Morgan Stanley MAKER Janet Nickel Finds Reward in Relationships
During her teen years, Janet Nickel used to wake up to articles about the need for woman engineers taped to her bathroom mirror. Her father, a successful mechanical engineer himself, thought the industry was perfect for his daughter and enjoyed sharing what he had hoped would be inspirational information.
But Janet—now Regional Sales Manager for Morgan Stanley’s Great Lakes Region—had other aspirations. “I’m not going to be an engineer, Dad,” she would say shaking her head as she contemplated what she wanted in a career. “I’m a people person.”
Once she got to the University of Michigan, a college accounting course is what brought her some clarity. “At the time, other subjects weren’t as interesting,” she says. “But this felt right, so I kept taking more business and economics classes and really liked them.”
A few months after graduation, she interviewed for a junior analyst position at E.F. Hutton (which eventually became part of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management) and remembers meeting some great people. “I was so excited after getting the offer,” she recalls. “I remember driving home and thinking, ‘Wow, this isn’t a job; this is a career.’”
And an enduring one at that. Janet started in the Firm’s Birmingham, Mich., Consulting Group office, which eventually led to a bigger role in Chicago, where she and her husband, whom she met in college, have lived since 1990. Janet has now worked in the Firm’s Wealth Management division for 31 years in various roles and today manages a team of more than 20. She describes their most important joint role as helping Financial Advisors grow their businesses. She’s always loved the data side of the industry, but working directly with Financial Advisors is what she finds most rewarding. “It’s analytical, but in this relationship business you work with people every day. That’s what I love most about it,” she beams.
Outside of the office, Janet decompresses with a paintbrush in hand. Always into arts and crafts, she recently took an oil painting class and got hooked. “It’s time consuming but something I really enjoy,” she says, noting how it forces you to think of “nothing but your painting.”
The first family member to be born outside of Northern Ireland, the Toronto-born Janet was raised by determined immigrant parents who always instilled a strong work ethic and the importance of good grades on Janet and her older brother. “They were very supportive, and education was always the number-one priority,” says Janet. “I’m extremely grateful for the tremendous sacrifices they made in leaving everything, including their families, behind so that we could have better opportunities.”
When she was 12, the family moved from Canada to a suburb of Detroit as her father’s mechanical engineering career took off. He was recruited to be chief engineer on electric bus programs and the development of the U.S. military Humvee, while her mother worked various part-time jobs. Like Dad, her brother became an award-winning mechanical engineer in the auto industry.
Janet recently earned an award of her own, being named one of Morgan Stanley’s MAKERs, a class of trailblazing women of accomplishment nominated by their peers. She finds the award humbling: “You look at the list of MAKERs, and it’s inspiring women you look up to. It’s a huge honor.”
Excelling to the heights she has was not without challenges, as she often found herself the only woman at the table. In fact, she didn’t report to a woman until about 15 years into her career. But giving her an edge may have been the fact that “being first-generation of immigrant parents, you always felt a little bit different. Never in a bad way,” she adds, “but being different is something I am just used to.”
Reflective of her stamina as Morgan Stanley evolved over time are 30 years of her corporate business cards, framed and hanging in her office. “People come in to talk to me and get distracted by the different names and logos as they follow the Firm’s progression and identify when they came on board,” she laughs. “It’s a neat history I have on my wall.”
Through it all, she attributes her success to the strong support she’s gotten from many managers and mentors. “I learned by watching how they interacted with people,” she says. “I learned what to do—and what not to do, especially in tough situations. Some of my managers could deliver really tough messages and still be on the receiving end of a smile afterward.”
For Janet, it’s all about how people are treated. “Your employees are people first. The outcomes are really based on how we relate to one another,” she advises. “To me, that’s what’s most important.”