After several career shifts, Jill Schildkraut-Katz, a Financial Advisor and Morgan Stanley MAKER, reminds women to never give up. “Each challenge makes you stronger for the next.”
Jill Schildkraut-Katz still remembers her first job, working the register at a trendy retail chain store. As store credit cards were just becoming popular, the company offered an employee incentive of $3 for every new credit card opened. She realized that by filling out the paperwork with the customers, they were willing to spend the time to complete the application. As a result, she won a companywide contest by opening 100 credit cards in one month.
“I’ve always known that if I worked hard and believed in myself, I could achieve whatever I set out to do,” says Jill, attributing that self-confidence and motivation to her role-model parents, who “always encouraged me.” The entrepreneurs and business owners impressed upon Jill the importance of having “a career that leveraged my strengths and skills” and being financially independent. In fact, when she was still in high school, her father took her to the local bank to apply for a loan and a credit card. “He wanted me to establish credit at a young age so that I would be well positioned for the future.”
Today, a Managing Director and partner in the Altera Wealth Management Group at Morgan Stanley, Jill tries to be a role model for her own children, a 16-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, who live with Jill and her husband in New York City. Not only is she dedicated to her clients, but she has been a member of the Board of Trustees for her Synagogue, the Parents Association Executive Committee at both of her children’s schools and a two-time participant in the Covenant House Sleep Out to raise money and awareness for homeless and vulnerable youths. “Every day, I’m motivated to be the best I can be in the hopes of encouraging my son and daughter to also be their best selves, lifting up others and supporting a diverse world.”
While studying undergraduate business at the University of Michigan, Jill sought a summer internship in finance and physically delivered cover letters and resumes to all of the banks and investment banks in New York City. When nothing panned out, she took a temporary job at an insurance and finance company, helping them reconcile money in suspense accounts “so that she would gain exposure to a job in finance,” she says.
She was single-minded in her determination to attend The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for her MBA. With only two years of work experience, it did not go as she hoped. “I was flat-out rejected—and devastated,” she says. Undeterred, she talked her way into an interview with the director of admissions “to convince them they had made a mistake and that I’d make Wharton a better place.” Impressed with her passion and drive, they offered her admission for an off-cycle start in January. But Jill was determined to obtain the full experience, so she took her chances and reapplied the following year for a fall entry—and was accepted.
In total, Jill spent 20 years on the institutional side of the finance industry, in banking, investment banking and running a global capital markets structuring team. She spent five years in London and “did deals on every continent,” reflects Jill, who many times was the only woman in the room.
Then, the financial crisis hit. “My market blew up, my institution had to be rescued and my job was effectively eliminated,” she describes. “I survived by working on an integration team for the merger.” She remembers giving her final presentation on a Saturday morning before giving birth to her daughter that evening, almost two weeks early.
On the heels of that experience, Jill, at 43, was ready for a career shift and knew she wanted to focus more on helping individuals. Today, she applies her analytical and solutions-oriented background to her role in wealth management. “I knew I wanted to be a trusted financial advisor,” she says. “Serving individuals, families and non-profits is very meaningful. It’s both a privilege and a big responsibility.”
After spending seven years in private banking, she was recruited to Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, effectively another career shift. She was grateful for the opportunity to join her team and made a point to attend events and network internally so that she could feel connected to the organization. She was impressed by the breadth of “successful, interesting, accomplished and collaborative women who welcomed her,” she reflects.
Attending her first Women’s Leadership Summit in 2018, she immediately realized Morgan Stanley’s dedication to women advisors and marveled at the class of Morgan Stanley MAKERS who were being interviewed on stage. “I was in awe of what these women had achieved and done to give back and thought to myself, ‘I want to add value and be a leader so that I am someday worthy of being a MAKER.”
Jill had also attended a number of events hosted by Women In Wealth: LIFT (Ladies In Finance Together), Morgan Stanley’s women’s advocacy, business development and mentoring network for women Financial Advisors in the Northeast Region. She was so impressed with the caliber of women involved and the quality of programs that in January 2020, Jill became the organization’s Vice President. Serving with Michelle Ward as President, they led LIFT through the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when most people felt isolated and needed connectivity, LIFT and other internal initiatives, such as Caroline Gundeck’s Thursday Zoom, kept Morgan Stanley’s women Financial Advisors connected.
The organization evolved by delivering virtual networking, business development, mentoring and client events. In 2022, Jill served as President of LIFT with Mary Gibbons Gardiner as Vice President. Together they took LIFT to the next level by establishing a more formalized infrastructure and succession plan so that the network could continue to thrive, “providing as many women Financial Advisors as possible with the opportunity to grow, lead and be culture carriers.”
In recognition of these efforts, Jill was named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a community of advocates, innovators and groundbreakers for women’s advancement, all nominated by their peers. She’s honored and excited to have been named to the Firm’s MAKERS Class of 2023, which marks the program’s 10th anniversary. “I feel privileged to work at Morgan Stanley, where women defy the stereotypes of the brokerage industry and have a culture of collaboration and support,” she says.
Jill calls wealth management an amazing career, especially for women, who are “wired to have empathy, to ask questions and to listen,” she says. While acknowledging times in her career when she had to “take a step back to move forward,” she views those times as an investment in herself.
She advises others to “take risks” and understand that “a career path is not always linear. We live our lives in chapters, and we are the sum of all our experiences,” she adds. “Every experience is meaningful, and what you learn from a challenging time makes you even stronger for the next.”