Star Morgan Stanley banker Carla Harris reveals 3 pieces of advice for entrepreneurs

Carla HarrisGetty/Angela WeissCarla Harris.

When Morgan Stanley’s Carla Harris offers up advice, you definitely want to listen.

Harris is the vice chairman for global wealth management and a senior client advisor for Morgan Stanley.

A former mergers and acquisitions and equity capital markets banker, she’s landed some major deals over the years, including the initial public offerings of UPS and Martha Stewart Living. In 2013, President Obama appointed her to chair the National Women’s Business Council.

Harris recently had the opportunity to give some career advice to a group of entrepreneurs at PowerMoves Miami, an event dedicated to boosting the number of venture-backed, minority-founded startups in America.

“So often, the marketplace is not aware of the diversity of entrepreneurs that are out there with great ideas,” Harris told Business Insider.

“So the more that we can elevate the visibility of this kind of entrepreneur talent, the greater the probability that you will get the sophisticated investment dollars flowing in their direction, thereby creating, of course, a multiplier effect. As these companies become more successful, they create more jobs, they create more wealth in the community, and they also inspire even more entrepreneurs.”

Harris served as a moderator at the PowerMoves Miami event and a judge in a Series A pitch competition. She was able to share some important advice with the participants, both as a seasoned banker with nearly three decades of experience working in the capital markets, and as a successful woman of colour in the business world.

Here’s what she said.

Understand the power of relationships.

Harris was always a successful student, and holds an MBA and a degree in economics from Harvard. When she started working in the professional world, she thought she could succeed the same way that she did in school — by keeping her head down and working really hard.

“But you really can’t maximize your success in any professional seat without other people’s relationships,” Harris told Business Insider. “Especially the sponsor relationship, which is the person that behind closed doors will use their capital on your behalf.”

She elaborated on that in an interview with Makers:

“I don’t care how hard you work, I don’t care how smart you are. You’re going to need somebody else’s relationship currency to do well,” she said.

“When you just start out, people care a lot about your analytical and your quantitative skills. But when you get more senior, the conversation becomes about your ability to penetrate client thought, your presence, your relationship-building with clients — and all those things, really, it’s somebody’s opinion as to whether or not you’re good.”

Learn to take risks.

Harris said she also wishes she had understood the power of taking risks when she first started at Morgan Stanley.

“Every time you are stepping into a new role or trying to do something different, whether it’s getting more responsibility, actually taking on a management challenge, being a leader — you are taking some risk,” she told Business Insider.

“And that is quite powerful and a necessity.”

When Harris was first starting out on Wall Street, everyone told her not to go into M&A because of the long work weeks and because it was “tough for women,” she said in a Makers interview. But she chose to go into M&A banking anyway — and excelled.

Pick the right kinds of mentors.

Harris spoke with entrepreneurs at PowerMoves about how to find mentors — and about what kind of mentors to get.

“You can get people, obviously, that are in your industry,” said Harris, who is herself a mentor to young people in finance.

“But more importantly, you want to get a mentor that has gone the path that you’ve gone.”

So, for example, you might be a startup entrepreneur providing a healthcare product, but your mentors don’t necessarily need to be in healthcare, too.

Maybe your mentor runs a technology company — but if they’re at the Series C stage of funding, they can tell you how they got to that stage and what challenges they overcame.

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