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As a young, black woman Nicole Dickerson knows she doesn't fit the typical image of a branch manager. Through her leadership at Morgan Stanley, Nicole shares how she's breaking stereotypes with her success.
Nicole Dickerson, selected by Morgan Stanley as a MAKERs in 2018, knows that she doesn't fit the typical image of a branch manager, and she's good with that. As a young, black woman heading up a fast-growing branch in one of Morgan Stanley's major markets, she sees herself as the reflection of a shifting corporate culture, both within the firm and throughout the financial services industry.
She is one of 17 outstanding professional women nominated by her peers and selected by Morgan Stanley executives to participate in MAKERS, a national program that identifies and celebrates accomplished professionals from a variety of fields and companies.
"Morgan Stanley is trying to broaden the face of leadership," says Nicole, Branch Manager of the Beverly Hills office. "There's so much predisposition in what we think a leader should look like that it's important to show the world that success can come in a multitude of shades and genders."
Nicole is a case in point. In 2007, she decided to change careers and was considering getting her MBA in finance. She went to a few university open houses to get a feel for their programs and heard a presentation on wealth management that sparked her interest.
At the time, Nicole had two friends working in the industry. One ran a hedge fund, and the other was an advisor with a large wealth management firm. The hedge fund manager told her he made big money by taking big risks. The wealth manager told her that he built his business by working with amazing clients who are now friends. "What I got was 'slow and steady wins the race,'" she says. "And that resonated with me."
So instead of going back to school to pursue her MBA, she took a massive cut in pay and responsibility to become an assistant at a financial services firm. That was in March of 2008, at the depths of the financial crisis. "I took one step backward so that I could take a thousand steps forward," she says.
When she became Branch Manager of the Beverly Hills office in 2016, Nicole faced two key challenges. The first was suddenly finding herself responsible for managing her former coworkers. The second was breaking down the silos that many of the branch's top Financial Advisors had built around their businesses.
The key to both was creating a culture of inclusivity and teamwork. "A consistent message of mine is that we are all in this together," she says. "Whatever decision we make, we are all going to have to stand behind it and believe in it."
Under that philosophy, no person or position is more important than any other, and everyone in the office shares responsibility for the branch's success. "With 54 Financial Advisors in this branch, I have realized that true success happens when Financial Advisors view all of their decisions through the lens of a shareholder," she notes.
Nicole has the added complexity of managing Financial Advisors who have been in the business longer than she's been alive. They also had been successfully running their practices on their own and weren't particularly interested in changing how they did things. "People who have been in this business for so long can develop a fixed mindset that their system is the best for themselves and their teams," she says.
With those blinders on, though, even well-entrenched Financial Advisors can miss the opportunities being created in a fast-changing world. So Nicole started chipping away at those silos by rolling up her sleeves to work as hard as they did to meet client needs. "This is one team, one dream," she says. "I'm only going to be as successful as my Financial Advisors are, and because I'm their intermediary within the firm, they are only going to be as successful as I am."
So when a Financial Advisor comes to her with something that requires an assist from corporate, they work together to make it happen. "We approach it with the understanding that we need to own this together," she says. "We craft the message together and then figure out how to get other people in the boat with us."
"It's an easier way to do business, and that's part of the cultural change that I'm trying to create here," she adds.
The results speak for themselves. The Beverly Hills branch is on track to post strong organic growth this year. "We changed the focus on how to help Financial Advisors be successful," she says. "Our Financial Advisors know that I'm advocating for them and will be shoulder to shoulder with them in terms of closing business and getting things done."
Looking ahead, she wants the rest of the Los Angeles marketplace place to know that the Beverly Hills office of Morgan Stanley is the best place for any Financial Advisor who wants to grow his or her business. She points to the strong support that she and her team have received from management and the deep resources available to help make Financial Advisors successful.
"I want to make sure my Financial Advisors know that when they bring in a prospect they can say, without a doubt, that this is the best firm in Beverly Hills," she says.