The Morgan Stanley MAKER Blends Business and Creativity in Leading the Carolinas Complex

“A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

Disney fans will recognize this phrase. But for Kristen Sario, it’s been a mantra and source of inspiration since she was 17, when her mom jotted it down and gave it to Kristen as she drove off with dad for an important audition at Walt Disney World.

Today, the Carolinas Complex Manager, who recently was named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, says the famous line reflects what she would like others to know about her. “It starts with family,” says Kristen, a mother of three. “Everything I do is always with my family in mind and comes from the foundation my parents built for my sister and me.”

For some, a childhood spent frequently moving around the Midwest (and attending three first grades, three middle schools and two high schools) as her father was promoted in various sales and management positions would make for a unique life experience. For Kristen, it was a wonderful way to learn about life. “We still just seem to flock to each other,” she says of her mom, dad and sister. “We’re never too far apart.”

In fact, father Doug Marken and sister Erin Marken are a Financial Advisor team in Greensboro, N.C., and part of the complex neighboring the Carolinas Complex that Kristen leads.

Kristen remembers her childhood fondly, spending a “tremendous amount of time going to the office with my dad and listening to him on his [then medical sales] calls,” she says. “I would sit under his desk and draw pictures. Her business-suit-wearing father would become an inspiration, especially his sacrifices when transitioning his career to wealth management to create more family stability. “His courage was one of the greatest life lessons I had growing up,” she says.

Mom Barbara, who Kristen describes as, “the creative everything,” was a children’s theater director, puppeteer and troop leader at church. “We’d go on business trips with dad, but mom would always take us to museums and the theater,” says Kristen.

That culture and creativity led Kristen to pursue performing. She nailed that Disney audition and started singing, dancing, acting and puppeteering just five hours after graduating from high school. She continued to work at Disney and perform in traveling Jim Henson (VEE Entertainment) productions while attending the University of Florida in Gainesville. Disney led her to husband Kevin, a professional performer. “I got to see a lot of different markets and countries and work with many different people,” she says.

At college, however, where Kristen was on a vocal and academic scholarship, she came to realize that the arts could still be her passion as she yearned to be in a business suit like dad. So immediately after graduation, she enrolled in the Financial Advisor training program at Morgan Stanley in Gainesville. She became an associate on her dad’s team and had planned to manage her own book of business.

Seeing the natural leader in her, the management of Morgan Stanley kept “tapping me on the shoulder,” she says. “I was never looking to be in a leadership or a coaching role, but they saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself.” She was asked to coach trainees and speak at regional and national events, constantly back on stage. “I guess that’s the story of my life!”

Kristen —also an accomplished swimmer, diver, runner and cyclist who is typically training for something, like the Chicago Half Marathon now—agreed to business development and management positions in Sarasota, Boca Raton, Palm Beach, and now Charlotte, where she leads a team of nearly 400, including 250 Financial Advisors in 12 branches across the Carolinas and Georgia who manage $25 billion in assets.

When asked how different her current position is from her first one at Morgan Stanley, Kristen says: “My model and my process isn’t any different than when I started in 2006. It’s still all about people and being able to connect with and understand what motivates them.”

For Kristen, being named a Morgan Stanley MAKER is “hard to put into words, the feeling of being associated with so many great women across the firm,” she says. “It’s an honor and a celebration of my journey, the people who have gotten me here, and the life that I am building with my family.”

She still keeps that note from her mom close. “I’ve never felt limited, and I attribute that mindset to my parents,” she says. “I only hope that I can spread that and help others—not only here at Morgan Stanley, but my family and my community—identify and reach their full potential.”