Jenn Freeman grew up in a STEM family before STEM was a familiar acronym. “Everyone around me was very focused on STEM,” says the Morgan Stanley Managing Director and Head of Field Engagement. “It was in my DNA.”
Her family is steeped in the math and science fields. Jenn’s dad was a software engineer; her mom worked in finance. One uncle was a nuclear physicist; another is an electrical engineer. One aunt was a biologist; another is in finance as well.
Jenn tracks some of her family’s passion for STEM to her maternal grandparents. Her grandfather, who also was an electrical engineer, has 24 patents to his credit. Any grandchild of his was going to excel at math. “I’d go food shopping with him when I was three and he’d ask me how many eggs were in a dozen and how many were left if he took two away,” she remembers.
Her grandmother worked with numbers too—at Prudential in Newark, N.J. She was “absolutely an inspiration to me, a trailblazer,” says Jenn of her grandma, who left the workforce when Jenn’s mom was born and later went back to school for her master’s in education and became a high-school math teacher.
As Jenn got older, math was so prevalent in their house that “it wouldn’t be crazy to be asked your times tables over the dinner table.”
Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Never doubting her skill with numbers, Jenn majored in finance. After graduating from Boston University, she was persuaded by a friend in New Jersey to return home for work after she circulated her resume at the local Morgan Stanley branch. Three interviews later, she was hired into the Firm’s then-new rotational analyst program, a two-year opportunity to work in three different eight-month jobs and explore different parts of wealth management.
Wall Street wasn’t necessarily on her list, but after the interviews, she realized Morgan Stanley provided a “ton of opportunities” to explore different roles and was an amazing organization at which to work.
After graduating from the analyst program, she landed in the Firm’s Office of Business Management, where she worked for seven years for “several amazing leaders,” then transitioned to Business Development & Field Training and became the division’s chief operating officer. That led to Jenn’s promotion to Head of Field Engagement.
Today, looking back over her career’s “zigs and zags and turns,” she thinks about the opportunities she never saw coming. “I tell the team, ‘It’s all about you and your hard work and dedication. Great things happen to people with all those attributes.’”
Jenn is proud of the rotational program she attended and now leads. She also spearheads the Virtual Engagement Program, which sources newer career talent. An influential leader, she is dedicated to building the next generation of leaders and places a large emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. She’s always had a talent for “connecting the dots and connecting people.”
Those who work with Jenn say they admire how she makes her team better by leading, motivating and pushing them to go beyond the ask. “Go outside your comfort zone,” she tells others. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
That’s why programs like MAKERS are so vital to bringing up the next generation.
Jenn’s goals and ambitions are not limited to her career. On the personal side, one of her bucket list items had been to visit all 30 major league baseball ballparks. “It’s a fun way to see sports and get around the country,” says Jenn, who hit her final three last season. Now, she’s turned to football. “I’ve gone to three new football stadiums already.”
When Jenn got the call that she had been named a 2022 MAKER—joining a distinguished group of women and men, all nominated by their peers for serving as advocates, groundbreakers and innovators for women’s advancement—she questioned, “Are you sure? Did you really mean me?” She considers it an honor and privilege to sit alongside the other women and men with this distinction, many of whom she works with and leans on for advice.
Characteristically, Jenn took her time of recognition to promote others. “The MAKERS movement puts a spotlight on women’s accomplishments and how they can succeed at anything they put their mind to,” says Jenn, noting how grateful she is to have grown up in a loving household among family who “always told me I could be anything I wanted to be.” Jenn acknowledges that not all girls learn that. “That’s why programs like MAKERS are so vital to bringing up the next generation.”