• Multicultural Financial Advisor Forum

Chris Fils Reflects on Past While Blazing a Trail at Morgan Stanley

One of the youngest branch managers at Morgan Stanley, Chris Fils honors Black History Month by sharing his story of success.

As part of our recognition of Black History Month, Regional Diversity Officer Milton Dellossier spoke recently with Chris Fils about his life in the wealth management industry.

Chris is a Morgan Stanley Vice President and Branch Manager in Los Gatos, California. It’s a position he has held since joining the firm in September 2016. Chris, 30, is one of the youngest branch managers at Morgan Stanley, the latest in his series of accomplishments that have become commonplace for the native of Fort Myers, Florida, and University of South Florida graduate. Chris joined the firm from Merrill Lynch, where he helped financial advisors build their businesses. Previously, he had  sales success at Northwestern Mutual Life. In his current role, Chris strives to bring out the very best in the Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors he works with and to inspire them to make a difference.

Tell us about your childhood. How did that influence your eventual career path?

My father came over from Haiti in the 1980s and my mother is Jamaican. My parents really stressed education and competitive activities such as chess, basketball, and karate. They supported everything I wanted to do but insisted on straight A’s, perfect attendance, and integrity.

What attracted you to a career as a Financial Advisor?

I always had an ambition to understand how money works. The “aha moment” came while reading “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. The book profiles wealthy individuals and as a sales trainee at Northwestern Mutual Life, I decided I would interview successful people for a couple of years to understand how they achieved success. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose and would treat the experience as an apprenticeship. The goal was to go six months without failing. Every day I had to practice, study, and network within the community, which pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Three months later, I was leading my peers in sales.

Take us through your career progression. What helped you to fast track?

I have the desire to put myself in uncomfortable situations, to get better and to help others around me. When I moved to New York, I met with each of the Financial Advisors in my region to learn their story. And I learned that the secret sauce is you; it’s you that makes you different and unique to clients. When I started focusing on my strengths, that’s when things started to turn. I decided to deliver the best version of myself every day.

There were obstacles that I had to overcome being new to the industry, but I learned from those and pushed forward. I went back to what my parents stressed: perfect attendance, straight A’s and hard work. Whenever I find myself in a tough situation, I remember what my family went through to get me here: the investment of their time, energy, and support of my vision.

You have made great strides in less than a decade in financial services. What has driven your success?

I’ve always had a strong supporting cast ranging from my wife and immediate family to my personal life coach. I started out selling insurance door to door. The unprecedented experience of losing my aunt, who was my first policy, my first claim and one of my biggest supporters, was the turning point. At that moment, I knew I wanted to live a life as an advocate helping others prepare for the present and future.

Visualization techniques have also been critical. I meditate every morning, seeing myself in meetings helping people. And I prepare like crazy: visualize success, build confidence, be informed and execute. I always remind myself what my first mentor taught me: to stay in the moment and be aware of the things that are happening around me.

How did you foster trust as such a young FA?

I said to myself, “If I’m doing the right thing, it will be noticed.” So, I focused on building trust, integrity and over delivering. When I entered the business in late 2008, at the start of the Great Recession, clients felt like they were being underserved. Perhaps some of their financial advisors were not calling them or were getting out of the business. Prominent people older than me saw the energy and care that I brought to them.

How did your transition to becoming a branch manager happen?

I’ve always enjoyed leadership roles. At Northwestern Mutual, I trained the interns. Then, I trained Financial Advisors. I lead through emotional intelligence and I do my best to find out what makes that person tick. Morgan Stanley allows me to utilize my natural skills which leads to a dynamic leadership style that puts my team first.

I naturally care about people and am concerned when they are not reaching their full potential. I hope to inspire them to do what they’re capable of by harnessing their emotional intelligence. I approach everyone differently while respecting their uniqueness and try to coach to their strengths. I get more of a kick out of seeing others help the client. That’s when I realized that coaching is a way to use my skills and have greater impact.

Can you give some examples of your leadership style?

I strive to uncover what motivates my team. Some desire recognition, others want your attention, some just want to know that you care. One of my Financial Advisors is hosting his first seminar in 30 years this month. It means a lot for someone to want to continue to embrace change and I committed to be there and jump in the trenches to help him fill the room.

Another Financial Advisor is a baseball player and avid sports fan, so toward the end of last year I hung a “one more run” sign on his office door. I want him to reinvent himself every year and he’s become energized by attending local networking events with me. Another is a marathon runner and I agreed to go on a run with her. We did an easy four miles and I asked how we were getting back. We ended up running another four miles back. It was tough, but I made it. I wanted to get involved, compete and knock down walls with my team. I also do this by working out with one group in the branch and engaging in charitable activities with another group.

Speaking of breaking down walls, Morgan Stanley is celebrating Black History Month. What does Black History Month mean to you?

This is a month where you take time to remember those who came before you and pay your respects. It’s a chance to take a retrospective view of what they did to create opportunities for me – as a millennial, and as a black man in technology and finance. It motivates me to find the next generation of black leaders, the next Chris Fils. I want to increase our representation as Financial Advisors. I do this by having an impact wherever I can. I spend a lot of time with a diverse group of college students and young professionals in Silicon Valley, participating in panel discussions about careers at San Jose State and De Anza College.

How important is having a mentor in this business and how can young professionals find one?

It took a while to find the right fit and my first mentor presented himself when I was ready. He gave me perspective on how much work it took to be successful. The first two to three years out of college are a very vulnerable place for young graduates. I want to help today’s young financial leaders speed up their learning curve and help them avoid some pitfalls. There are great mentoring resources out there if you look in the right places.

How have the black leaders of the past inspired you?

Through the impact they have made. I want to say I made a difference through servant leadership. My goal is to make a difference with everyone I meet, make their lives better financially and holistically. I try to convey to everyone I work with that we’re changing lives one at a time. I’m always wanting to get better, I haven’t done enough. Each day I invest time to become a better person in and outside of the office. Surpassing my yesterday is the bar for today.