MAKER Carla Koren is taking action on literacy and more.
Carla Koren remembers being an ambitious graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles and how hard it was to find a job in wealth management. “I couldn’t understand it,” she says. “I had two years of financial sales experience and great grades. I didn’t think of myself as a 22-year-old girl.”
But it was 1985, and she was a woman trying to break into a male-dominated industry. Finally, Carla encountered a woman during the interview process, directly leading to a position at a brokerage firm in Walnut Creek, Calif. She was thrown into cold-calling with no training and told by a male manager that she might as well leave because “you’re never going to make it.”
Nevertheless, she persisted. The only woman at her office, “I knew I was a quick learner and could figure it out on my own,” says Carla, who had experience selling and cold-calling from her savings-and-loan job during college.
Make it, she did. Today, more than 37 years later, Carla is a Managing Director and Financial Advisor at Morgan Stanley in Oakland, Calif. As both a Corporate Retirement Plan Director and Senior Investment Management Consultant, Carla was also named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a group of trailblazing and accomplished women nominated by their peers.
Still serving some of the same clients she did at 22, Carla admits she can’t even think about ever retiring “because it makes me too sad.” She loves her clients and colleagues and wants to do her best for them. She even earned the Family Wealth Director designation so she could better serve multigenerational families. “Our practice is pretty in-depth when it comes to planning and wealth transfer,” she says of her team at The Rose Bridge Wealth Management Group at Morgan Stanley. “It’s not unusual for us to help everyone from the great-grandmother down to the great-grandchild.”
In fact, long-term relationships are vital for Carla. Her partner of 35 years, Gena Harper, a class of 2015 Morgan Stanley MAKER, retired in 2021 from their team, and has been together with her husband, Neal Parish, since 1982. “For me, it’s about family, community and work. That’s my life.”
In 1991, after completing her MBA at night at the University of California, Berkeley, while working full-time during the day as a broker, Carla was finally able to get back to volunteering, something she enjoyed greatly during high school. The Junior League of Oakland-East Bay and Girls Inc. of Alameda County are two organizations she been serving for decades in various leadership roles. However, until the summer of 2020, Carla devoted most of her volunteer time to Super Stars Literacy, a program that provides reading intervention to kindergarteners through second-graders at six high-need area schools. When last interviewed about this program, Carla responded, “We spun out of the Junior League and became a nonprofit in 2008, and I’ve been the Board Chair almost ever since,” says Carla. “Here, I feel that I’m really making a difference.” Super Stars Literacy is now part of a much larger Oakland-based social services non-profit organization, Safe Passages, where Carla and 5 of her Super Stars Literacy Board members now serve as Trustees.
When she moved to the Bay Area, she and Neal got involved in the UCLA alumni program, awarding scholarships to accepted applicants. She became aware of how few students from underrepresented groups would be accepted in the absence of affirmative action. That’s when Carla realized the deep investment needed in local communities at a young age, not college age.
“In our inner-city high schools, less than half of students graduate,” she says, pointing to the high correlation between literacy and graduation rates. “In my city, for a very high percentage of children and families, English is not their primary language, and their daily lives are affected by food scarcity, homelessness, violence and immigration challenges. Something has to be done, so I’m taking action.” The extraordinary learning loss in underserved communities associated with Covid pandemic has made Carla’s commitment to educational equity even deeper.
Her catalyst for taking action was her desire to address income inequality as a social injustice. She believes in a collective social responsibility to lift others up—especially children—so all citizens can reach their full potential. For her efforts, Carla received a Jefferson Award in 2014, on top of other notable recognitions for her community stewardship.
Her empathy stems from her upbringing. Growing up, her father had a severe bipolar disorder and her mother a chronic physical illness. Their conditions led to instability and financial insecurity for her family, including her twin sister. (Her two older siblings were no longer living at home.) Carla worked multiple jobs, including many years at a produce market, to assist at home and to pay for her own college. While not an ideal way to be raised, she admits, it gave me “an extraordinary amount of empathy,” something that has helped her in her client work, her volunteerism, and in raising her son, who graduated from Yale in 2022.
Surrounded by positive relationships, she advises others to “be as authentic as you can; get involved in the things that bring you joy. That’s where you will meet others most like you.” In addition, she adds: “Don’t think about your age or gender,” just like she didn’t at 22. “Don’t let either be a barrier to opportunity.”