Q&A: Heidi Wood, Managing Director, Morgan Stanley

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Heidi Wood is the senior equity analyst in aerospace, defense, and defense electronics and directs global equity sector coverage, coordinating with London- and Singapore-based research teams.

Describe your career path?

During my twenties, I lived primarily overseas. I was a Navy kid. I loved chess and was very competitive. I wanted to enjoy my work so I tried a number of different jobs early on. I wanted to find my passion, something I could do for the next 20 or 30 years.

By process of elimination I decided to become a Wall Street analyst. I liked the idea because it provided a scoreboard whereby I could see how I was doing. In research you have the ability to make a call and get it right or wrong. This tapped into my competitive spirit and was invigorating.

I had three job offers and was hired as a junior associate covering the defense sector. It's an exciting sector because it's always in the news and is impacted by politics. I knew I'd found a home in aerospace and defense. Before Morgan Stanley I worked at two other sell-side firms. I've been in research for 17 years and at Morgan Stanley for the past 11 years. My work has enabled me to be on an F-18, in front of missile defense agencies, comment to the Secretary of Defense, and meet with people at the Pentagon. We have a great culture at Morgan Stanley, which has supported me as I've risen in my career. They've been instrumental in helping me become the first female aerospace analyst in 40 years in the sector.

Describe your role at Morgan Stanley?

I am Morgan Stanley's authority on aerospace and defense. Our clients require advice and insights into which stocks to buy in various sectors. On the sell side I'm able to delve into a level of detail and develop relationships and insights that aren't possible on the buy side. My opinions and analysis are utilized by our clients to decide whether to buy, sell, or hold stocks. I get a high when I get something right ahead of the market and see that call get validated in stock price movements.

What'is a typical day like for you?

My days are always fast paced and exciting. I'm on the phone with traders on the floor who are buying and selling stocks, talking to clients and contacts at companies I cover. I'm also writing reports, delegating work to other team members or talking to colleagues about the industry. I speak to our strategists about the overall industry, asking them about the overall market and how it filters into their views on stocks. It's a combination of excitement and taking time to step back and gather my thoughts. I enjoy both facets of my work. The fact that it's unpredictable is great. I can plan my day but once the market opens there can be a completely different day ahead, based on a news item that could impact markets and which I'll need to write a report that provides analysis for clients and hopefully can tell them what it all means.

What advice do you have for an up-and-coming research professional?

It's a very specific career so you need to know a lot about yourself and whether it's right for you. The work is intense and it can wear you down. There can be three to five days a week where you get very little sleep. This can be exciting for many people but after a few years you want to slow down. For undergraduate students, I'd recommend refining your accounting skills, and building your questioning and listening skills. Train yourself to think as originally as you can. Read books and teach yourself that what you may observe may not be what it seems. Be curious and interested in figuring out what is happening behind the scenes and investigate. Your job is to figure out the spread between what is true and what isn't. Many people are trying to obscure your ability to get to the truth.

What are the most important skills for a career in research?

You need to have a basic understanding of finance. To be successful, it's helpful to have a competitive, entrepreneurial spirit. You should be comfortable working both individually and as part of a group. Also, you should have an insatiable curiosity. You must also be able to pick yourself up when you fall because you will assuredly make mistakes.

What should people wanting to work in research be doing to prepare, i.e. groups to join, networking, reading?

To break in requires perseverance. It took me a while to get into this business. The walls are high and can only be scaled by those who are determined. Don't let "no" stop you. You need to be persistent until you are able to break in or scale the wall. I get dozens of calls from people asking about job openings. Usually I have to tell them I don't have any openings. I never hear from most of them ever again. One of the best ways to differentiate yourself in a competitive world is the ability to persevere and consistently follow-up in cases where you have an opportunity to break in.

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