VICE PRESIDENT & AUDIT COVERAGE MANAGER, MORGAN STANLEY
Bachelor of Information Technology & Communications 2000
When Charmian Simmons began her journey to the top in the highly competitive international finance sector, the glass ceiling never stood a chance.
Charmian was just 32 years old when she was appointed a Vice President of multinational financial services giant Morgan Stanley, based in their Wall Street headquarters in New York. Her success can be attributed, at least in part, to her incredible drive and sense of purpose. “Giving yourself those goals, and knowing that the obstacles that are in your way can usually be overcome – it’s all about you taking the right steps, and being able to take those opportunities and launch yourself into it.”
She began her career working in auditing and consultancy in the Sydney offices of Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), and within two short years was promoted to Senior Executive, Technology Risk Assurance Services. Ready for the next step, Charmian took her role to the firm’s London office. “I stayed another two years at PwC in London,” she recalls. “I was able to work in a few other different areas, pick up some different skills sets; I worked in the UK, I worked across Europe. Before long I found myself needing a different hop, step and a jump, and that's what led me into Morgan Stanley.”
Charmian joined Morgan Stanley in 2005. Impressed by her infectious enthusiasm and focus, the company recognised her talent and were keen to develop it – despite her lack of background in the sector. “I didn't have any financial industry experience whatsoever. They liked my personality, they liked the skillset I could describe, they liked my attitude towards work. They also spoke to references I had, and that was what I think engaged them to want to take me on and train me up in the financial services industry.”
Initially working as a technology risk auditor covering institutional securities, she was made Vice President in the Operations Financial Audit team in 2011, before adding the role of Vice President and Audit Coverage Manger for Morgan Stanley Bank to her portfolio in 2014.
Though Charmian didn’t deliberately set her sights on an international career, her ambitiousness coupled with a love of travel make it seem pre-destined. “Working in London opened my eyes to what a different career could be; it also opened my eyes to travelling, seeing the world, experiencing new things. And after travelling here, seeing the Big Apple, experiencing what this great city has to offer... it was a place that I resonated with, and I thought ‘I could live here, I could move here, I could work here.’”
Chamian credits the incredible power of mentoring with helping to define and solidify her career purpose, having experienced its transformative effects early on. “Mentoring is a really big topic, for me personally and I also think for other individuals,” she says. “I was lucky enough to have a mentor at PwC; it was a partner there, and we're still in touch today.”
She strongly recommends that new graduates seek out a good mentor, but also a sponsor who can help them realise their aspirations – not only through focusing their performance and developing their technical and soft skills, but as an advocate for promotion up the corporate ladder. “In big companies these days – particularly in the lucrative finance industry in New York – it's all about performance, and it's all about perception. Having someone to sponsor you and advocate for you is really, really big.”
Her choice of degree certainly played its part, too: Charmian chose dual studies in data and finance at UOW long before the intersection of the two areas ensured graduates were highly sought after. “My degree was new at the time – the first IT degree offered outside of a Bachelor of Science,” she recalls. “The hybrid of technology aspects, such as coding, networks and telecommunications, with the business aspects, such as accounting and finance, made for a balanced mix of skills that could be applied to many industries, companies, and job roles.”
“For me, the involvement and willingness of staff, tutors and faculty members made for a great experience at uni. It's not until later that you realise the breadth, depth and connections you have in your professional life to leverage, and the power that can bring to your career.”
Charmian balances her high-powered career with a commitment to volunteering and not-for-profit work – something she became involved in early on. She started out going into schools, helping children with spatial maths, reading and comprehension, and worked her way up to bigger projects, including giving her time through New York Cares, an organisation that mobilises New Yorkers into volunteer projects that meet pressing community needs. Last year, she was part of a team that raised more than US$100,000 for research into blood cancers and assistance to children and families affected by the disease, as part of an innovative campaign run by the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society.
She also finds time to indulge her passion for interior design; Charmian attended New York’s prestigious Parsons School of Design, where she completed the necessary courses to qualify and certify herself in the field. “I pick up little titbits of work here and there,” she says. “It's a nice hobby to have on the side and to have a creative outlet, versus what I see in my professional day-to-day role.”
Though she used to have a five year plan for her career and life, having achieved so much already Charmian says she is content to live in the moment for the foreseeable future. “I quite easily could see myself still here, I could see myself moving somewhere else... I think I'll let the future decide where it's going to take me.