Morgan Stanley

Linda Stephans discusses her success as managing director and how women can help other women succeed in the world of finance and wealth management.

At a young age, her parents impressed upon her “the responsibility to improve other’s lives,” and she took it to heart, serving on more than a dozen non-profit boards.

When Linda Stephans was beginning her banking career in North Carolina, there were very few female leaders in senior positions who could serve as role models, and mentoring programs were nonexistent. For Linda, this meant the path to success was not only paved with hard work but with establishing a reputation as a capable leader that transcended her gender.

It was an approach that has certainly paid off. Today, Linda oversees $8.1 billion in assets and serves as Managing Director and Co-Lead of Graystone Consulting’s Chicago office. Recognized by Barron’s as one of the nation’s premier Institutional Consultants for the past three years, Linda and her team of 13 professionals help clients such as healthcare systems, non-profits, foundations, endowments and faith-based organizations strategically grow their financial, philanthropic and social capital.

“It is my obligation and a true privilege to give back to women who are coming behind us,” says Linda. This commitment is evident in the diversity of her team, her work as a nonprofit board member, her dedication to participating in mentorship programs, and her past track record of promoting women’s advancement.

At a young age, her parents impressed upon her “the responsibility to improve other’s lives,” says Linda, who has served on nearly a dozen nonprofit boards. “That’s something that will always be an important element of my life.” These board positions also give her perspective when serving the needs of her clients. “The fact that we’ve sat in their shoes and understand the key opportunities and challenges facing nonprofits gives us a great deal of credibility, especially given that we extend our consulting relationship well beyond investments.”

Linda grew up in North Carolina, the oldest of three girls, and attributes her engineer father with instilling in her the importance of education. “My dad always told us we could do whatever we wanted to in life and that education was the key to that,” says Linda, who excelled academically and was accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a year early at the age of 17. She found her calling her sophomore year in accounting and finance classes. “It was really intuitive to me,” she remembers.

Her first job after graduation was as a commercial banker, where Linda started her journey in finance. Having never left North Carolina, she was encouraged by relatives to try something new and relocate to California. For another two years, she worked at a Los Angeles bank and met her future husband Gary. The couple married and moved to his hometown of Chicago, where they both juggled full-time careers while attending graduate school—Linda received an MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. They’ve remained in Chicago ever since, raising three sons and a daughter, all successful in their own right. Her first grandchild is on the way.

Intrigued by the entrepreneurial nature of consulting, Linda left banking in 2001 to launch a consulting practice at Merrill Lynch. In 2015, she and her partners moved the practice to Morgan Stanley. “We were attracted to the Firm’s commitment to both institutional consulting and mission-aligned investing” says Linda. “A key part of what we do is helping clients align their investments to reflect their mission and values. It’s our core competency and a point of passion.”

With the scale, access and resources of Morgan Stanley behind them, Linda and her team have intentionally set the course for their practice into the future, mentoring and cultivating the next generation of consultants. “At the end of the day,” she adds, “we're building something that's bigger than ourselves.”

Helping to drive her forward has been a powerful piece of advice she received in her early years, when she arrived at that small regional bank and at first was led to believe that the only way to advance was to act like a man. “This one individual pulled me aside and said ‘no, you don’t need to do that. It’s okay to be you. You can be a high performer, you can be successful, and you can be a woman.’”—something this MAKER has proven.

© 2018 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Member SIPC.

CRC 2346792  December 2018 

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