David Stark has an intriguingly unusual title—Chief Medical Officer and Head of HR Data, Analytics and Technology Strategy. This singular role offers him the ideal way to leverage his experience as both a doctor and an informatics specialist, combining the human side of medicine and employee management with an acumen for numbers. It has also given him the tools to help address the COVID crisis as it impacted a firm of more than 75,000 employees around the world.
A little about his background: After getting his BS from Yale University in neurobiology, Stark graduated Harvard Medical School and then completed a residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in pediatric neurology. He later was awarded a research fellowship and earned a master’s degree from Stanford University in biomedical informatics. He was previously a member of the faculty of Mount Sinai Health System and served as medical director of its Institute for Next Generation Healthcare at the Icahn School of Medicine, which innovates data- and technology-driven healthcare solutions.
At Morgan Stanley, which he joined in 2018, he continues his pursuit of innovation, with a holistic focus on employee health and wellbeing. And while he may have changed industries, the inspiration he gets from his colleagues continues to motivate him. “The best and the brightest are at Morgan Stanley—we are the people who constantly ask questions and test assumptions,” says Stark. “It’s a wonderful extension of the intellectual curiosity I value coming from an academic and medical background.”
He shares insights on raising awareness of mental health in the workplace, a priority for the firm, in this Morgan Stanley Minute video, and further discusses his work at the firm below.
What drew you to join Morgan Stanley from the medical world?
My role at Morgan Stanley is at the intersection of so much of what is exciting in healthcare today. Even before the pandemic, healthcare was at an inflection point. And COVID has only accentuated that. Almost half of healthcare in the US is paid for by large self-insured employers like Morgan Stanley—and all around the world, employees are looking to companies to do more to support their wellbeing. It’s a fascinating time to be thinking about healthcare from the perspective of an employer.
You have two roles at Morgan Stanley. Let’s talk first about your role as Chief Medical Officer.
As Chief Medical Officer, I’m focused on the health and wellbeing of our global workforce and their families, including overseeing the teams responsible for benefits. Over the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of co-leading the firm’s global COVID response.
I also sit on the board of the Morgan Stanley Foundation, which for over 60 years has had a significant philanthropic interest in children’s health and, more recently, a targeted focus on children’s mental health. It’s been rewarding to help guide those charitable investments and strategic initiatives.
How can a big company like Morgan Stanley promote mental health among its employees?
Historically, employers have been concerned with ensuring staff have access to a mental health provider. But that’s not the whole story. Access is just one part of the puzzle. Increasingly, we’ve recognized that attending to employees’ mental health also means focusing on awareness and prevention.
There’s still a lot of stigma around mental health. If employers can elevate the topic by having senior leaders discuss mental health candidly, it sends a powerful message that mental health is viewed like any other health topic. That de-stigmatization leads to increased awareness and allows people to step into the light and seek help if they need it.
By rethinking organizational culture and changing workplace norms, we can positively impact employees’ mental and physical health.
Explain what the Global Wellbeing Board is.
The Global Wellbeing Board, which we launched in October 2021, comprises 16 senior leaders across the firm’s geographies and business lines. The group’s goal is to set strategy around our mental health initiatives. We’re increasing internal awareness about everything from answering email after working hours to making meetings feel more inclusive to how we engage on a one-to-one basis. We’re also forming an employee network that leverages our most important asset—our people—to help employees help each other.
How was your job impacted by the pandemic?
We set up a COVID-19 task force in January 2020. One of the silver linings of COVID for me has been the opportunity to collaborate with so many talented people across the firm. We implemented strong health and safety measures and protocols in response to rapidly evolving situations around the world.
You’re also Head of HR Data, Analytics and Technology Strategy. What does that role involve?
In Human Resources, we make so many decisions every day about whom we hire, whom we develop and promote, how we deploy our workforce strategically and how we enable people to reach their career goals. And all those decisions can be better informed by data.
As you can imagine, with over 75,000 employees globally, managers make millions of people-related decisions every year—and our team uses data and analytics to drive better decision-making at all levels of the organization.
You joined Morgan Stanley from the healthcare sector. What has surprised you about the culture?
I’d say we’re a large firm that still feels small and collegial. The way this firm wraps its arms around its employees is remarkable. I’ve been involved in numerous situations when an employee has a health crisis or other personal emergency—and the calls come in from all ends: from the employee’s manager and from co-workers as well as from the employees themselves. The firm always looks to support its own.
Also, I appreciate how willing people at Morgan Stanley are to engage, even if it’s not directly within their area of focus. The intellectual curiosity that marks Morgan Stanley employees means you’re likely to have a productive conversation whenever you reach out.
I often interact with our healthcare investment banking and asset management teams and have advised clients who are themselves large employers about how they can protect the health and wellbeing of their populations.
Part of the fun of being at a place like Morgan Stanley is sitting in the middle of so much intellectual capital and deal flow. It’s an incredible place to work.