As Business Risk Management Head of the US Banks, this Morgan Stanley MAKER leads a high-performing team and mentors women across the Firm. Here’s how she found community at work.
In 10th grade, Moira Sullivan’s geometry teacher pointed out how well she did in math and science, a gesture Moira remembers that opened her path to a technical degree and career. Today, as Head of Business Risk Management for the U.S. Banks at Morgan Stanley, she’s a recognized leader—one who is calm under pressure when the stakes are high.
Moira grew up in Ridgewood, N.J., a relatively small town with a small high school. When she enrolled in a large college, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, she was quickly exposed to more diversity, forming relationships with people from different geographies and cultures. Yet, in engineering school, she experienced an imbalanced ratio of women to men. At only one to every 10 men, it was a spot she felt proud to have earned.
For her first job out of college, she landed “a giant project,” consulting for a bank that was redesigning its internal systems. This important position working on the bank’s transformation put her on the financial services – plus technology – path. It was a field that had only just started to be recognized for supporting women in the workforce, with advances every year since.
After three years, she took a position at Morgan Stanley, in the Firm’s Information Technology department. She was a software developer for about 10 years then moved into the Foreign Exchange business unit and later the Institutional Securities division before running the Private Banking Group’s Program Management Office.
Moira left Morgan Stanley to work for a small technology firm for a few years but returned to the culture she missed. “One of the great things about Morgan Stanley is the amount of hard and challenging work we have to do every day,” she says. “But we have fun, a sense of community and a feeling that we’re all in it together.”
You are most committed to your work when you do it as part of a team you feel connected to.
For Moira, “community at work is crucial,” she says. “You are most committed to your work when you do it as part of a team you feel connected to.”
A naturally curious person, she enjoys that her job is “so varied. The number of topics I'm dealing with in a given day, hour to hour, is so broad-ranging,” says Moira. “I'm offered many chances to dig into a new space and learn more.”
That curiosity has also led her to consistently seek new challenges at the Firm. Her resume reflects that. “Every three to four years, I made a significant change, whether from one team to another, one content area to another or one division to another,” she points out. “The first year, you’re trying to get your arms around a new area. The second year, you’ve got it under control. By year three, you’ve got it, and it’s time for the next challenge.”
She credits her success with transitions to remaining both curious and driven to solve problems. Since “it takes being able to absorb a lot of information,” Moira advises others to “become a knowledgeable professional in the area you’re interested in. Synthesize the complex information, so you can play it back to others in a relatively simple way. The further you go in your career, the more you’ll be asked to do so.”
In fact, it’s the professionals at work she admires the most. “I love people who take the time to gather a lot of knowledge around a topic and share it. They inspire me,” she says.
Moira is a member of the U.S. Banks Operating Committee and co-founder of the Women of the U.S. Banks, a group of several hundred employees who focus on developing women and fostering workplace inclusivity. She’s established her own high-performing team and is known for mentoring women across the organization, both formally and informally.
She also makes every effort to give back to her community. For example, during Morgan Stanley Volunteer Month in June, Moira taught many colleagues how to crochet in support of Knit A Square, a charity that makes a difference in the lives of orphaned or vulnerable babies and children.
Among her proudest accomplishments is raising her two children in a two-career family. “Hardworking parents; hardworking kids,” she says. Now 24 and 21, son Matthew is studying computer science and film at Clark University, and daughter Catherine is studying education at the University of Virginia. Moira felt it was important for them to grow up with a working mother and has always made an effort to share stories about both her career successes and challenges.
She’s thankful for the lessons she’s learned over the years, like having been told that “you can never make everyone happy. Instead, find the answer you think is most acceptable or most aligned with the question. Compromises are going to be made, and the solution might not be perfect. However, leading with curiosity and hard work will get you closer to right.”
One story she’s proud to share is having been named a 2022 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. She’s grateful to have been recognized as an advocate for women and hopes her own experience can help drive their paths forward. “For women, there are some wonderful opportunities in financial services, which make incredible investments in technology,” she says. To her, a perfect pairing for a fulfilling career.