Go Long Gorman: An Intern’s Meeting with the CEO

All over the Street, in every investment bank, on every trading floor, hysteria reigns. Phones are ringing, clients are calling, screens are blinking, and traders are yelling. “We appear high!” is a phrase I’ve gotten used to hearing most mornings. At Morgan Stanley the trading floor is so expansive you can almost see everyone in the room when standing. The fluorescent lighting and high ceilings accentuate the floor’s vastness even more. Oh, and there are monitors. So many monitors.

Now take the elevator up to the 40th floor, and the chaos of the trading floor fades into serenity. I enter the waiting area, and notice the immaculate, wood-finished walls, the panoramic view of the city, and the beautiful spiral staircase adorned with pristine portraits of prominent leaders from Morgan Stanley’s past. But what business does a twenty-year-old Dartmouth intern have making a trip up to the executive suite?

“I want to meet the CEO,” I said to the associate sitting next to me, earlier that morning.

Trying to find the perfect words to express my interest, I crafted an email and sent it over directly to Mr. James Gorman’s generic corporate email account. On the off chance he said yes, I did not want my fellow Dartmouth wintern, Jimmy, to miss out, so I invited him to come along. No more than five minutes later, I received a reply. The Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley invited us to stop by his office later that afternoon. I was shocked by the quick response, and even more shocked that Mr. Gorman wanted to see us that same day.

I spent the next hour researching and drafting questions I would ask, trying to demonstrate that this wintern had done her homework and was prepared to share her “groundbreaking” wintern perspectives. I tried to develop opinions on the firm’s new ROE target and the effect the firm’s summer acquisition of Smith Barney would have
going forward on the municipal bond market, a market in which I am clearly an expert.

When the time came Jimmy was unfortunately nowhere to be found. I knew I could not risk being late for Mr. Gorman, so I de-linted my suit jacket, put on my “sophisticated” glasses, and headed upstairs on my own.

As I walked into the executive suite, I was overwhelmed as I thought about all the monumental conversations and decisions that must have occurred in these rooms. Was this the place where John Mack had received the phone call from Henry Paulson urging him to sell the firm? Or where Tim Geithner advised him to merge with JP Morgan? Was it here that the decision to turn the bank into a bank holding company was made? And as I’m sure John Mack had to spend some nights at the office during the financial crisis, was that the closet where he kept his spare suits? History surrounded me and all I could do was smile at this opportunity.

I entered Mr. Gorman’s office and to my relief, the extensive Google searching was for naught. I was not expected to provide my hazy understanding of the firm’s strategy, nor did I feel obligated to try and impress Mr. Gorman with my overly specific and rehearsed questions. I realized I wasn’t just speaking with the CEO of one of the world’s top investment banks; I was sitting face to face with a father of two, a brother to nine, and a mentor to over 55,000.

We began talking about his upbringing in Australia and shared stories about our respective siblings. He described the university system in his home country, noting that his college courses were very career-focused, the exact opposite of the liberal arts education I am receiving at Dartmouth. He was interested in what drove my decision to attend Dartmouth, and while I do love many features of the College on the Hill, I admitted that the predominant reason was that my sister was a freshman there at the time.

I wanted to learn as much about Mr. Gorman’s life as I could in the short time we had together so I shifted gears and asked to hear more about the road he travelled on his journey to becoming CEO. I learned about his underlying passion for managing people, which appeared to motivate his progression from law to strategy consulting, and eventually to Wall Street. He expressed the aspects that ultimately drew him towards firm management, such as the importance of setting defined goals and designing appropriate strategic steps in order to achieve those objectives. I was fascinated by his unconventional career path, which stood in stark contrast to the typical Wall Street CEO, who rises through the ranks as a banker or trader. Despite a six-year stint in a senior management role at Merrill Lynch and a successful career at McKinsey, consulting for financial services companies, Mr. Gorman was relatively
new to the Street when he joined Morgan Stanley, and had been a lawyer in Australia earlier in his career. As a young adult who cannot be sure what her business card will read in five years, I found it refreshing to hear that there is no single formula for success.

I could sense that Mr. Gorman had to get back to his busy day, so I candidly asked him, “what is one piece of advice you could give me as a young woman who is planning to embark on a career in finance?” He stressed the importance of remaining in decision-making positions in my extracurricular activities at Dartmouth and emphasized how these would best prepare me to succeed in the years ahead if I had any desire to take on management roles at some point in my career.

 

Photographed by Craig Schneider
Photographed by Craig Schneider

 

He revealed that I was one of only a few people who had been in his office, and I left feeling fortunate to be interning at a place where even the most senior leader of the firm finds it worthwhile to connect with the individuals at the very bottom of the totem pole. I returned to my desk and it seemed like everyone had heard about my encounter. People were excited to hear that their CEO had made time to connect with an ordinary intern, truly embodying the flat and transparent structure that Morgan Stanley values so greatly.

I went to find Jimmy to share in my excitement and to find out why he had not made it upstairs. Regretfully he explained that he was sitting with a trader in CMBS and had not seen the invitation. “It must have been a pretty cool trade to blow off the CEO!” I joked. However, a few days before the end of our internship, Mr. Gorman was gracious enough to make time to sit down with Jimmy as well.

To those who say you have to sell your soul in order to succeed on Wall Street, I have to disagree. The amount of spirit, character, compassion, and generosity I’ve experienced in such a short time at Morgan Stanley has been incredible. While Mr. Gorman’s gesture was a unique and special opportunity, it was also a symbol of a culture of mentorship. I feel very fortunate to have worked in such a supportive environment and I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to pay it forward.