Ekene Ezulike clearly remembers the moment that changed how he thought about himself and his purpose. Years ago, while working for another bank in the UK, he gave a presentation to a group of disadvantaged high schoolers in London. One of the participants raised his hand and asked, “Ekene, what are you doing to be a role model for Black people?”
“I’m typically somebody who can answer questions on the spot, but I was stumped,” he says. “I hadn’t really thought of myself as a role model for anyone.” Today, that is no longer the case. Ezulike, a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley and the Global Head of Corporate Services & Global Centers, now mentors young employees and is proud of the number of diverse employees in leadership roles he oversees. “Within my management team, the number of Managing Directors who report to me are 70 percent diverse, whether by race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation,” he says.
When I was growing up in Nigeria, one thing that was clear to me from my parents was education, education, education is an equalizer in society. So what my parents actually did was they made the decision to move me and my three brothers to top boarding schools in the United Kingdom. And from there I went on to do a Master's degree, a PhD. And from there went on to work in financial services.
I came to Morgan Stanley looking for an institution that had a stronger culture than the institution that I was in. One that was very value-centric.
I noticed that people had been here for a long time, which is a sign that it has a strong culture. What I think is truly unique about Morgan Stanley, we're the type of environment where if somebody wins, we all win. So it is a culture that's very much around the people and how you can support the people to develop and grow with time.
I think giving back is one of the values of Morgan Stanley and is also something that we all, as human beings, have to do. About six years ago I was doing a presentation to some high school kids in the United Kingdom and one of them asked me this question. "Ekene, what are you doing to be a role model for other black people like me?" And that's one of the reasons that I made the journey to become a board member for A Better Chance.
A Better Chance is a non-for-profit that is focused on building future leadership of color in the United States. It gives children from inner cities a chance to go to the best boarding schools in America.
I know many people in Morgan Stanley, they are A Better Chance alums. And one of the things that they say is that it prepares you for life. Morgan Stanley is constantly pushing its employees and supporting its employees when they want to do things in the communities they're from.
I am Ekene Ezulike and we are Morgan Stanley.
Born in Nigeria, Ezulike was sent to boarding school in England with his three brothers by his parents (who had also sponsored and educated many children from other family members and friends in need). “The belief was that the UK provided a world-class standard of education, and that we would be exposed to different aspects of life that you wouldn’t living in a small city in Nigeria,” he says.
That education proved to be a powerful influence, as Ezulike went on to earn a master’s degree in civil engineering and a PhD in construction industry strategy, both from the University of Birmingham. His background comes in handy for his role at the firm managing corporate real estate, facilities, corporate security, travel, and corporate information management, among other responsibilities. Ezulike also oversees the firm’s Global Centers, which employ 24,000 people in ten locations around the world spanning Asia, Europe and North America, and he sits on both the firm’s Management Committee and the firm’s newly formed Global Wellness Board, which works to promote the physical, mental and financial health of our employees.
You arrived in the U.S. from our London office not long after COVID-19 hit stateside. How did you deal with crisis management during that time?
What I keep reminding people is that our COVID experience at Morgan Stanley started in December 2019, when it impacted our offices in Asia. By March 2020, we had already developed a playbook, so my biggest decision was the speed with which it could deploy that playbook globally, and I had help with that. I’m blessed to work with people who are both unflappable and simply the best at what they do. That's part of the DNA that I have in my leadership team. I believe there is no crisis we can’t solve, and that belief keeps me grounded.
What are some of the ways you’ve tried to respond to the ever-changing circumstances the pandemic has brought about?
Creating a flexible work environment is critically important, and that means thinking of everything from the experience which our employees need, to the workplace design, to the technology which we provide to them—ensuring people can work seamlessly from the office or from home or some combination of the two.
As just one example, we now have a number of apps that let you order your lunch, ship your packages or book a flight or an inter-office shuttle, all from your phone. And that’s just part of the whole ecosystem we are designing that is centered around the employee experience. I keep telling the team that we’re in the employee experience business, and we just happen to deliver solutions that support the infrastructure piece as well.
When I was growing up, my dad went from one financial crisis to another, but you would never detect anything was wrong. And that’s my make-up, too. People are sometimes surprised how calm I am under pressure. I am Nigerian, of Ibo descent. My ancestors faced a lot of struggles over the years. So there’s this kind of culture instilled in us that you always have to be optimistic, that tomorrow will be better, and that is totally how I’m wired.
One of Morgan Stanley’s core values is Commit to Diversity and Inclusion. Can you talk a bit about the firm’s efforts in that regard?
Organizations don't get diverse by osmosis; they get diverse because somebody is taking conscious and deliberate action, and that’s what the firm is making an effort to do. People trust the firm is actually walking the walk when they see people in leadership roles who look like them. That’s something I haven’t always experienced in my career before I came to Morgan Stanley. What I say to my leadership team is I know it’s hard because I’ve made the changes to increase representation in my senior team. And the only way it happens is if you create the platform for people to do it. It does not happen if you sit there and lecture people. It happens because leaders lead.
It actually took a while for the penny to drop, but I finally realized I was not doing enough as someone who has made progress in my career. I was one of two or three Black managing directors at my previous workplace, a firm that employed nearly 100,000 people. It awakened my belief that I have to do something to help others who look like me. I started to take my opportunities as a role model more seriously and mentor more people.
One of the ways you do that is through your philanthropic efforts. How did you get involved with the nonprofit organization A Better Chance?
When I came to America, I contacted Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Philanthropy, Joan Steinberg, and told her that I wanted to join the board of an institution working with people of color. She gave me three or four options, and the one that felt right immediately was A Better Chance, which Morgan Stanley has sponsored for 30 years. I was invited to join the board, and it’s been a good, good experience.