James Gorman’s Eight Lessons for Up-and-coming Execs

James Gorman, the chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley, joined the now bank-holding company in 2006, just in time to witness and participate, as co-president, in the near train wreck that was the global financial crisis of 2008. As part of the Wharton Leadership Lecture Series, Gorman spoke to an audience of mostly Wharton students about the crisis, the governmental response to it and the fallout that students could expect related to their career prospects.

Gorman’s was a fast-paced and fluid speech, which evolved into a Q&A with audience. One question addressed how banking may no longer attract the best business-school recruits. Gorman’s response, essentially, was, “fine.” Banking will continue to attract dedicated prospects interested in offering sophisticated advice to complex companies around the world. Those prospects chasing the fad career are the ones who would have blown through banking eventually anyway.

As for the compensation packages that might attract talent to banking, Gorman replied that surely some paychecks in the industry were oversized in the past, though he advises regulators against slashing salaries too much. It is more cost effective to pay some bankers million-dollar salaries to do their difficult jobs well, he said, than to clean up the mess of less paid but under-qualified substitutes.

Though Gorman, an Australian, didn’t appreciate regulators’ attempts at compensation control in banking nor did he approve of of America’s new consumer protection agency, he lauded U.S. government officials for their immediate handling of the financial crisis, including TARP. “What the government did in this country, I think, was brilliant,” he said.

At the heart of Gorman’s talk were eight bits of advice for future managers and executives that are relevant to all Wharton students:

1. People follow simplicity. Offer guidance that tells your team what really matters and what you are shooting for.

James Gorman addresses a packed house during his Wharton Leadership Lecture.

2. Take calculated risk.

3. Have a plan. During crisis moments, people listen to the calm leader.

4. Stay fit, mentally and physically.

5. Be willing to make decisions with imperfect information and under time constraints. Then move forward to the next decision.

6. Bring together team members whose blended strengths make up for your weaknesses.

7. Find a work-life balance that suits you.

8. Don’t follow the career path based on what your friends think.

Gorman told his audience that often the people who succeed are the ones who are the most passionate about their given jobs, not necessarily the most intelligent.

“If you’re faking it, we’re going to find out,” he said.

As for his current job, Gorman—a Columbia B-school graduate who has worked in law and consulting—appears to relish the challenge of heading a banking corporation with $800 billion on the balance sheets during troubled times.

“You live for these moments,” he said.

Gorman’s lecture took place on Feb. 23. Visit the Leadership Lecture Series page for information on upcoming events.

Editor’s note:  To view the full collection of images from James Gorman’s talk, visit the Wharton Flickr photostream.

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