A working mother, Melissa Ronaghan finds both aspects of life critical to who she is. Essential to each role is hard work, the people involved, and the learning opportunities along the way.
Melissa Ronaghan kept expecting a revelation—a moment when she’d realize her career destiny. “I had a naive notion that I would figure out exactly what I wanted to be, but I was interested in so many different things,” says Melissa, Head of Morgan Stanley’s Wealth Management Investment Platforms.
Today, this managing director is experienced enough to know that it’s not the job or the title that’s most important. Rather, “it’s all about the people you’re working for and with,” says Melissa. “I learned early in my career to ask myself, “Am I working with good people who can teach me, challenge me, and empower me with responsibility?”
Melissa grew up in Harrison, N.Y., not far from her office at Morgan Stanley’s headquarters. She’s quick to point to family as one of her strongest influences. Her father, who grew up in a large family that struggled to make ends meet, was drafted into the Army. When he returned from Vietnam, seeking control over his destiny, he committed himself to education. He earned an MBA, which led him to leadership roles at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Her mother, a mathematician who took a pause from her career to raise her children, emphasized the importance of education just as much as Dad did. Melissa’s older sister found her “passion for polymer engineering in high school and followed that to become a world-class expert in her field,” says Melissa of her “role model.” Her brother was always extremely interested in science and computers, so she definitely had an education focused-family.
While Melissa longed for that similar career tug, she did discover a broad interest in business. “The many elements of strategy and market dynamics had me curious,” she recalls, “from consumer product companies to Wall Street.”
Valedictorian for both eighth grade and her high-school graduating class, Melissa took her academics seriously, rounding them out by playing sports, co-editing the student newspaper and playing flute in a band that traveled the country for competitions. “I learned as much from everything I was doing outside the classroom as I did inside,” she says.
Melissa went on to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where ‘the more I dug into how businesses were run, the more interesting it became.” After graduating with a degree in economics, finance and marketing, she became a business analyst at McKinsey & Company, where she learned “so much in terms of structured problem solving, strategic thinking and how to approach key business questions.”
Her intrigue and curiosity led her to a position at Merrill Lynch, where she was as drawn to the people as she was the business opportunity. “I respected them and trusted them to challenge me and help me grow.” This included Andy Saperstein, who now co-heads Morgan Stanley’s Wealth Management division. When he moved to Morgan Stanley in 2006, he encouraged her to come along. Nearly 13 years later, Melissa looks back on her various roles, from field management to chief operating officer of the managed accounts business that led to her current position driving the Firm’s technology strategy for both advisors and clients. She’s also a member of the division’s operating committee.
“Each of my roles has been a phenomenal learning experience,” she says. “The ability to take the knowledge gained and capabilities strengthened in one role to a different part of the business have been a critical driver to my success and a very rewarding experience.”
Yet her biggest role has been that of mom to her three young children. “My career is really, really important to me, but I would not be the professional that I am if I didn’t have them in my life,” she beams. “Likewise, I wouldn’t be the parent that I am if I didn’t have my career. Both are critical to who I am.”
Melissa is proud her children can see how much she loves her job, particularly her daughter. “She’s only 4 but has the strongest personality of anyone I’ve ever met. I think she could rule the world one day,” Melissa smiles. “I want her to grow up thinking she can achieve anything she puts her mind to with hard work and determination.” She’s one more reason Melissa is so honored to have been named a Morgan Stanley MAKER as part of a program that identifies and celebrates trailblazing women who keep pushing their careers forward.
As Melissa has learned, “a career is a marathon, not a sprint to any one path. There are disappointments and setbacks,” she reflects. “I’m so fortunate to have had a great support network. We all need those people, for advice or to get us back on our feet so we can lead and fight the next day.”
© 2018 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Member SIPC.