Wall Street Power Player Carla Ann Harris Delivers Inspiring Career Advice


Wall Street powerhouse Carla Ann Harris had a packed Maura Ballroom hanging onto her every word on Tuesday, April 9, as she shared compelling and practical advice for career success.

The managing director and senior client adviser for Morgan Stanley delivered the commencement address to The College of New Rochelle's 2012 graduates. "She really hit it out of the park," said President Judith Huntington in her introduction. "But she left us wanting and needing more."

Eschewing the podium, Harris paced the stage and used her powerful voice -- she is also a celebrated gospel singer with three solo albums and sold-out concerts to her name -- to great effect. At times she adopted the cadence of a preacher, calling out to the crowd for responses, took on the voices of various characters, used a Southern accent, or spoke quickly like an auctioneer.

But with that showmanship came substance. Harris, the author of "Expect to Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace," shared five of her "Carla's Pearls."

The first was that "perception is the co-pilot to reality." Harris said that being smart and working hard are not enough if others don't define you as a success. "You can train people to think about you the way you want them to think about you."

Early in her career, a colleague told Harris he didn't think she was tough enough for the world of finance. "For 90 days, I decided I would walk tough, talk tough, eat tough, drink tough," she said. She used the word "tough" to describe herself in conversation.

"Understand the adjectives that are associated with success in your organization."

Harris also emphasized the importance of relationships -- with an advisor, a mentor, and a sponsor. "You cannot do it alone," she said.

An advisor, Harris said, is someone you can ask discreet questions. Advisors can eventually become mentors, "someone you can tell the good, the bad, and the ugly to."

"You must trust this person and they must know you very well," Harris said, so they can give you tailored advice and have your best interests at heart.

Mentors need not even be in the same field as you, Harris said, but "you will not ascend in any organization without a sponsor." In contrast with a mentor, a sponsor is someone you tell "the good, the good, and the good," because this person is the one who will argue on your behalf behind closed doors.

Harris advised her audience to be comfortable taking risks, to accept new assignments, even in an economic environment where the first instinct is to keep one's head down and not rock the boat. "When everyone is ducking, you have clear vision," she said. "Fear has no place in your success equation."

Harris also emphasized the importance of "bringing your authentic self to the table. People will trust you, which is at the heart of any successful relationship."

When Harris first entered the field of finance, she didn't like others bringing up the fact that she was a singer. "Then I saw the client reactions. They heard me with a different ear," she said. "They saw me with a different lens."

Finally, she urged everyone to expect to do well. "Winners may ask when, they may ask how, but they never ask if," she said.

After a standing ovation, Harris generously took questions from the audience, dispensing practical, personalized advice, and also welcomed questions sent to carla@carlaspearls.com.