Morgan Stanley MAKER May Pepere, Head of Global Banking Technology, creates avenues for change in the business technology field and in her community. She reflects on her upbringing—and the future.
It’s hard to imagine there was a time when Merav “May” Pepere wasn’t sure what to do with her life. But the dynamic Head of Global Banking Technology at Morgan Stanley looks back on her idyllic upbringing and reflects: “That I would end up in New York, on Wall Street? There was no way to ever predict that!”
Raised on a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley of Israel, “very much in nature” on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, she remembers it being “complete heaven for children. You could play and run free in an environment without crime and violence, where people contributed to the community as a way of living.”
Her upbringing with her parents and four siblings yielded close-knit families, an emphasis on education, and a commitment to serving your country, where military service is mandatory, for men and women. Before enlisting in the Army, May chose to volunteer in a youth organization and left the kibbutz, age 18. She worked with underprivileged younger teens in the city of Haifa. “I was exposed to poverty, hardship and discovered a massive world out there with different values and a more difficult reality,” she says.
Later that year, May got the heart-wrenching news that her youngest sister had been diagnosed with leukemia. Within a few months, she passed away, at only 10 years old. “I can pinpoint a number of events that fundamentally impacted my life, and that was one of them,” says May. “It shaped the way I perceived the world. To say losing my sister was totally traumatic would be an understatement.”
Her family completely devastated, May needed to be close to home. She finished her Army service in towns near her kibbutz, working with families and individuals in need, exposing her to more “eye-opening” situations. “I had to grow up very fast during this period,” she admits.
A bright spot in an otherwise difficult period was meeting her husband Rodger, a New Zealander who was volunteering in Israel. After May completed her two years of military service, they decided to explore the world. Over four years, they spent time in Europe, Asia, New Zealand, Israel, and the U.S., until they decided to settle down in London.
Why Not? I’ll Code!
Determined to start a career but not sure in what area, May took to career counseling. She scored high in logical thinking and creativity, which pointed her toward computer programming, a new direction she hadn’t considered. “I was in a foreign land, with no preconceived notions about what I’d be good at,” she says. “It gave me complete freedom to flex into areas I simply hadn’t contemplated. So I thought, ‘Why not? I’ll code; it could be fun!’”
Following technical training as a software developer, May landed a job at a startup company. Two years later, it collapsed. It wasn’t long before May was hired as a junior developer at Morgan Stanley, where she worked her way up in various technical roles in fixed-income, equity, corporate and wealth management technology.
In 2011, after 26 years in London, May, Rodger and their three sons moved to New York for an opportunity to create a technology department and platform for the Firm’s banking division. From an inaugural team of 10, her department has grown to 600 in both New York and India. Yet they are one coherent organization with “a shared mission statement, shared drive, and shared sense of purpose.” One of the first women to serve on the Firm’s Technology Operating Committee, May has had a central role in the growth of Morgan Stanley’s U.S. banks, having led the design and delivery of the technology ecosystem at the core of the Firm’s banking products and services.
At Morgan Stanley nearly 30 years now, May still relishes working in what she calls “a strong talent business,” using technology to effect change. Despite its opposite reputation, building software requires extensive interaction between people, she explains. “It is a team business, where each individual brings a unique skill set to the table.” A people person herself, she not only loves that interaction and influencing change, but the satisfaction of “using technical innovation to create business solutions.”
“Choosing tech as a profession was one of the best decisions I could have made,” May beams. “It’s a fantastic career, and the perfect job for someone who likes the buzz of creative product development and thrives in a fast-moving technology landscape.”
A Culture of Inclusion
Given the intensity of a tech career, the need to constantly evolve, and the pressure associated with testing and implementing solutions, too few women choose this field. May is determined to change that. “For tech to be effective, it is important that we create a diverse workforce that reflects our society,” she says. “Women are strong change agents and fantastic connectors between business and technology.”
That’s why she, together with senior leaders in the tech department, founded the WIT Network (Women in Technology), an employee group that began as a resource for women in the Americas and now operates globally. She also co-chairs the Firm’s Technology Diversity Council in the Americas.
She is passionate about empowering diverse talent to reach their full potential. Through various forums, May is deeply committed to driving a culture of inclusion beyond women in tech. This includes efforts to recruit and retain talent across LGBTQ, racially and ethnically diverse groups.
May also volunteers outside the Firm, as a mentor for Year Up, an organization that places low-income youths in mentoring relationships with tech professionals. Periodically, she delivers meals for the homeless through one of her favorite charities in Brooklyn.
In recognition of her efforts, May was named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a group of trailblazing women nominated by their peers. She’s humbled by the honor: “It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that my contributions have made such a difference to others.”