Devastated when she didn’t get into law school, this Morgan Stanley Managing Director now sees it was the best thing to ever happen to her. She shares this and other life lessons.
Wendi Eckardt took it hard when she didn’t get into law school after completing her undergraduate studies, calling it “one of the most disappointing and devastating times.” But today, the Morgan Stanley Managing Director and Pacific Coast Regional Manager for Private Wealth Management looks back and confidently calls it “truly the best thing that ever happened to me.”
What followed was a suggestion from her father, Art Gilman, that she come work at Morgan Stanley, where he had been a Financial Advisor and management executive for many years. She started full-time in the mailroom, got promoted a few months later to operations, then became a Client Service Associate on a wealth management team and eventually a Financial Advisor herself. It was when she stepped in to help her father transition a new team to Morgan Stanley that she “fell in love with the business,” she says. “I knew this was what I was going to do the rest of my life.”
After three decades of growth in the industry, embracing multiple management roles in the San Francisco Bay area, Wendi can now point to many lessons learned, perhaps the first being: “To succeed and have confidence in yourself, you have to fail.”
She admits her path wasn’t always clear, even with the best mentor around in her father. At one point, Wendi started working with a coach when she felt she had hit a plateau. “To be successful in your career, you have to understand what you’re NOT good at,” she reflects. “My ah-ha moment was a self-assessment to better understand my weaknesses—then working at it, and working at it, and working at it. It’s tough to admit to yourself you’re not good at something, but that, for me, was a game changer.”
It wasn’t long after that when Wendi was recruited to run Private Wealth Management, Northwest, in the Pacific region. That break ten years ago was an “opportunity of a lifetime,” beams Wendi. “I get to work with some of the finest professionals in the industry. I have the best job at the firm!”
In her role, she applies strengths that include listening intently to get to the root of any problem. “When my team is in crisis or there’s a breakdown in communication, I always give my undivided attention,” says Wendi. “In today’s world, we’re so fast paced and pulled in so many directions that you cannot just listen—you actually have to hear the problem so we can solve it and not just put a band-aid over an issue.”
Wendi is proud of the team she’s built, which includes 102 Wealth Advisors and staff across 11 locations who manage $210 billion in assets (as of April 2023). Their secret sauce, you might call it, is diversity. “Having complementary skill sets but also different ways of thinking and of approaching situations and solving problems is essential,” says Wendi, who works closely with the firm’s regional Diversity and Inclusion teams to advance their initiatives across management and advisory teams. “I’m very fortunate to manage one of the most diverse groups at Morgan Stanley.”
Paying it forward as a mentor and sponsor herself, Wendi is inspired when “seeing others succeed—especially that moment when someone accomplishes something they never thought was possible.” Mentors, she says, often “believe in you more than you believe in yourself. They pull you up, give you stretch assignments, and push you in directions you never thought were possible. Sometimes we all just need that little nudge.”
Getting there, as she’s learned, takes reflection, self-assessment and confidence to leave your comfort zone for opportunities. “This is a tough business,” she admits. “But the advice I would give to young women is to persevere. Just don’t give up. Women are a lot better at this business than they often think they are.”
Wendi applies that in her personal life, making a point to try things she knows little about. For example, she doesn’t enjoy cooking, but “I made a commitment to every week make two things I’ve never made before so at the end of the year I can be better at something I’m awful at.” She and her husband live in Santa Cruz, about five minutes from her parents, and together the high-energy couple enjoy outdoor activities such as running and tennis. While she didn’t get that elusive law degree, Wendi is a Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA), earned an MBA from the College of Notre Dame, and completed Wharton’s Investment Strategist Consultant Program.
Honored to have been named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a group of trailblazing women of accomplishment nominated by their peers, Wendi says: “MAKERS are doers. They do what they say they’re going to do and show people what’s possible in their careers. They show that path forward.”
Wendi knows how fortunate she was in having a father as her best mentor: “I’ve come to recognize that everyone needs ‘a parent’ in the business—someone that can help navigate those roads for you,” she says.
While her dad retired years ago, his decades of advice and guidance live on as Wendi leads her team members and mentees toward success, embracing her own roadmap for the future. “I always have a strategy for anything I’m trying to accomplish,” she says.
To that, she applies all she’s learned from her father. “There came a time when he told me, ‘That’s it—there’s nothing else I can teach you,’” she says. “I think that was the proudest moment he’s ever had.”