley as Chief Operating Officer for Technology & Global Head of Innovation. Akwaboah, a Managing Director, is responsible for innovation and technology strategy for the firm, focused on tranforming the way it delivers products and services and on delivering disruptive approaches and solutions across the firm's diverse businesses and functions.
One example of leveraging opportunity: In 2019, Morgan Stanley, which had never executed a deal with the government of Ghana, became one of the banks to co-lead a $3 billion bond sale for the country, thanks in part to Akwaboah’s involvement. “I spoke to some of the bankers about it, and they realized I had an advantage in that I’m from Ghana, I understand the culture, and I have operations expertise,” he says. “So I was asked to perform a role as one of the senior guys on the pitch.” Morgan Stanley closed its second Ghanaian sovereign bond deal in January, he adds. "Diversity works by leveraging the strength and the talents of who you are," he says. "The power we have at Morgan Stanley is our people and our diversity."
Akwaboah is still connected to Ghana in other ways. One of his biggest philanthropic activities is supporting a hospital there called the Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine, or FOCOS, where he is a board member. The modern, 50-bed hospital specializes in providing complex spine and joint replacement surgeries to adult and pediatric patients age 9 to 25. FOCOS also provides schooling for the children, who often spend months at the facility while preparing for surgery.
A friend introduced him to the hospital project, and Akwaboah was keen to provide support, given its adherence to the same medical standards as U.S. hospitals and its strong management team, led by a Ghanaian doctor who had been head of orthopedics at a specialized New York hospital. His initial financial backing evolved into volunteer work—everything from helping patients get to their treatments to reading to the younger charges—and, eventually, a board seat, from which he offers strategic advice.
Heritage and a Year of Return
In October 2018, Akwaboah visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture with Morgan Stanley Head of Human Resources Mandell Crawley, Morgan Stanley Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Susan Reid and other Morgan Stanley employees. That led to a trip in August 2019, to mark the “Year of Return,” the 400th anniversary of the 1619 arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia. Akwaboah traveled to Ghana with his family and several colleagues, some of African and Caribbean heritage, including Reid. The group visited Elmina Castle, a prison depot that held captives from all over West Africa before they were sold to Portuguese and Dutch slave traders. Up to 1,500 shackled prisoners were crammed into its dungeons for up to three months at a time, with little food or water, under abhorrent conditions that were but a hint of the slave ships and the horrors of the Middle Passage.
It was “an emotional and distressing experience,” says Akwaboah. “We came face to face with the horrible reality and unimaginable suffering of what some of our ancestors experienced. That raw emotion reminded me that the impact of slavery is still felt today.”
That darkness was somewhat alleviated by a visit later to Akwaboah’s hometown of Kumasi, as well as the FOCOS hospital in Pantang, where they brought gifts for the children and spent time singing and playing with them. “I was proud of the enthusiasm show by everyone who volunteered,” says Akwaboah. “The support was fantastic.”
Akwaboah attributes his philanthropic dedication and his sense of social responsibility to his upbringing. “I've grown up with that," he says, noting his parents were devout Catholics who invested their time in charitable causes. When asked about his legacy, Akwaboah notes - "For me, the legacy I leave is not only about my team’s commercial successes, as much as it is about how I am able to give back,” he says, noting that Morgan Stanley is the perfect place for him to do that. “The firm’s core value of giving back resonates with me, and I like that leaders at the firm are encouraged to do that in so many ways—not just financially, but through hands-on activities and mentoring as well.”
Akwaboah is also a passionate champion of diversity and inclusion efforts, especially through Morgan Stanley’s employee networks. During his time in the London office, he sponsored Morgan Stanley's African & Caribbean Business Alliance network. Recently, he became Co-Chair of the Morgan Stanley Black Employee Networking Group in New York.
He sees its mission as four-fold: “Supporting talent recruitment, advancement and retention; strengthening allyship with other groups; exploring diversity and inclusion opportunities with clients and business practices; and promoting community outreach.”
As in his student-athlete days, Akwaboah is ever optimistic. "We’re making progress. Everybody has started moving in the right direction, and a lot of that has to do with the awareness efforts of the network,” he says. “Because the more you educate, the more you move the needle forward.”