Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Taking Note: Carla Harris

Last week as I sat at an 85 Broads Power Breakfast I took notes, because, well, I always take notes when I want to make sure I remember what I am hearing. I didn’t trust my memory when I was younger, much less now.

One of the notes I took was to myself. It occurred to me as I was listening, that I keep crossing paths with extraordinary women who serve to inspire me. And I love writing about their stories of reinvention. So I have decided to institute a weekly feature on my blog. My goal is that each Tuesday I will take out my notes and write about one of these women, starting with Carla Harris.

When I saw that Carla Harris was on the agenda for the breakfast I did not know who she was. Currently a Managing Director for Morgan Stanley, Carla is also the author of Expect to Win, Proven Strategies for Success from a Wall Street Vet. It sounded nice, but really what interest did I really have in hearing about navigating life within Corporate America from someone who works on Wall Street. I’m all about life after Corporate America.

I was wrong. You could feel Carla’s energy fill the room before she started to speak. An impeccably dressed, smart, funny and confident woman, Carla captivated the room as she shared what she calls Carla’s Pearls.

It may not seem at first glance that Carla’s story is one of reinvention. After all, she has been in the same industry for over twenty years. But I see it differently. Her success helped to reinvent the way she, as a woman, and a woman of color was looked upon in a traditionally male dominated business. No one gave her the playbook because there wasn’t one for women, and certainly not one for women of color. She wrote her own based on what she experienced and what she learned works and doesn’t work. I’d call that a bit of reinvention.

What struck me most about Carla was her authenticity. She learned how to navigate a challenging environment and achieve the success she desired, always remaining true to her core character. She points out how our authenticity as women is our competitive advantage and yet too many of us play it down. By playing it down, we lose that edge.

I hadn’t gotten enough of Carla Harris at the end of the breakfast so I read her book. Carla’s grasp of the playing field in the corporate world and the challenges women face resonated profoundly with me. I was reminded in my own corporate career of what I did right and where I made mistakes. Carla’s playbook would have given me an edge had I had it then. But even reading it now, I am inspired. Not to go back to Corporate America. But to win. This book transcends success in corporate life and Wall Street. It’s about exactly what the title suggests, expecting to win, whatever it is you are doing.

Carla finished up her talk singing Amazing Grace in a voice that brought me to tears. Did I mention that in her spare time she is a gospel singer,recorded a CD and performed at Carnegie Hall? She is a big believer that balance in all areas of your life is essential to winning. If you’re interested in doing that I suggest you pick up a copy of her book.

Next week: Trish McEvoy

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