Chief Operating Officer (Legal), Morgan Stanley
Class of 1999 - Law with German
How did you end up at Swansea University?
Growing up in London and Bath I had never been to Wales. I was also intent on not going to University in London, I wanted to explore other parts of the country. I wanted to study Law with a focus on German, a little-known fact is that I was born in Vienna, Austria and I was keen to continue with German. Swansea offered that option and when I came to visit the campus I fell in love with the city, the beaches, and the campus. The campus was brilliant, and small enough to feel like a community. There was also an element of diversity that surprised me. My assumption of going to University in Wales was that it would not be diverse but walking around campus I saw an aspect of diversity that made me feel more comfortable about applying and attending.
What were the best things about your course?
Hands down Ruth Costigan! Such an inspiring lecturer.
What are your favourite memories from your time at Swansea?
The beaches, living in Mumbles (the Mumbles Mile), learning more about Wales and making life-long friendships! My halls of residence was a castle (Clyne Castle).
What made you decide to study Law?
I’m Nigerian by background and anyone who knows the Nigerian culture will tell you there are three options. You can study Medicine, Accounting or Law. I am not keen on blood and I am terrible with numbers so really Law was the only option. Though really, I love writing, I love reading, I love debating and I love thinking about different perspectives, and I love the process of applying a theory, putting in in practice. I am also very keen on human and civil rights and I think Law basically called to me. I really wanted to understand how the law works, how you apply the law and use it to support and defend the rights of every person.
What did you do after graduation?
I went on to study for my LLM in the US and maybe this is where my journey is a little non-traditional. Before my LLM I did a summer internship for six weeks at one of the magic-circle firms in London. When I walked through the door, I knew immediately it was not where I wanted to be. It was a bit of a negative experience. When I looked around, I did not see anyone who looked like me. There were no role models, all the other interns on the course were all Oxbridge. I did not have a sense of belonging. With hindsight, now that diversity is front and centre at all the law firms perhaps my experience would be different but at the time it really shaped my outlook and drive. I knew I did not want to work in a law firm.
So, I went to Tulane University in New Orleans for my LLM. It exposed me to a new culture and a new way of thinking about the law. I was also able to broaden my interests from human rights to other aspects of law. I also decided that I wanted to work in a company with a global footprint in which I could use my knowledge and skills to impact society in some form whilst also leveraging my legal foundation.
Where are you working now and what is an average day like?
I work at Morgan Stanley, which is an investment bank. I am the Chief Operating Officer for the International Legal Division, as well as the Investment Management Legal Division globally.
An average day is, varied and unpredictable, which I love. My core focus is ensuring the division is operating, smoothly, effectively and efficiently. That can be put in a few buckets. The first is people – it is about making sure you have the right people and that they feel supported to do their best work and to deliver and support the business. The second is looking at the structure of what we do and the functions. Do we have the right functions, are we doing things in the most efficient way and if not, do we need to change things? The third is about the technology we leverage. The legal profession has gone through a lot of change and now it’s about looking at how we leverage technology and artificial intelligence to make our day-to-day more operationally effective.
A lot of my work is horizon scanning to see what the direction of travel is for the legal profession. Another big part of my day is diversity and inclusion.
At Morgan Stanley I chair the African and Caribbean Business Alliance. It’s something I am really passionate about. I think right now, everyone realises that organisations thrive when they have a diverse workforce, and everyone feels included. The network I chair used to be a social group but now we have become a strategic advisor working on how we recruit, how we retain and how we advance diverse talent. Within the network, I have watched colleagues grow professionally, expand their networks and be given more responsibility which is great.
Alongside that, social mobility is also a great passion of mine. How do we make sure talent from less socially mobile backgrounds get a seat at the table and are able to thrive? We need to make sure the correct role models and support are in place. I got to the COO role by accident. I spent ten years in financial crimes. My law degree continues to form the basis of how I operate professionally, the analytical skills are essential, but the role also allows me to focus on people and diversity, inclusion and social mobility.
Were you a member of any student societies? Did you take advantage of any other opportunities?
I was a member of the Afro Caribbean Society and briefly played hockey.
What advice would you give to anyone considering studying at Swansea?
I had a brilliant time at Swansea. My time there was an opportunity to learn and meet people from all walks of life, cultures and experiences. Attending Swansea University was also my first introduction to Wales and Welsh culture, which I have come to treasure over the years. I would strongly encourage anyone considering studying at Swansea to simply go for it!
I would also encourage students to keep in touch with your university friends, they are a great network and make use of the alumni network. In doing so you should also be mindful of who you network with. What do you need from them, be respectful of their time but don’t forget what you can bring to the relationship. You also have knowledge and experience that is valuable to share.