Carla Harris: Business Relationships, Risk-Taking Key to Success

NEW YORK–In her 30 years as a Wall Street executive, Carla Harris has experienced victories worth celebrating and personal missteps that tempered her professional outlook.

Harris calls those experiences “Carla’s Pearls.” Speaking at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s mPower Women’s Networking Event here at the MBA National Secondary Market Conference & Expo, Harris said her experiences raised serious internal questions.

HarrisCarla“I had to ask myself, ‘what’s missing?'” she said. “I graduated from Harvard Business School and believed that I would be successful based on the concept of ‘meritocracy,’ but I learned that was not the case.”

Harris is wealth management, managing director and senior client advisor with Morgan Stanley and author of Expect to Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace, which includes advice, tips and strategies for surviving in any workplace environment. Harris said she vowed that when she reached senior management, she would provide those who came to her for advice with tools and strategies honed by her experiences.

“I believe very strongly in the concept of sponsorship,” Harris said. “The sponsor is the person who will fight for you behind closed doors. But you have to have good ‘performance currency’ to ask someone to be a sponsor.”

At some point, Harris said, ‘performance currency’ becomes ‘relationship currency.’ “You must have a relationship with every person who touches your seat,” she said. “You need to have as many people as possible know about your work. Your ability to ascend will always depend on someone else’s judgment as to whether you are ready for the next level.”

Everyone has hard-earned personal currency, Harris said. “But how many of you will used that hard-earned personal currency on someone you do not know?” she said. “When your name is called on behind closed doors, if no one can speak to your performance, you are going to go nowhere…it’s the relationship currency that builds mobility.”

You also have to be comfortable taking risks, Harris said.

“Keeping your head down will not prevent you from being shot, so it’s best to keep your head up so that you see the bullet coming,” Harris said. “When you submerge your voice, you become irrelevant. When you are in an environment where everyone else is besieged by fear, you have clear vision; you have opportunity.”

Fear has no success in your success equation, Harris said. “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you take a risk and fail? You gain experience.”

The easiest way to penetrate a relationship, Harris said, “is to bring your authentic self to the table. Because then you will motivate others to bring their authenticity to the table.”

The most important component of any person’s equation is the ability to maximize their power, Harris said. “So many times we don’t want to leverage our relationships,” she said. “If you ask someone for help and they say ‘no,’ you say ‘next.’ If someone won’t help you, someone else will. Someone in your network has the intellect and the access to enable you to leverage your power.”

mPower, established by MBA in 2015,has more than 1,000 members. It sponsors a half-dozen events each year at major MBA conferences, including the MBA Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference, the MBA CREF/Multifamily Housing Convention & Expo; the MBA National Technology in Mortgage Banking Conference & Expo; the MBA National Secondary Market Conference & Expo; and the MBA Commercial/Multifamily Servicing and Technology Conference. Additionally, at the MBA 2017 Annual Convention & Expo, mPower will host an all-day event on Saturday, Oct. 21.

“It is really important for all of us to champion gender equality,” said MBA Chief Operating Officer Marcia Davies and founder of mPower. “Gender diversity isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.”

Davies said women are under-represented in every aspect of business. “The industry should recognize women as both a target market and as leaders,” she said. “As an industry, we need to instill a culture of diversity that will benefit the industry and consumers alike. Diversity and profitability can go hand in hand.”

The mPower platform links professionals in the real estate finance industry, but specifically targets the interests and issues of professional women. Currently it is open only to MBA members, but there are plans to open the platform to non-members in 2017. mPower offers communication about MBA events, resources and information, and also features an mPower members-only forum for discussions.

Any MBA member can join by signing up at