By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“Just go for it. Don’t be afraid to show interest. If you prefer a career in something considered to be an all-male bastion like Wall Street investment banking, just do it,” said Aine Leddy, Executive Director, Investment Management Technology at Morgan Stanley.
As chief operating officer for the company’s investment technology group, Leddy, who hails from Ireland, has plenty of experience in a traditionally male dominated field, and has found success in “going for it.”
And while she encourages women to enter roles where they may initially be the odd person out, she encourages men to do the same. She continued, “I try to give the same advice to my sons as to my daughter.”
From Securities to Technology
“I attended Trinity College in Dublin, and came to the US in 1987, to a commodities trading firm. In 1989, I entered a financial analyst training program at Morgan Stanley. We had two in-house professors from Pace and it was very rigorous,” Leddy began. “I was there for 2 years and I supported securities, equities, and fixed income.”
“I spent the first 18 years here in the financial division, then moved into the Chief Operating Officer role for Investment Management technology in 2007,” she added.
Leddy said her proudest achievement was around building Morgan Stanley’s technology infrastructure. She explained, “This is the first role I’ve been in when I had to build something from scratch.”
She continued, “We cleaned up the financial infrastructure soup to nuts, and front to back, regarding reporting structure and transparency, and aligned it with the PMO. More recently, we’ve taken on the operating risk function as well and rounded out the organization.”
Currently, Leddy is enjoying her role leading and blending teams, with the goal of expanding individuals’ experience and capabilities. She explained, “Blurring the lines between different teams is part of my world. People naturally want to expand their skill set and getting smaller teams to work together means expanded coverage and skill sets.”
She continued, “It’s a different approach that we weren’t sure would work well, but it has actually worked really well.”
Looking forward, she said, she’d like to take on further responsibility at the company, and beyond that, enjoying some down-time. “Where will I be in ten years? Hopefully on the beach somewhere!” she joked. “Really, I like what I do now, and in the future, I see myself taking what I’ve learned in the financial area and the technology area and running a business within Morgan Stanley.”
Building a Sustainable Infrastructure
Leddy is enthusiastic about the importance of sustainable infrastructure in organizations, designed to help build value and improve transparency. She explained, “There’s the whole value proposition of the infrastructure component of any business that is of particular interest to me.”
She continued, “Increasingly important to businesses in general is the bottom line – what goes into the expense categories. …But people have to be part of a more sustainable organization. I’m proud to be part of [a group] that does understand what’s driving the profitability or lack of profitability.”
Advice for Women in Financial Technology
Leddy says the most important thing she’s learned is that “you don’t have to be perfect right out of the gate.” She explained, “Women, in particular, are overly critical of themselves. We assume we need to have everything perfect. People are typically patient and more than happy to allow people to be iterative.”
Furthermore, she advised women not to be afraid to take a stand on what they think is right. She said, “Sometimes women tend to be somewhat focused on being liked. My advice is not to be afraid to do the right thing, even if you feel you might be less well liked. It’s the right thing for your role, and the right thing for your career.”
Additionally, she said, “I’ve never forgotten what I was told when I was being interviewed. Someone told me, ‘never assume anyone is smarter than you. They may be more specialized, but never assume they are smarter.’”
At the same time, she said, she would also warn women “not to be afraid to be cautious.”
Leddy, herself, is cautious about the idea of barriers for women in the workplace, but sees more issues in how girls respond to math and science early in life. She explained, “In the financial services industry, I personally have never felt any barriers to success. I have had speed-ups and slow-downs in my career at any point when I felt I needed too. But the challenges [due to being a woman] were fairly minimal in my experience.”
She continued, “But as the parent of a daughter who is a math major in college, I have seen her counterparts shy away from the subject.”
Regarding work/life balance, she said, “It’s a bit of a cliche, in some ways, but in my 22-plus year career, technology has given so much back.”
She continued, “Here at Morgan Stanley, we have an incredible remote computing platform. …I really feel invested in the technology strides that Morgan Stanley has made and it has hugely benefited all of us – particularly in being able to work smarter.”
Morgan Stanley has a host of programs to support and retain women, she said, including a Firmwide Women’s Business Alliance and a Working Parents Network. Leddy is also part of the Technology & Data diversity council’s women’s leadership group.
Outside the Office
Outside work, Leddy, who has three teenagers, participates in a small foundation which grew out of her kids’ swim program. “It’s a local foundation that helps minorities learn to swim,” she explained. “It can be lifesaving.” She continued, “And I’m a huge fan of the beach. I try to get there when I can.” Leddy also visits family in Ireland when possible.