Morgan Stanley MAKER and CMO Alice Milligan, who builds brand moments, advises her mentees to set goals then be brave enough to act on them. She shares her successes with doing so.
Morgan Stanley’s Alice Milligan acknowledges that “sometimes people lose sight of what the finance industry fundamentally does” and is quick to make this point: “Whether it’s wealth management, investment management, banking or issuing credit cards, it’s about helping people accomplish their goals and dreams.”
In fact, what ultimately drew Alice back to financial services was the way that “this industry gives back to society.”
Before becoming Morgan Stanley’s Chief Marketing Officer in 2021, Alice was Chief Customer Officer at E*Trade, a brand that combined with Morgan Stanley in 2020. Now, she’s passionately taking on the responsibility for the Morgan Stanley brand.
“A brand must come to life,” she says. “We have the opportunity to shape how people feel about our company. What I love about my job is thinking strategically about and designing what our audiences see and feel and how they interact with the brand, then measuring the outcomes of our efforts.”
Alice was young when she learned about money and how to be independent. The self-proclaimed “Jersey Girl” describes growing up in a dysfunctional family. Working since age 12, she did paper routes, worked in a pharmacy and was a camp counselor. At 19, having planned out what she “needed to survive” for the next few years, she left home with only her savings. “That was a monumental time in my life,” she reflects.
Working in a full-time administrative position at AT&T allowed her to put herself through college at night, earning both her undergraduate degree in business with a concentration in marketing and graduate degree in corporate communications. Those 12 years “gave me a good feel for identifying what’s important and where to focus your time and effort—and what’s not,” says Alice.
A key partner in those years was her husband David, who she met in her early 20s. Together for three decades now, she’s grateful for his partnership “in getting me through that time, doing laundry and making dinner while I did homework when I wasn’t working or in school.” The tables turned when, after she finished grad school and was working at American Express, David was diagnosed with cancer and needed a liver transplant.
In fact, what ultimately drew Alice back to financial services was the way that “this industry gives back to society.
On the waitlist for a liver transplant for some time, Alice turned down career opportunities to remain close to home, “knowing we could be called in for a transplant at any second.” With that experience, she realized: “Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. A decision you make today doesn’t change what your future is tomorrow.”
Despite personal sacrifices, she says “opportunities will come, and you can still accomplish your goals.” After working in human resources, product management, sales and “a host of other areas,” something clicked when she landed in financial services marketing. Before that, she was always hard on herself for not being “a numbers person.” Then she recognized that she brought “a different set of skills to the table,” says Alice. “Many of the people calculating numbers in their heads weren’t thinking about the client’s needs or wants and solving for those.”
Driving that success is “having a long-term vision, identifying milestones you need to hit, developing a strategy for reaching them, executing with excellence, then sharing the results.” Looking back, she realizes that setting goals and milestones as a teenager and being brave enough to act on those goals—like leaving home—laid the groundwork for her future. “I’ve taken that same approach throughout my life and my career,” she says.
This dynamic leader with a reputation for big ideas that build memorable brand moments was recently named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a distinguished group of women and men of accomplishment, all nominated by their peers. She says “MAKERS are magic. They are industry champions who have taken their own individual paths to getting there through hard work and with a will to win.”
For Alice, the MAKERS movement recognizes achievement and provides a platform to share stories—of not just the successes but the obstacles overcome. She adds that her family challenges helped her step forward as a leader after 9/11, when she had been working at the World Trade Center complex and helped her team cope with stress and anxiety in the aftermath. “It was the first time I realized that coming from a dysfunctional background makes you a lot stronger than you think you are, capable of helping others.”
Enthusiastic about continuing to pay it forward, Alice volunteers and fundraises for the American Cancer Society and Donate Life, among other organizations close to her heart following her husband’s liver transplant. She also mentors other women firmwide and reminds them to “speak up and ask for what you want.”
Alice—who loves fishing and boxing, a sport in which her great grandfather and brother excelled—shares this advice: “The only ceiling in life is the one you give it. You can accomplish anything. It may not happen when or how you think it’s going to, but if you’re determined and stick to it and you’re true to your beliefs and your values, it will.”