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Special Reoprt AASU 2001 - Alumni Awards - Carla Harris - A Musical Banker Leads the Way

Bert King Award for Service to the Community

Carla Harris
Carla Harris

Anyone who meets Carla Harris is quickly swept up in her boundless, upbeat energy, which springs from lessons learned early in life.

"My parents instilled in me the belief that if I worked really hard, and had faith in God, nothing would stand in my way," she says.

Indeed, their support gave her the confidence to ignore less-constructive advice.

"I was told that advanced classes might be too hard (she graduated high school summa cum laude), and that Ivy League schools would be out of reach" (she was accepted at Harvard, where she continued to excel academically). Although she focused on the positive messages, Harris admits, "If someone told me I couldn't do something, it just increased my motivation to try for it!"

Carla A. Harris (HBS MBA '87)
Managing Director
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.

2001 Achievement Award Winner:
Bert King Award for Service
to the Community

Today, having attained the position of managing director at one of the world's leading financial services firms, she is advising a new generation of talented African-Americans to be courageous. As a sought-after mentor, and frequent visitor to campuses and career conferences, Harris also shares her conviction that "we were given blessings so we can be a blessing. The fastest way to realize your dreams is to try to make them happen for someone else."

A college summer internship on Wall Street, arranged through the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) program, changed the course of Carla Harris's life.

I promised myself that if I made it, I would repay those who helped me by guiding others, who in turn will reach back and show someone else how to move ahead.
— Carla A. Harris

"I had been attracted to law as a way to become influential in some way," she recalls, "but I discovered that in the world of finance, even at an early age, if you were smart, creative, and assertive, you could make decisions and see the impact on outcomes. You could do deals that would markedly affect a company's future, help a city build a stadium or a school expand their programs, and make a difference in society as the result of your work."

She later enrolled in business school to prepare for her chosen career in investment banking. "A Harvard MBA is an incredible franchise," she says, "and I'd repeat that decision in a heartbeat."

After joining Morgan Stanley in 1987, her first assignment was in the mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring department. In 1991, she moved to equity capital markets, where today she is responsible for the marketing and execution of new issue equity financing in the technology, telecommunications, media, real estate, industrials, consumer products, and healthcare sectors.

"I help great companies come to market," Harris says, citing her involvement with recent IPOs ranging from Martha Stewart Omnimedia to the B2B Internet service provider, Ariba. "It was very special to be part of crafting the story that attracted the market to the UPS IPO," she adds. "Getting premium value for a company that's a part of all our lives was very rewarding."

Harris also derives satisfaction from coaching young associates.

"Learning the rules of the road" should be the top priority for anyone in the first year of a new job, but after that, Harris says, a rising star will begin to contribute more than an accurate analysis.

"Stretch yourself and take the ball," she advises, "but don't become so immersed in work that you forget to say hello to people. You need to develop relationships over time with both colleagues and clients and positively influence perceptions about you."

Harris learned some lessons "the hard way" at the outset of her career, at a time when there were fewer mentors. "I promised myself that if I made it, I would repay those who helped me by guiding others, who in turn will reach back and show someone else how to move ahead."

The drive to deliver results professionally is equaled in Harris's life by her commitment to community service, and a deep-rooted love of singing, which has been her serious avocation for many years.

Harris has invested her time and energy in many organizations, and serves, for example, on the boards of Food for Survival/The New York Food Bank, and the Brooklyn Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

In addition, she has funded scholarships at the high school and college level, including the Carla A. Harris Scholarship at Harvard University and Bishop Kenny High School in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. She has been a financial sponsor for the Student/Sponsor Partnership Program, which provides tuition assistance at parochial schools in New York City.

Her gifts as a singer have been showcased at events around the city, and she is vice president of the St. Charles Gospelite Choir in Harlem. A joyful merger of this banker's major interests occurred last fall when she released a compilation of traditional and contemporary holiday songs on a CD titled Carla's First Christmas. All proceeds from sales of the CD benefit scholarship funds.

What's the most important lesson Harris has learned in her life? "Pursue all your passions," she responds without hesitation.

"I believe in using every gift God gave us to make people happy. No matter how busy you are, stop and do something for someone else. It's surprising how quickly that will turn your own day around."

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