Morgan Stanley MAKER Michelle Morris is a culture carrier of inclusivity who promotes diversity in the asset management industry. She advises others to forge their own path too.
Michelle Morris is never deterred by being told she can't do something. In fact, that makes her “want to do it all the more.”
She’s shown that determination from the moment she entered public finance as a banker in the mid-1980s—when few women, especially those of color, were in roles like hers. “I was a unicorn,” she says. “Few people looked like me, and I didn’t fit in socially.”
Looking back, she says that experience made her “extremely resilient and determined to be successful in the industry I love.”
Instead of trying to change everyone, she slowly “chipped away at it,” engaging with one person at a time to “help them understand my background, my interests and our similarities. That really made a difference.”
Today, as Head of Business Development for Diverse Asset Managers, Investment Solutions, at Morgan Stanley, she’s still making a difference—and more rapidly. In this role since the position was created in 2021, she “promotes and accelerates the growth of diverse asset managers whose investment products are offered on the Firm’s Wealth Management platform.”
Michelle was asked to lean in to this newly created position in 2021 after she saw a need for it and raised the opportunity to expand on “the phenomenal work Morgan Stanley was already doing” of onboarding diverse asset managers. Now, she engages more deeply with them, helping them navigate the Firm’s platform while educating advisors and clients on the benefits of incorporating high-performing investment strategies managed by diverse asset managers in their portfolios.
Her new role received broad support from senior managers and was formalized in April 2021. During the pandemic, Michelle also co-chaired the newly formed Investment Solutions Diversity & Inclusion Committee, which has approximately 70 members representing all business groups within Investment Solutions. Previously, Michelle was a member of the Morgan Stanley Home Office Culture Committee, on which she co-chaired the Giving Back subcommittee and helped forge a stronger relationship with the Robin Hood Foundation. “I really love my work and our mission, engaging across the Firm and finding innovative ways to collaborate,” she emphasizes.
Help them understand my background, my interests and our similarities.
This culture carrier of inclusivity was recently named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a distinguished group of women and men of accomplishment, all nominated by their peers. For Michelle, the MAKERS movement is “important because there's still so much work to be done to uplift and empower women, not only in financial services but in all industries.”
Doing her part, Michelle is passionate about mentoring colleagues, both formally and informally. “When I started my career, I didn’t have the benefit of a mentor,” she says. “I had to learn how to give myself feedback.” She felt uncomfortable asking questions but persisted and took on demanding assignments that others didn’t want until she was perceived as “someone who could punch above their weight.”
That’s why she encourages others to “take on challenging projects that stretch you beyond your comfort zone.” She refers to one of her favorite poems, Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, when recommending that her mentees “take calculated risks, so people can see what you’re made of.”
She also advises young people to “start developing your network early in your career.” First and foremost, though, “you have to believe in yourself. It’s crucial to build a diverse network of peers, mentors and advisors—and remember that bringing people of diverse backgrounds together makes an organization’s DNA that much stronger.”
Michelle grew up in Boston. Her mother, a social worker, and her father, a lawyer, were great role models. “They always gave back to communities of color and were community leaders who provided a voice for those whose voices were not represented,” Michelle remembers.
She continues that community commitment, sitting on the boards of Brightpoint Care, a nonprofit organization that provides health care and other services to underserved communities in the New York City metropolitan area, and 100 Women in Finance, whose mission is to promote diversity and empower women in the finance industry. Another organization she’s long volunteered for, like her mother did, is The Links Incorporated, which was established in 1946 and provides community service through educational and cultural programming in underserved communities in the U.S., the Bahamas and the United Kingdom.
Michelle also advises the 1921 Institute, a young nonprofit that provides capital to African-American entrepreneurs. Their approach is similar to that of Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab, an accelerator providing capital and advice to multicultural and women-led startups.
Her first job after earning her economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania was in the treasury department of an insurance company in Boston. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School then landed on Wall Street as a municipal finance banker. Michelle was a banker for 10 years before transitioning into investment management, leading business development and managing relationships with institutional investors. She made the move to Wealth Management about 10 years ago, serving in a variety of roles, including private markets investment due diligence and alternative investments product development.
Michelle now lives in Westchester County, N.Y., with her husband, Greg Weston, a lawyer. Their two adult children, Cole and Lauren, have careers in the investment industry. “I'm proud to say they both started their careers here at Morgan Stanley, and at one point all three of us worked here!”
In addition to her children, Michelle says her current role at Morgan Stanley is one of her proudest accomplishments. “Everything I’ve done throughout my career has prepared me for this position—and the opportunity to bring diverse asset managers to the forefront of the investment industry.”