Voice of Experience: Annie Morris, Managing Director, Linedata Services

Annie_Morris.jpgby Pamela Weinsaft (New York City)

Annie Morris, Managing Director of Linedata‘s business in North America, graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a joint degree in business and humanities, confident that her skills learned would translate into skills usable in the business world.

“By the time the recession [of the 90s] hit, the only people getting jobs out of school were accountants and engineers, but the skills that I picked up taking those humanities classes have paid off ten-fold. In the humanities program, all the exams were face-to-face with your professor, so even though we were pretty young, we had to be able to clearly express our thoughts and positions in order to get a better grade. Again, that skill is something that can be used and transferred into any role.” She added that the writing requirement of many humanities programs “is not to be underestimated. It is so important to be able to write succinctly to be able to make your point.”

Morris’ first job was as a sales associate at Merrill Lynch. After 9 months she left to participate in a graduate-level seminar on technology strategy at Oxford University in the UK. She returned a year later, landing an associate position at Morgan Stanley.

It was while working on a derivatives system at Morgan that she had what she describes as her biggest lesson learned. “I was extremely junior. One night at 3 a.m., I was alone, working, and I hit the wrong command and wiped out trade data. It took 48 hours to clean up the error. It was a while after that that I realized that the problem wasn’t hitting the wrong command, it was that they had a 24-year old working non-stop, through the night, unsupervised.” She carries the valuable lesson about management accountability with her to this day.

Morris joined LongView Trading, a company that specialized in technology for financial services, as a senior software engineer during the dot-com boom. She worked there for several years, surviving multiple acquisitions by outside companies. When LongView was acquired by Linedata Services, a French company, some interesting cultural differences needed to be overcome. “The communication styles between Americans and French are quite different. Americans are very direct, while in France, communication is more implicit,” said Morris. Critical to the merged company’s success was the creation of a decision making process that worked with both communication styles. “We met in the middle,” added Morris.

Mergers tend to be difficult for all concerned; however, Morris survived–and thrived–by making certain that she delivered, but also that she let the new management team know that she had delivered. “It’s important to do your job well,” she said, “but also to communicate what you’re doing.”

Morris acknowledges that she learned a lot from watching the various people she’s worked with over the years, although she’s never had a mentor per se. “I worked for a CFO who was very good at working with clients to create deals. Instead of saying ‘hey, buy something’, the CFO would find a way to structure the deal for [in a way satisfactory to the company] all while providing what client was looking for. Another woman I worked with was just great in front of clients. She didn’t necessarily know anything about the details of the deal but she knew how to control the conversation and keep the deal on target for what she wanted to accomplish.”

When asked to share the most important career advice she’s received, Morris says, “Tell the client what’s right. Do what’s right. Have integrity with the client and deliver what you say you are going to deliver.” Morris added, “Now that causes painful conversations sometimes but it allows for the development of stronger bonds with clients. At Linedata, our business model is a recurring one so we must maintain long term client relationships.” This advice, from a founder of front-office business, has become her ethos.

Morris advises young women entering the industry to “make [themselves] a little uncomfortable,” try new things and pursue opportunities that may be outside their core experience/expertise. “Getting ahead is really about new positions. I came to LongView with a foreign exchange and derivatives background. I worked with the founder of the company to learn how I could be in charge of areas outside that scope. I had to convince him that I could learn the business.”

To prepare herself for the expanded scope, she read documents, studied with the product manager in charge of the new area, and spoke with clients. And her new role paid off. “It gave me the chance to experience being in a role where people looked at me as an expert. I had to know where to go to get the information necessary, looking to my personal network to fill the gaps.” Morris stresses the importance of honesty: “It is always better to say ‘Here’s what I understand the situation to be. Let me get back to you.’”

She was able to move up in the company, transitioning from software engineer to successive senior vice president positions in charge of business development, client services, and product management, culminating in her current position as managing director.

To help her achieve the right balance between professional and private, home and work life, she keeps to “a strict schedule” when she’s in town. “I work from 8:30 to 4. From 4 to 8 I’m with the kids. And after they go to bed I’m back online. I’m always accessible and everyone at work knows they can reach me at anytime.”

Morris travels one to three days a week – domestically to the West Coast, Chicago and New York and internationally to Linedata Services headquarters in Paris. “Globalization has become such a part of senior positions and it requires a lot of travel.” While that can be taxing to some, Morris looks on the bright side: travel affords her personal time that other mothers don’t have to unwind, to do puzzles, and to read.

When relaxing at home, Morris says she is passionate about cooking and wine. “Diversity is my specialty and I try to get the kids to help me cook.” She adds, “I don’t worry about a clean house!”

And what of all the buzz of late concerning barriers to women in tech? Morris thinks it is more about personal choice than anything else. “There are so many choices available to women. Staying in the workforce and pursuing a high level career is not necessarily a sign of strength. There are plenty of women who could have been in my role but have chosen [to give priority to other things]. Some of best people I’ve worked with have made career decisions that reflect their wanting to spend more time with family. ”

But Morris also believes that women often fail to call attention to their own successes, making it less likely that they will be promoted within a company. “Women need to figure out how the communication lines within their companies work. For example, as Linedata Services is a financial company, I learned how to communicate using financial terms. Some companies require you to use a sales vernacular; others, management. Above all, women need to figure out what their company considers to be ‘success’ and speak in those terms.”