Morgan Stanley

Devin McDermott

Managing Director, Research

When Devin completed his studies at Johns Hopkins University, armed with both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in engineering, he landed back in his native New York City as a project manager with Con Edison, applying remote sensor technology to the aging electrical grid in Manhattan. But he quickly discovered that engineering wasn’t the career for him after all, and wound up in Con Ed’s gas and power commodities trading group, a role much more to his liking.

While completing his MBA at New York University, Devin was offered a job on the Utilities & Clean Energy Equity Research team at Morgan Stanley. He has since taken over the North American commodities strategy focused on gas and power. In 2018, Devin was named head of the North American Integrated Oil and Exploration & Production group, tasked with building a small team to handle oil and gas equity coverage, part of an effort to create an integrated energy research platform across the energy sub-sectors. “My goal is to make this a successful mini-business within Morgan Stanley,” he says. “There’s a lot of opportunity to build a leading franchise.” 

How would you describe your role here?

Our job is to come up with investment ideas in the energy space. There are a lot of different drivers and trends in this sector—geopolitical aspects, geology, company fundamentals. We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve and find new ways of looking at things. In my prior role, I did a lot more work with clean tech, like wind and solar. Now, I'm dealing more directly with fossil fuels. But even within that coverage space, there are a lot of companies that are investing in new and emerging technologies.

It's an intellectually challenging job. The day-to-day, being as variable as it is, keeps it very exciting. And a big part of my job is marketing our research. I have a constant dialogue with our institutional client-base, a very smart group of people. So it's very stimulating conversation and back-and-forth debates on a lot of different ideas. I enjoy that aspect of the job, as well as maintaining dialogues with the management teams in this sector.

Where do the best ideas come from?

I think one of the areas where we've been most successful is cross-sector—as well as global—collaboration. Often, the most interesting ideas, or most disruptive ideas, are those that don't come from what I'm looking at every day in our silo, but from some other sector, some other development that our clients or our competitors might not be as focused on. Having that dialogue with other peers here at Morgan Stanley allows us to have new insights. 

What’s the secret to success here?

Fostering relationships early on in your career, which I did when I first got here, and it  really helped me along the way, even in an entry-level position. Just having dialogue with other teams, other peers at my level, helped me come up with interesting ideas that I could share with my boss, and that ultimately helped us improve our product.

Tell us about an achievement you are proud of.

The highlight of my career at Morgan Stanley so far has been the opportunity to lead a franchise here within Research. It's essentially running our own mini-business inside of a larger company. There’s a lot of autonomy in terms of structuring the product, figuring out what we approach, what we work on—and what we don't. 

What role does technology play in what you do?

It's extremely important. Just the sheer amount of data out there makes it challenging to sift through everything and figure out what's important and what's not. There are a lot of services that help streamline the data feeds and that help shift our focus onto what's important. There's satellite imagery that tracks the flow of commodities and ships, for instance, which allows you access to an amazing amount of detail that wasn’t available 10 years ago.

What makes Morgan Stanley special as a place to work?

I mentioned that it’s a very collaborative company overall. Even across divisions, we can reach out, pick up the phone and call someone internally, and they’re usually willing to help out and work with you on whatever the project is. I also think there’s a culture of retaining talent and fostering career development that is very different than what you find at a lot of other banks.

What's changed since you started covering the gas and power sector?

The biggest surprise to me in my prior coverage area was just the rate at which cleaner technologies are falling in terms of cost, relative to traditional technologies. We got to the point, two or three years ago, where wind and solar were undercutting natural gas—which is very cheap here in the U.S.—as a source of new energy, and that created this explosive growth trend that's still going on today. 

What’s your best piece of advice?

Don't get siloed into a specific role or function. Think outside the box and look for opportunities—there's a lot of flexibility at Morgan Stanley in general—and in Research, in particular. When there's a good opportunity, seize it and really take responsibility for it. Be open to new ideas and transitions and always look for those opportunities. It’s a great way to move up and increase your stature.

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