(Bloomberg) – When Morgan Stanley reveals what is expected to be one of its best quarters ever, a new voice will lead Wall Street through the numbers and strategy.
Sharon Yeshaya has been known to Morgan Stanley’s top bosses since Chief Executive Officer James Gorman pulled the former trader out of the company’s then-ailing fixed-income division and named her chief of staff. Soon the financial world will become familiar with Yeshaya after she recently rose to the rank of chief financial officer.
In her first interview since that appointment, 41-year-old Morgan Stanley Lifer recalled her unusual history – as a junior banker, doubting funding, jumping into a trading entity soon turned upside down by the 2008 financial crisis, and then nervous interview nervous to get out. Before becoming CFO, she was Head of Investor Relations.
Yeshaya’s most recent promotion, announced in May, came with the appointment of four white men who cemented their status as potential CEO candidates. The footsteps caused quite a stir on Wall Street and Washington. The slate even led to a question from a US senator about the lack of diversity in the top echelons of the bank. She has thoughts of fixing that too.
The following are excerpts from an interview, edited for length and clarity. Morgan Stanley will publish its second quarter results on Thursday morning.
The offer to become CFO came as a surprise.
Gorman “didn’t ask me directly before the announcement whether I would be interested in becoming CFO of the company. He was jovial and he was nice and he was very flattering. I didn’t expect this to be the conversation we were having. I didn’t think that was the next step, no.
“The role of CFO has evolved into a more strategic role and a different type of role than it was over the past 10 years. And I think that the IR function at Morgan Stanley always had a more strategic perspective than possibly at other institutions. “
It arrived in the middle of the dot-com boom. After the bust, there were doubts.
“I went to Penn, I actually started out in college and moved to Wharton. I remember the concept of supply and demand was new to me. I did a dual course of study between economics, which in my opinion was theory, and finance, which was the practical implementation. I had the ambition to do something in public order one day.
“For those who have been to Penn or gone to Wharton, the most obvious next step is usually to move to an investment bank. At the time, Morgan Stanley had an M&A tech group, and I did so in the summer of 2000 during this kind of dot-com boom. So it was pretty interesting, and in 2001 I got the offer to come back and work full-time.
“It was a challenging place to work. I started, and shortly after that, 9/11 happened. It was a difficult time both being in New York and going through the tech bust. The deals I ended up working on were less on the rise. It was just probably less interesting than I personally hoped or wanted. So after the first two years I was at a crossroads wondering if I wanted to leave Morgan Stanley. “
Yeshaya turned to research.
“I made the decision to be advised internally by a head of economics here and to consider research at Morgan Stanley first. And this was a time in Morgan Stanley’s history when there were very well-known macroeconomic strategists and economists, the generation of Byron Wien, Stephen Roach, Steve Galbraith and Amy Falls. “
Soon she became a trader.
“I had to make a decision, namely: are you going to do a doctorate? and follow this dream of politics and academic research? Or would it be best to understand the tactical skills related to a sales and trading environment? “
Few women are in risk positions.
“We had very few women who were willing to take risks. At the time, it was believed that women couldn’t take risks or that women couldn’t handle risks. What you don’t realize is that your job is to manage risk. As if the job isn’t sitting and having a game of poker, is it? And that is the difficulty in my opinion. They break the stigma that is likely to be misjudged or out of place.
“I still have close friends there, managers who are women. And I think the main thing is not that the stigma is likely to persist, but there are still few women in many of these places. That makes it hard for a young woman to believe that this is an appropriate place for her to be unconditionally or to pursue. “
Then came another linchpin: working for the CEO
“If we talk about 2014, fixed income was a difficult job back then. Remember, Morgan Stanley hired 25% of its workforce in 2015, so you can imagine working in this group. I’m in forex, Morgan Stanley isn’t a forex leader and I don’t know what to do with its fixed income business.
“Look, I was scared. Wouldn’t you be I was 34, I was relatively young, your hands are shaking, you’ve never been up on the 40th floor. It was pretty dark and I remember it was a 5pm interview.
“I don’t think I was looking for a warm and fuzzy relationship. I was looking for – how do I get out of fixed income and try to make a difference? I like corporate finance. I like finance and I just want to work here and just became a CEO and I really didn’t know what to do with the next stage in my life. “
Role models help create diversity.
“The first, most obvious thing is, there is someone out there who is actually looking at you and thinking, ‘I have a chance.’ And I think we all looked at someone like that and said, ‘Well, maybe if I’m working really hard someone will notice me and then I can move forward.’
“I don’t know if it’s a tone or if it’s a way of attracting other women because you can connect with them in other ways, because you’ve had some of the same challenges and struggles they might face in their own lives . I can talk to a young woman who also has two parents with a migration background and who also has a different situation and who is also wondering how to reconcile a life that looks different. These are perspectives that you not only offer as a woman, but with different characteristics, regardless of which minority you belong to. “