Voice of Experience: Nicola Morris, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development, WEX

nicola morrisBy Cathie Ericson

People truly do want to help, says Nicola Morris, reflecting on a lesson she’s learned over the years. “When I received offers for guidance or building out networks and relationships, I wish I had understood the value and not been as shy and reluctant to take people up on their outreach,” she says, when looking back on her career. “It’s a hard thing for many people to do, especially when you’ve not yet proven yourself, but once you progress in your career, and see how much you want to help others, you look back and realize the offers you received were equally genuine. Where I spent time working into the wee hours, I know that some of that effort should have been redirected to having lunch with colleagues or mentors along the way.”

Change Dynamic As a Career Constant

“Winding.” That’s the word Morris uses to describe a varied career covering sectors such as government, startups and financial services, and functionalities that have entailed IT strategies, product marketing and M&A.

When she looks at the diverse journey, however, she sees one unifying theme: helping companies maintain the leading edge for how they grow and expand, whether it’s through new products, acquisitions or an expanded marketplace. “I’ve had a patchwork of experiences that have come together to create an exciting, interesting career,” she says.
At WEX, she focuses on shaping the direction of the company through the decisions she makes now that will influence tomorrow. “We have to understand how to meet the customer’s needs today and then realize what our reality will be tomorrow to map out the journey that will get us there.” Doing so involves deciding on the steps and executing, whether success will be achieved through new product sets, business ventures, investments or expansion into new global environments.

Technology will be the driving force in her company as the business model coalesces around blockchain, AI, mobile and IoT – developments that will have a meaningful impact on most businesses but particularly ours, she says, as they focus on how they can imbed payments seamlessly through various technologies. She says it will be particularly interesting to see how the sharing economy’s inevitability will drive evolution in many industries, and the changes that will be wrought by this pivot from a consumption economy.
Another heavy influence comes from a macro-demographic perspective and the effects it will have on customers’ needs, as well as what it means for her company’s internal employee base and generational shift to consider how millennials work differently than Gen Xers.

The Value of Relationships To Bolster Your Career

Morris thinks of her professional life in terms of the people she leads, and how they contribute to the future of the company, which is why she names her teams and the professional accomplishments of the people she’s worked with and for as the achievement she’s most proud of.

Being better and working harder is a key component to the success puzzle, she stresses, but you have to balance that with relaxing and going with the flow. “You have to be the one they want in the boat because you’re good, sure, but because you have those other pieces to your personality as well,” she points out.

She finds that as a general rule women still tend to underplay their achievements and be more self-deprecating, where they should focus on accentuating these success.
“We need to recognize our own unconscious bias, and the lens through which we are viewing the world and work environment. Then we can determine how we can address it to be better leaders, employees and colleagues.”

Morris found that early in her career, it was challenging to be one of few women in a male-dominated environment, because of how they form relationships by socializing. “The connections you make during casual conversations and events do shape the way people work — who they will think of for a new assignment, for example,” she says. And while she points out that it’s rarely intentional, recognizing the dynamic of unconscious bias at work and figuring out how to put yourself in situations where you can reap positive benefits will help you move ahead.

Balance in the Workplace and Beyond

One of WEX’ core values is ensuring there are policies that are balanced for all employees. For example, the company just launched a new parental leave policy, very intentionally focused on both parents, not just maternity leave.

“I look at my own situation with three children and two careers, and I know it would have been great for each of us to have had the flexibility. It wouldn’t have made sense for only me to take leave, because of where our careers were at the time we had children. It’s about giving family the flexibility rather than just the mom,” she says.

With three kids, ages 15, 17 and 13, Morris laughingly notes that her family and their hobbies are her hobbies too, whether it’s sports or music. She notes that proximity to big cities has helped nurture both those interests for the whole family.

Morris says WEX encourages the team to give back through philanthropy so she enjoys her work on the boards off two local nonprofits, Center for Grieving Children, which provides peer support for families who have gone through loss, and the Portland Symphony Orchestra. “These two organizations represent a nice balance, and I really appreciate that my involvement is so positively supported by my company.”