Aiming high

Clair Woodman, Chief Operating Officer at Morgan Stanley, talks about what it takes to reach the top

Could you explain what exactly a Chief Operating Officer does?

Before I took on this role I spoke to a number of people about it and everyone had a different sense of what a COO's role was. I think it is determined by the organisation that you operate within. My role is very much focused on business integration and business performance. That means analysing business units, expenses, revenues, looking at new business opportunities and performing country reviews to see how we're doing in different regions.

What exactly do you mean by "business integration"?

As a client-centred firm, at its most basic, it means ensuring that our clients are well served by all parts of the firm. So for example, on a large transaction, which may involve one area of the bank in capital raising, if we ascertain that a client might need help in other areas then other parts of the institution are brought in. It's about making sure we provide a full, seamless service to the client.

Do you think there are enough women at the top of the financial service industry?

There definitely could be wider representation at higher levels in the financial services industry. That's a broad issue for the whole industry that needs to be dealt with. At Morgan Stanley, we're fortunate in that we have a number of high profile women in senior positions. Our Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat, for example, who was formerly chairman of our financial institutions group, is a hugely respected investment banker. We also have our head of our China business, Wei Christianson. There are also a number of women in high profile positions in the Firm - from our retail brokerage business to our global head of derivatives operations to our EMEA co-General-Counsel. We're lucky to have these senior role models.

So how was this achieved?

Of course, we actively recruit women, both at an analyst level and when we make lateral hires. We're always looking for top female talent. We put a great deal of effort into developing the careers of junior women. There are numerous programmes that help us do this. For example, we run a mentoring programme for women. We have some specialist leadership and training programmes, which have been extremely well received. We also have a very extensive women's network, which women in all areas and at all levels of the firm access and run. We have regular events where we get high profile women to come and talk to the women's network. For example, Kelly Holmes came in to give a presentation. We actively work with other institutions and participate in a number of City-wide programmes to help women develop networking skills. They're all based around training and education.

It's not just about increasing the number of women at a senior level, although that's very important. It's also about retaining them and supporting them through their career. Ruth Porat, for example, has been at the firm for 22 years. Morgan Stanley is a meritocracy. The path to the top is open to anyone who is good enough and willing to put the effort in, whether they're male or female. Of course, we work pretty hard to accommodate people. There's also an emphasis on work-life balance throughout the firm and a strong desire to recognise the needs of all employees - men and women.

Do you think there's a challenge in attracting women into the financial services industry? Is it still perceived as a male-dominated environment?

Judging by the number of women we see when we visit universities for careers fairs, I would say not. If you go to universities and talk to undergraduates, men and women, they are focused on finding the best jobs. They're asking questions like: "Where would be a fun place to work? Where can I find a well-paid job?" You'll find banking features pretty high up on that list. They're often highly motivated and they form opinions quickly on which parts of the bank they would like to work in. Sales and trading, asset management, and private wealth management are all popular but the area where I get the most questions from students is investment banking. The challenge of getting more women to the top of the financial services industry is not about dispelling a myth, because actually young women at universities are interested and well-informed. It's about making sure that as an employer we're flexible enough to enable them to manage their careers and that we provide them with all the proper support and opportunities.

You yourself began your career at Clifford Chance. How do the two professions, law and financial services, compare?

In my time at Clifford Chance I worked with investment banks as clients, so I've always had a strong focus on the financial services industry. The demands and the challenges you face as a lawyer working on a big M&A transaction for a client are really no different from what you'd experience working within an active financial institution. The rewards of the two professions are not dissimilar in terms of the sheer range of opportunities available to you, the variety of work within the institutions and the opportunities to travel and work abroad.

The reason why I enjoy working in a financial institution is that you're closer to the transaction, closer to the commercial decision-making. If you're advising on the deal as a lawyer or accountant then you're often slightly more removed. In the current changing regulatory environment, it's proved useful having a legal background. Many of the senior people within the bank have accounting and legal qualifications.

Do you have any advice for students?

If you want to be successful in the financial services industry then you have to work hard, so you need to pick something that you actually enjoy doing. It's your hard work, determination and enjoyment in what you do that will take you where you want to be.

Is now a good time to join the financial services industry?

The financial services industry is going through a period of transition and enormous change, and that's exciting. It shouldn't be something that puts anyone off. If you join now you have the chance to shape the future of the industry.