Fireside Chat with James Gorman AO

By Jordyn Beazley

The Faculty of Business and Economics was delighted to hear from distinguished alum, James P Gorman AO, as he shared his insights and experiences with students and alumni in a Fireside Chat Webinar.

It was a winding career path from law to finance that helped Morgan Stanley Chairman and CEO James Gorman AO navigate the most complex crisis of his career: the 2008 global financial crisis.

“Navigating how the organisation could both survive, recover, and then finally grow, brought together my legal background, my consulting background, my strategy background, my financial management background, and all the skills that have sort of accumulated up to that point,” Mr Gorman told the audience during a webinar hosted by the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business and Economics.

In the webinar, hosted by Professor Paul Kofman, the Dean of University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business and Economics, Mr Gorman – a distinguished University of Melbourne alumni – revealed a number of insights into the changing financial sector as digitalisation and adapting to the climate crisis become the priorities of the future.

But for the students and recent graduates like myself in the audience, it was the lessons from his own illustrious career, particularly from the modest beginnings from which he started and his “zig zag” career trajectory, that struck most.

James P Gorman AORaised in a family of 10 siblings in an outback town in southern NSW, Mr Gorman decided to follow in his sisters footsteps at age 18 and study arts and law at University of Melbourne. He briefly practiced law before heading to New York to study at the Columbia Business School.

Hailed as a humble leader in comparison to the larger-than-life personalities of his predecessors at Morgan Stanley, Mr Gorman said it was his diverse experience and combination of his law, social science, and financial studies that helped him keep Morgan Stanley at the front of the pack in a rapidly evolving sector.

Just as the GFC was the most complex challenge of Mr Gorman’s career, those of us beginning our careers are faced with an even more pressing issue - the climate emergency. A number of the questions asked during the Q&A by the students revolved around how the sector was evolving to meet this challenge.

Mr Gorman was emphatic on the need for the sector to adapt, with Morgan Stanley committing to carbon net zero by 2050, and helping companies transition to clean energy. He said the increasing popularity of impact investing will not be reversed.

For those working to break into their dream industry, Mr Gorman said there’s more to it than being the smartest person in the room. He urged students to always be authentic, develop resilience and speak in a way that everyone can understand.

“You’re more likely to be successful if you’re authentic, many when we are young try to be someone we’re not,” Mr Gorman said. “Be true and honest to the skill sets which make you the strong person you are.”

Most resounding for me as a graduate that entered a precarious job market amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, was Mr Gorman’s reminder that you don’t always land your ideal job straight out of university. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, he said, as the skills you develop in those first steps will make you a more rounded person when you finally reach your goal.

“You’re going to have disappointments, you’re going to have wins.” Mr Gorman said in his final message to the audience.

“My career has been a series of fortunate and sometimes unfortunate events. But I've always tried to take the good with the bad. You can't have a life well lived without having some disappointments, so when the disappointments come, embrace them and see what you can learn from them.”