Money talks

Although the world of assets, liabilities, margins, and dividends can seem impersonal, there are real people making the money world go ’round. We asked two successful W. P. Carey alumni to trace their rise in the world of finance — including the ways in which ASU influenced their careers — and share their predictions for the future of money.

“CristinaMorgan”

Cristina Morgan
(BS Management ’75, MBA ’77)

The truth is, Cristina Morgan enrolled at ASU because she had to.

Her father’s position with the U.S. Air Force moved the family all over, eventually landing them in Arizona. Then they relocated again, this time to Saudi Arabia when her father took a job with Northrop Corp. Morgan and her brother were attending college in Beirut, Lebanon, when “the Syrians rolled into Beirut one fine day, and the embassy and the corporation took a dim view of having dependents of an executive with Northrop in what they were thinking of as a war zone,” Morgan says. It was time to look elsewhere to finish their degrees. Because of the many moves, they had no real home base in the United States, so they made the most economical choice.

“When you’re an expat, the rules about paying in-state tuition are wherever you last paid taxes in the U.S.,” Morgan says. “So that made ASU the cheapest solution for a guy who had two children in college at the same time. And back to Arizona we went.”

It might not have been her first choice, but Morgan did end up getting solid advice from a professor assigned to help her transfer the credits she had already earned overseas.

“At one point he asked me why I didn’t switch my major to business and get an MBA,” Morgan recalls. “I was stubborn and asked, ‘Why would I do that?’ and he said, ‘Because you might want to get a job.’”

After careful thought, she made the switch from psychology to business and earned both her bachelor’s in management and MBA from the W. P. Carey School of Business. “I truly wish I could remember his name,” Morgan says. “But I have to admit that it was excellent advice.”

Blockchain is an extremely positive move in the future of money. As a foundational technology, it makes transactions more transparent and efficient.

— Cristina Morgan

After graduating, she found a job in financial planning and analysis with Memorex, then moved on to work with other technology companies in a similar capacity. In 1982, her career began to shift. She joined Hambrecht & Quist, an investment bank, as an associate in the research department. After two years there, she moved into investment banking. Morgan became managing director, then co-director of global technology investment banking, staying on through Chase Manhattan Bank’s acquisition of the company, and the merger with J.P. Morgan in 2001. She serves today as vice chairman, technology investment banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in San Francisco.

Throughout her investment banking career, Morgan has received accolades — including a spot on Fortune magazine’s “America’s 50 Most Powerful Women” list, and induction into the W. P. Carey Alumni Hall of Fame. When pressed, Morgan allows that the recognition is “terrific,” but is more likely “recognition of a certain amount of tenacity,” given her more than 35-year tenure in a notoriously demanding profession.

Morgan credits her upbringing for her stick-to-itiveness. “Being raised in a military family, I always answered, ‘Yes, sir, of course, I can,’” she says. “When I started at Memorex right out of business school, it was a company coming out of bankruptcy. Most people were quitting, so every day somebody would walk into my office with a stack of folders, slam them on my desk, and ask me to take over the work. I kept plowing through all of the projects that everybody else had left behind, and I got a well-deserved reputation for working very hard. Even if you’re in a difficult situation, you can always be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

Her military upbringing also likely shaped her disciplined approach to personal finances. She believes in paying cash for toys, not incurring debt, and living within your means. “The old values of prudence and saving and investing early, all of the things that sound so boring, are true,” she says. “I think a lot of young people think that the old rules don’t apply. But they very much apply.”

That said, Morgan sees firsthand that money and financial transactions are changing. “Blockchain is an extremely positive move in the future of money,” she says. “As a foundational technology, it makes transactions more transparent and efficient. And we already do things on our phones that none of us ever dreamed of being able to do. All of that will keep moving forward, the speed will pick up, and security and convenience will get better. The companies we finance in the technology practice at JPMorgan come up with innovation in these areas every single day. The progress never ceases to amaze me. So, no matter how good it gets, it can always seemingly get better.”

“kerrywilliams”

Kerry Williams
(MBA ’87)

Perspective. That was one of Kerry Williams’ most enduring lessons from his time at ASU.

“What has stuck with me from that time is taking classes with people who were working full-time jobs during the day, had families, and were working toward their MBAs at night,” Williams recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Don’t ever think what you’re doing is all that hard, because there’s somebody else who has it harder.’”

Even now, 31 years after earning his MBA from the W. P. Carey School of Business, it’s a philosophy he upholds as chief operating officer of credit reporting agency Experian. During a recent weeklong series of meetings in Spain, for example, he says he anticipated a certain degree of burnout as the group headed into the final two days.

“I opened up those meetings by saying that things can be tough, but we’re not going to coast into the gate. We’re going to finish strong,” Williams says. “You look at some of the other issues in the world, and you need to keep things in perspective. We’re very fortunate. We get to work for a great company; we get to do a lot of innovative things. Business people, in general, are very fortunate with what they get to do in this world.”

We work in countries across the globe transacting money and granting credit in milliseconds without a physical or personal face-to-face connection made ... I see that continuing to accelerate.

— Kerry Williams

Williams helps spread that good fortune through a program he started some 10 years ago that recruits new MBAs into Experian. Several of these hires, he says, are graduates of W. P. Carey and are still with the company.

But regardless of where they went to school, all of these new grads prioritize career advancement, and all of them ask him for tips on how to move up the ladder.

“I can’t think of one meeting with an MBA we’ve hired over the years where they haven’t asked for career advice,” Williams says. “What I tell them is that, early in their career, it’s helpful to have a breadth of experiences versus to be a deep subject matter expert. Maybe it’s a good idea, for example, to be a financial analyst in the first year, then maybe go into sales, and after that go into operations. A breadth of experiences indicates a diverse person with lots of capabilities and intellectual horsepower. Experiences make you more valuable, and the more valuable you are, the more opportunities you’ll have to advance.”

On that, he speaks from experience. After graduate school, Williams took a job with Wells Fargo in San Francisco. During his eight years there, he worked in a variety of positions, including consumer credit, mortgages, consumer checking, and commercial cash management. Williams then moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, to build and lead the commercial credit card business at Bank of America. Five years later, in 2000, he moved across the country to New York City to run a startup.

Then Experian called. “That was not too long after the 9/11 attacks, and we had just had our first child, so we wanted to get back out west,” Williams says. “So, we joined Experian in 2003, and I’ve been here ever since.”

With three decades of experience across the financial industry, Williams has rare insight into the future of money. For starters, he thinks real money will cease to exist at some point, and most currency will be digital.

“Blockchain encryption capabilities that enable the movement of digital currencies are going to continue to proliferate,” he says. “And I think the instant access to money, or to credit so to speak, is going to continue to expand. We work in countries across the globe transacting money and granting credit in milliseconds without a physical or personal face-to-face connection made. Nor is there any physical money generated to support those transactions. I see that continuing to accelerate across the globe, with the emerging markets very much leading the charge on those types of capabilities.”

But even as money itself changes, his views on personal finance are tried-and-true. He tells his three teenage sons to save, to live within their means, and to prepare for unexpected expenses.

“And I say that from personal history. When I came out of grad school, I had $2,000 in my checking account and owed $10,000 in loans, and it’s just miserable to have to pay off those loans. It took me a few years to get ahead of everything, and it’s just not a whole lot of fun. I’m not sure if they’re listening to my advice yet, but I hope they do. I don’t want them to have to go through that.”

By Teresa Esquivel