As Head of Private Wealth Management, Elizabeth Dennis oversees a portfolio of specialty businesses focusing on ultra high net worth individuals, families and their foundations. She embodies the “One Firm” philosophy and a distinctive culture she believes would be hard to replicate. “Morgan Stanley values and nurtures a particular type of person—highly competitive but also highly collaborative,” Dennis says.
Dennis joined Morgan Stanley full-time in 2001, after serving as a summer analyst while at Georgetown University. Starting on the debt syndicate desk in Global Capital Markets, she spent 14 years underwriting debt offerings for a wide range of companies, countries, entities, structured products and project financings. As her responsibilities increased, Dennis thrived on the energy of the underwriting environment and the opportunity to work directly with clients.
In 2015, she moved to Wealth Management and a new role helping manage the division’s capital markets operation. Shortly thereafter, she was named Head of Strategic Client Management, developing and serving clients across Institutional Securities, Wealth Management and Investment Management.
In her new responsibilities as Head of Private Wealth Management, Dennis oversees International Wealth Management (serving clients who live outside of the United States), Global Sports and Entertainment and the Client and Field Engagement Group. Another service, Family Office Resources, addresses the complexities of managing significant wealth. She shares her insights on Monetizing Small Business in this Morgan Stanley Minute and reflects on the rewards and challenges of her nearly two-decade career in finance here.
Given your long tenure at Morgan Stanley, you must have a good perspective on the company. What do you most appreciate about it?
The combination of “competitive” and “collaborative” is less common than you’d think. From the time I started at Morgan Stanley, the most constructive and consistent feedback I received was to speak up and have a point of view. I probably thought, “I’m still figuring this out—what do I know?” But it was invaluable to have people see potential in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself, the way a great coach would. The message was, “We believe in you, and we're going to force you outside of your comfort zone, because we know you can do it.” That has always been the case here, across leadership and managers, but also with people in my peer group.
A third “C” that’s a hallmark of Morgan Stanley is creativity. Even in a field such as bond underwriting, where some aspects might seem routine, there are many ways to be innovative. Today, for instance, the team is leading the way on environmentally sustainable bonds and solutions across global marketsions across global markets.
It has been wonderful, because I was able to move from a job with a narrow and specific skill set to one where I have a much broader perspective across a wide range of clients. And while I’ve always felt very connected with others throughout Morgan Stanley, that sense of connection has expanded substantially as I’ve gained experience managing opportunities across many different parts of the firm.
As a manager, building and evolving talented individuals into cohesive, highly effective teams is incredibly fulfilling. And from a business perspective, it’s wonderful to see the effect that the right team can have when covering the right advisors or bankers or clients in the right way—with transparency, efficiency and velocity. That’s when you truly grasp the power of the network of 60,000 people at Morgan Stanley around the globe and how we can monetize connections and serve clients in a way that few firms can. That really excites me.
What are some of the goals you hope to achieve as the new Head of Private Wealth Management, and where do you see opportunities and challenges?
As I have settled into my new role, I have been thinking about my objectives as they relate to three periods of PWM’s evolution: the past, present, and future.
First, remain close to the history of Private Wealth Management and maintain the boutique feel and collaborative culture that was born out of our Institutional Equity business over 40 years ago. Second, continue PWM’s asset growth by leveraging the opportunities from our recent acquisitions of E*TRADE and Eaton Vance. Looking to the long term, we will be very focused on talent development and team building. Ensuring that our teams have a diversity of thought, experience and backgrounds that position them to serve the breadth of clients within Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management is critical to our future success and growth. And always, the challenge is ensuring that we help clients cut through the noise—the deluge of information—and create estate plans, investment portfolios, and philanthropic roadmaps that meet their unique needs. We have the privilege of executing on that vision every day.
I keep it practical: Work darn hard and learn to recognize those little moments where something could propel your career. Sometimes those moments are big—a major project, that you have tons of time to prepare for. Other times, they seem much smaller, and you have less time to prepare, but they're actually just as big. There are inflection points in a career where you can tell that something represents a huge opportunity, where you think, “If I can do this one thing really well, for this one client, that's going to give someone else confidence that you can replicate for others.” And then it snowballs, and you're in a good position to move up.
I also advise against trying to network like crazy at the entry level. You need to impress only a small group of people who’ll support you. If you trust those people and do right by them, everything will follow from there.