35 Under 35: Simone Koo, Vice President, Institutional Equities, Morgan Stanley

simonekooBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

When asked about career advice, Simone Koo, Vice President, Institutional Equities at Morgan Stanley responded with a laugh. “I’ve only had about eight years of my career.”

She continued, “I’m probably the youngest in the COO organization – and I take quite a bit of pride in that. And of course, there are people with years of experience ahead of me to learn from and develop my career.”

“But I would point out that business management, and management overall isn’t just something to do if you are older or experienced. You have to start early – and I’ve also been lucky with the bosses I’ve had. They have made so many opportunities available to me.”

Beginning a Career

Koo graduated from Georgetown University in 2003 and joined KPMG, and then moved to Goldman Sachs, as an analyst on the firm’s mortgage trading desk. But in 2006, she received an opportunity to join Morgan Stanley in London, working in asset backed mortgages.

“But given the condition of the mortgage business at the time, I made a move into the internal equities division. Then I went to work for the Global COO in 2008.”

She continued, “My role has taken many different paths, and now I am deputy COO for European Equities.”

Currently, Koo said what she enjoys most about her job is facilitating connections between individuals on different teams. “A lot of my work has to do with making connections. I get to see that people have the same goal, but a lot of times these groups don’t know each other. Linking them together to produce more efficient outcomes is quite exciting. It’s about consolidating different opinions.”

She added, “This is a dynamic industry and we are doing a lot relating to the challenges from the new regulatory environment. This new regulatory environment is changing and reshaping how we do business and control risk.”

Advice for Professional Women

“What I wish I had known when I was first starting – and something I am still working on – is remembering that you have a voice in any situation that could be quite crucial,” she said. “I used to just sit in meetings and take notes and be silent. But I’ve learnt that my observations and my opinions can be valuable.”

“As far as challenges for women in this industry I would say there can be a lack of role models, and thinning layers [of women] as you go up the ranks. Sometimes the networks women find difficult to assimilate into,” Koo said. “There is also a misconception people have about women in leadership roles, where male traits are considered leadership qualities. It’s unconscious bias.”

But, she continued, this is changing. “I do campus recruiting quite a lot – even in London. And I get asked this question quite frequently. Right now, it’s probably never been better for women entering the industry. Considering diversity and inclusion programs, attraction and retention programs –
The application process and future career progression is all done on a merit basis.”

“Obviously, you need to do your job well, but at the same time, build relationships and sustain networks. Some women need help to navigate political relationships, partly because there are so many men in the industry and they find it more comfortable working through the challenges together.”

She also mentioned the issue of self promotion. “Many women mention the “cringe factor” of self promotion – all these things men seem to have no problem with.”

Koo said that one way for women to get ahead is to really take development training to heart. “Make sure you are benefiting from diversity work, that you’re going to make it work for you,” she explained.

“But you have to be persistent. That’s the most important thing.”

Women at Morgan Stanley

“Morgan Stanley has a big women’s network called the Women’s Business Alliance,” Koo said. “Everybody in the Firm can benefit from it.”

She also mentioned the benefits of starting your own group. In fact, Koo leads the Sales and Trading Vice President Women’s Forum. “It’s based in London only, and includes women in equities, fixed income, and commodities. We all met as part of a learning and development course and started meeting on a regular basis. Usually our speakers are managing director women.”

She continued, “We just started to diversify – we had our first male speaker, the head of equities.”

The group’s meetings are held in a roundtable format and discussions remain within the four walls of the room. She said, “One aspect of the landscape that is not that different from how it used to be ten years ago is that we still lose a lot of women in mid management, when they are starting to have families.”

Koo also discussed Morgan Stanley’s student outreach program. “We have realized that to target qualified women, we need to do that at a young age, and to explain that you can thrive in this environment. So we have a program where we outreach to A level high school students. And during the three weeks between high school and college, they intern with us. We track them as they progress within universities and it links in well with our recruiting efforts here.”

In Her Personal Time

When she is not at work, Koo enjoys running. Having run marathons in 2005 and 2007, she also participated in six half marathons last year.

Koo, who has two sons (aged four and two) and a little girl on the way, says she enjoys raising money for children’s charities.