Q&A: Caroline Arnold, Managing Director and Global Head of Client Relationship Management, Profitability and Client-Facing Technology, Morgan Stanley

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Describe your career path.

I took a less traditional career path. I was an English major at Berkeley, and minored in economics. I was always good at computing, but early on I didn't see it as my career path or the focus of my education. After graduation, I worked in theater. Programming was my waitressing; I did consulting work because it was flexible, and over time, I wound up starting my own consulting firm, Automation Braintrust. We worked with large banks and companies like Procter and Gamble, helping to solve problems. One of my consulting assignments was with Morgan Stanley, and at the end of my assignment, they offered me a permanent job. I've been with the firm for 16 years, joining the IT department in 1994 as a developer. The next year I was promoted to vice president and began managing technology for our research business. Next, I was an executive director and managed technology for investment banking, capital markets, research and the firm's marketing systems. In 2001, I became a managing director. Today, my job is to manage a practice area group that includes responsibility for client-facing technology, client relationship management, and profitability systems across fixed income, equities, and investment banking. Morgan Stanley has a great culture that fuels personal development. It's an entrepreneurial culture founded on partnership with others. The firm represented a great opportunity for me to have a bigger impact and to work more broadly across businesses. Working here has allowed me to benefit from a culture that encourages you to innovate, take ownership and measured risks, make mistakes and still succeed overall. In my current role, I have a responsibility to make sure others have the same opportunity I had: to speak out, put forward fresh thinking, take on challenges, and to operate like owners.

Describe your role at Morgan Stanley.

I lead a practice area group that executes the technology strategy for client relationship applications, profitability, and many client-facing web sites. Nearly all of our software is custom built and I'm responsible for technical decisions and project execution.

For example, my team built the auction system to handle Google's initial public offering, still the largest IPO by auction ever conducted on Wall Street. In addition to our execution responsibilities, my team and I also put forward new ideas to build the business for the future.

What is a typical day like for you?

My day is a mix of managing my practice area and working with the business on product development. My team meetings may be white board design sessions on how to architect something we are working on, issue resolution, or priority setting. There are also visual design meetings, where we develop new ideas. In business meetings, we'll discuss business goals and strategies and what we can do to help realize them. Typically, meetings center on decision-making about products in development (such as the analytics functionality on an e-trading site) or nurturing new ideas. I also meet one-on-one with my team leads, and am actively involved career development and mentoring.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students or aspiring IT professionals?

When it comes to applications development, undergraduates should understand that financial application development is complex and challenging, and the applications very rich. On Wall Street, products are built to give a firm a competitive edge. It's an intense environment that is both exciting and creative. Investment banks must constantly reinvent themselves through innovation and technology; it's essential to winning in the marketplace. IT in financial services is a great career for someone who wants to develop deep technical skills and apply them in an innovative environment where technology matters to the outcome of the business. But the most important advice I can offer is to choose a firm where you can grow personally as well as professionally. You'll spend most of your time at work, and the culture there will determine your opportunities to stretch as a human being, as well as to succeed as a professional.

What skills are most important to be successful in IT?

Deep technical skills are critical. Also, creativity and the ability to think critically about the business the technology supports. It's important to question accepted wisdom as that is what drives innovation. Developing an open and direct communication style and the ability to persuade others is a key asset. And you want to think and operate like an owner. It's important to be able to take ideas, move them forward to execution, and be accountable for the results. The most successful people in IT are great technologists who are able to strategize with the business about a new opportunity, and then execute. It's a thrill to see products you've created make a difference to the bottom line.

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