Morgan Stanley MAKER Dianna Smith is an entrepreneur at heart. She helps women with their financial—and now, after a health scare, their personal—wellness. Here is her story.
Dianna Smith remembers sitting in the kitchen of her Kansas farmhouse as a young girl. While most of her family members were out tending to the corn and cows, her grandmother was sitting by the small AM radio, listening to “the original squawk box,” with its weather reports and prices on grain futures, which she’d use to determine whether to hold that year’s crop in the silo or take it to market.
“In essence, she was the original futures trader of our family,” says Dianna, who fondly describes her family as hard-working entrepreneurs who bought dairy cattle from the proceeds raised from selling popcorn to the local movie theater. “They just knew how to get things done.”
As Co-founder of the Ferguson Smith Cohen Group at Morgan Stanley, so does Dianna, whose 23-year career in wealth management has earned her numerous national and state honors. This mom of two daughters has been named to Forbes’ Best-In-State Wealth Advisors list in 2021, 2020, 2019 and 2018, as well as its Top 250 Women Advisors list and Working Mother and SHOOK Research’s Top Wealth Advisor Moms list in all four years as well. Most recently, she was named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a distinguished group of women and men of accomplishment, all nominated by their peers.
The Wealth Advisor and Senior Portfolio Management Director sees herself as an entrepreneur at heart who loves working with her now 11-person team to help clients reach their goals. Together, they manage more than $2 billion in assets, up from $100 million when they first began.
Spending most of her life in Kansas, she was drawn to Arizona after a trip to visit a college friend and moved there for a few years. “That’s where I really learned to love entrepreneurship,” she says of the jobs she held in Scottsdale. “I loved the creativity and worked hard with minimal resources, which was such a great training ground for what I do today.”
When she headed back to Kansas in the mid-1990s to start her own family, Dianna knew she wanted to do something in finance. She landed a job with Thomas Cook Currency Services in Kansas City completing foreign exchange transactions. “I was the eyes and ears of the Midwest,” says Dianna of her position that, via Netscape, was one of the first virtual trading desks for foreign currency exchange.
Looking for something more relationship-oriented, she knocked on the door of a prominent local wealth management firm with a national footprint until they hired her. Expecting her first child as she learned the ropes, Dianna completed all of her certifications. “I had to convince them that I was going to be the right woman for the job, and they took a big risk knowing I was pregnant,” she remembers. “I came right out of maternity leave and hit the ground running!”
Her family helped her address and stamp hundreds of seminar invitations, and shortly after she had three back-to-back seminars filled. That’s where she would earn her first clients, including one she would advise for over 20 years and who “lived until the beautiful age of 94,” Dianna smiles. “Now I get to work with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Ever since, Dianna has continued to invest in herself, earning the Certified Investment Manager Analyst (CIMA®) designation and the Family Wealth Director designation, which fewer than 4 percent of Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors obtain. Dianna also holds the designation of Morgan Stanley Workspace Advisor – Equity Compensation. She says she embraces every “opportunity to expand my knowledge in finance, the capital markets and wealth planning.”
Besides learning, she loves “the synergy of my team and colleagues,” says Dianna. “It’s just so fun to go to work every day.”
There was one day, however, in 2010, that was not so enjoyable. “I got the call from my doctor in the middle of a trade. I had breast cancer. I finished the trade. Then I cried.”
That pivotal moment was the start of her commitment to wellness. She went on to not only beat the cancer but to embrace her journey and share it with others to encourage their own selfcare. Now, she helps women with their financial wellness as well as their personal wellness. “For years, I had not been taking care of myself,” she admits. “I realized I had to change my approach to life and began the wellness and spiritual journey that I am still on today.”
As her daughter was heading off to college recently, Dianna was compelled to put her advice down on paper, focusing on the transition to adulthood. “I really wanted to make sure that when I wasn’t there, she had little nuggets of wisdom to reflect on,” explains Dianna, who created a beautifully illustrated book that was published. Entitled ILY+ [from when they would text each other “I love you” (ILY) and “I love you more” (ILY+)], it is an “A to Z list of reminders of what we need more of in our lives, from eating that broccoli to spending some time outside.”
“Doing so is a really important part of building your career and your life, especially as we often try to do it all,” Dianna adds. “You have to take the time to take care of yourself. You are worth it!”