Melissa James is Vice Chairman and Chief Risk Officer of Lending for Morgan Stanley Global Capital Markets. She provides risk management oversight and capital planning for all Global Capital Market lending businesses. James has held a number of leadership positions at Morgan Stanley, including Global Head of the Loan Products Group, where she managed a book of corporate loan commitments. She also chaired the firm’s Capital Commitment Committee and before that, was responsible for managing relationships with some of the firm’s largest industrial clients.
A guiding presence at Morgan Stanley for over 25 years, James has been recognized by Black Enterprise Magazine as one of the “Top 75 Most Powerful Blacks on Wall Street,” as well as one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Corporate America.”
She holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Yale University and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School.
My team helps manage risk and build relationships. We’re involved, not only in managing the capital and liquidity resources of the firm and in overseeing our ongoing lending capabilities, but also increasing connectivity with the firm’s most important clients. I personally do a lot of relationship building: Strengthening our ties with current clients, as well as forging new ones with businesses across all industries, for private and public companies, and for all product needs.
I’ve invested a tremendous amount of time in developing our lending business, starting when lending was a nascent business line. We established a bank loan business back in 2001, and I was there at its inception and oversaw much of its growth. I was one of the architects of our lending joint venture with Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ that was formed in 2009 to leverage our strategic partnership and further strengthen our combined capabilities. I’m very proud of the fact that we built and sustained this critically important business through the various credit and market cycles.
Without question, the people. During my time at the firm, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with some of the brightest and most inspiring colleagues in banking. Everyone has diverse perspectives and backgrounds, but we all share a commitment to hard work and overall excellence. This permeates Morgan Stanley at all levels, but it’s always so gratifying to see it among interns and first-year analysts. They’re very enthusiastic and full of ideas, and I like to think that it’s the surrounding environment of top-flight people that stimulates their creativity.
Among senior people, what sticks out most in my mind was how during the global financial crisis, everyone came together to make sure that the firm was steady enough to ride out the storm. In retrospect, this really put Morgan Stanley on solid footing to withstand future periods of instability and solidified our reputation as a premier global investment bank.
As a senior banker, I feel my role now is really to work with banking teams to help provide access to those businesses that need capital, as well as establish additional connectivity. The more touch points we have with our clients over time, the better we’ll be able to serve their needs. An example of this is the Financial Decisions Makers Conference that my team established for Chief Financial Officers and Treasurers of some of our largest clients.
In terms of mentorship, I believe that helping people develop is an ongoing process. Strong leaders are never just born—they’re made and cultivated over time. Helping colleagues grow professionally, often by giving them stretch assignments—i.e., those that will really make them go outside their comfort zone and broaden their skills—are key. There’s been a lot of research on this that indicates that women and minorities particularly benefit from these types of assignments, which makes perfect sense. These tasks often make them more visible and allow them to expand their network, which is always critical in building relationships, access and opportunity.
For a global institution, long-term excellence results from firm leaders who have learned from and incorporated our best practices into present-day management, to build on our established culture of success. As part of that effort, I want to remain accessible to other bankers to further our book of business, and to the next generation of talent to show how it was possible for me, an African-American and a woman, to be part of the team that took that culture even further, making it more diverse, inclusive and relevant for generations to come.