Competing and taking breaks to ride horses helps release any stress from her role as Chief Administrative Officer and Head of Field Engagement for Morgan Stanley at Work.
Born with a love of horses, riding is all Kathryn Marshall remembers wanting to do growing up in Colorado. In first grade, her teacher told her parents she daydreamed and drew horses in class.
When she was 7, her grandfather bought her a horse. By 11, she was competing. She rode competitively throughout college, then took a break to start her family and career, only to come back to it years later.
“It’s an incredible way to learn a lot of life lessons, and I apply them in the workplace each day,” says the Chief Administrative Officer and Head of Field Engagement for Morgan Stanley at Work, a business that enables companies to deliver financial solutions to their employees.
“Every time you enter the arena, you need a plan,” explains Kathryn. “You plot your course and anticipate certain jumps and where you might save time. But there’s unpredictability working with an animal, so you have to be really agile.”
Competing or taking a break to ride helps Kathryn release some of the stress from her fast-paced job. “It’s a huge passion of mine that I don't think I'll ever be able to step away from.”
After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in finance, Kathryn first worked in investment banking. After a few years, she took an opportunity to work for a public-relations (PR) and investor-relations agency. She then boldly opened her own strategic communications firm with her business partner, focused primarily on technology companies, and grew it into one of Denver’s largest PR firms.
While leading her company, she decided to start a family. At 30 weeks pregnant with her first child, she came down with a life-threatening illness. The only cure was to deliver the baby. Daughter Jordan was born nine weeks early with a host of complications, including a heart defect, weighing just three pounds and unable to breathe on her own. Kathryn’s condition worsened, and both she and baby were fighting for their lives. They learned Jordan had suffered a stroke in utero and would stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for 50 days. “They broke the news to me that she would live with cerebral palsy and other lifelong complications. She might never walk, ride a bike and maybe not even talk,” says Kathryn.
At that moment, she decided that “if Jordan could just make it out alive, I will dedicate my life to giving back.”
Thankfully, Jordan not only pulled through but went on to walk, talk and ride a bike. “She beat the odds and continues to do so today, at 17 and a senior in high school,” says Kathryn, adding that Jordan, despite brief periods spent in a wheelchair during her life, “has a smile on her face every day, is a good skier and dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer. I know she will achieve that.”
After selling her stake in her firm, Kathryn did nonprofit work for seven years, including running the March of Dimes in Colorado and Wyoming. As a board member of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado in Boulder, she met her current manager with whom she stayed in touch. After four years at the March of Dimes, she worked in corporate and external relations for the university for another three years. When invited to join her current manager at Morgan Stanley and help build the Firm’s workplace business, “I jumped at the chance,” she says.
You find passion through life, however it happens to you.
A champion of culture development, Kathryn has done so much in her division to bring people together, including leading the cultural integration efforts following the acquisitions of Solium and E*TRADE. From establishing a culture committee to creating a unified onboarding program, enhanced professional development and employee recognition programs, and developing various diversity and inclusion initiatives, Kathryn’s primary goal is to help everyone feel they are part of one team with shared goals and values. She is known for her incredible work ethic, her focus on developing and retaining the best talent and amplifying the voices of others as a supportive mentor, advocate for women and active listener. “I work hard to create a place where everybody feels seen, heard and respected,” she says.
Kathryn sees herself as an empathetic leader, given all she’s had to overcome as a parent. “I’m much more understanding and approachable.”
It’s no surprise that the favorite part of her job is the people. “I work with some of the best, brightest minds out there,” she beams. “We have an incredible team, and I look forward to working with them every day when I wake up.”
She credits her success to having the “courage to do things she never had before,” pointing to the moments when she started her own company and when she left the corporate world for a nonprofit position. “The March of Dimes wanted 10 years of nonprofit leadership experience, and I didn’t have 10 minutes,” she says. “I sold them on my ability to run a business and lead with an entrepreneurial spirit.”
In 2014, the March of Dimes named Kathryn “Working Mother of the Year,” an award of which she is quite proud. “It honors someone who works very hard at balancing a growing career with a growing family,” says Kathryn. “Everyone struggles to achieve that balance. There are days I get it right and days I get it wrong, but that award gave me a lot of confidence.”
She’s also proud to have been named a Morgan Stanley 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. “For me, being a MAKER signals that it’s okay to take chances. MAKERS are courageous and boundaryless.” In fact, her career advice to others is to “say yes to opportunities, even if they scare you. Push yourself forward to develop those new skills and different strengths.”
As a working mom of two girls and stepmom to three additional kids, she finds Morgan Stanley to be “hands down the most supportive company,” she says. “I’m able to be there for the important things in my kids’ lives and have this amazing career.” The Firm’s core value of giving back resonates most with Kathryn, who still supports charitable organizations that focus on the disabled and special needs communities. “You find passion through life, however it happens to you,” she reflects. “For me, I channel my passion and gratitude for how our life has turned out, and want to give to others however I can.”