Naeema has always had an analytical mind. “I love numbers; I’m a quantitative person,” she says. But even so—and even though she earned her undergraduate degree from New York University’s Stern School of Business and her MBA from Columbia Business School—she thought she might one day practice law. A child of Bangladeshi immigrants whom she credits with instilling in her a strong work ethic, Naeema did know that whatever career path she chose, “I wanted to be successful so that one day I might give back significantly.”
After working for a summer at Grameen Bank, a microfinance and community development bank in Bangladesh, and attending a Morgan Stanley recruiting event, Naeema found herself interested in finance. Instead of pursuing law school, she applied for, and was accepted into, the Morgan Stanley Summer Analyst program. Ten years later, she is the head of Field Strategy and Business Management in the firm’s Wealth Management division, supporting approximately 16,000 Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors.
“In my career, I’ve worked with people on all ends of the wealth spectrum,” she says. “And what I’ve discovered is that when you can help someone gain financial independence and financial confidence, that’s huge. It has the power to change lives.”
As Head of Field Strategy and Business Management, I help manage and deliver the strategic priorities of the firm, ensuring that our Financial Advisors are best supported to give clients financial advice, however they can. There’s a lot of complexity to markets and clients’ needs, which as a firm we try to help simplify. A big part of what our team does is ensuring that everything we’re building is actually being used by our Advisors to benefit clients.
I’ve had several different roles at Morgan Stanley. After the analyst program, I spent four years in a strategy role, two and a half years as a chief operating officer of a small and growing business, and now I’m in my first year as head of Field Strategy. The firm is really open to mobility opportunities.
Absolutely. I’ve been fortunate to have tremendous mentors who have looked out for me, who’ve given me constructive feedback when I needed to hear it and who’ve helped me navigate my career. And now, I have a pretty senior role on my management team and I also help mentor the next generation. I would have never thought 10 years ago that I’d be here doing what I’m doing, and I have a lot of people to thank for that.
A couple years ago, I was on the strategy team that took individuals from two different divisions, Wealth Management and Institutional Securities Group, and structured a joint venture under one new platform. I was the junior member of the team doing modeling—what the economics and revenue-share arrangements would be, what the profitability would look like—so we could determine whether it was a good growth opportunity for the firm. I spent so much time with the business that I was eventually recognized as a subject matter expert on the entire platform.
Definitely analytical skills—critical thinking and problem solving skills. In any given moment, you’re trying to solve unique problems and address situations that may require a lot of data and analytics. You need an ability to seek out information and facts, build a thesis, test that thesis and come to a conclusion. Project management skills are also important—and communication skills, being able to tell a story, to walk your clients or your boss or a big group of folks through complicated topics in an easy-to-understand manner is very important.
I would tell any young person, and especially young women: You have a seat in the room for a reason, so you should not hesitate to speak up. I used to be nervous in meetings with a lot of senior people. I remember leaving meetings and telling my boss an idea I had but didn’t share, and he’d say, “That’s a great idea, why didn’t you say it in the room?” The other thing I’d say is, you never know who sees the work you are doing and what kind of opportunities will arise from that, so put your best foot forward in whatever you do because you may not realize that someone somewhere is taking notice.
I can definitely see myself here in a more senior role, maybe running a business, and, hopefully, giving back to my community in a more impactful way. I have been a mentor for a nonprofit organization, but at some point I’d like to start a charity. Doing something like that would be great.