While Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat was working with the Federal government to figure out AIG's bailout in 2008, she says that one of her biggest concerns was that a rapid collapse of the insurer could have profound implications for many, many other companies across the country. Small, medium and large companies could lose liquidity, and could find themselves unable to fund the kind of consistent growth that is vital to capitalism. She says that working through this crisis underscored for her how intertwined Wall Street and "Main Street" truly are.
In her Big Think interview, Porat says that she generally thinks of herself as an optimist, but that she's learned a lot from her years as an investment banker. "I started in August of 1987 only to see the market have one of the biggest crashes ever in October of ’87 and have seen a number of other cycles," she says. "And after each one lessons are learned and I think that the pendulum often swings too far one way before it comes back the other way, but there is an important learning and growth opportunity that comes out of each one of these situations."
As one of the highest-ranking women on Wall Street, Porat says is concerned that there still aren't enough women rising through the ranks in finance. She says many women get sidetracked from careers in finance because they worry about problems with work/life balance, but notes that there are many roles a person can play within an investment bank—and the hours and travel requirements vary. Women who are interested, should take a closer look at the different drivers of the business, she says, because there's a chance something may fit.
She admits that the first couple of years at a firm can be "very challenging" for someone starting out, and that it takes a lot of work to get up the curve to higher management positions. "But what is powerful about that is you're either opening doors to go and do so many different things, working with corporations, starting your own business or advancing in investment banking. So I would say think of it as almost a call option on the next part of your career."
On a more personal note, Porat also speaks about her experience battling breast cancer, saying that it's most important to first get as much information as you can about the disease from people who know about it—and then to remember to stay true to yourself through treatment. For Porat, this meant continuing to work, even as she began chemotherapy: "For me, going to work meant that I was in control of my life," she says. "The disease did not define me. And so in many respects work was a really important part of me being healthy.
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