Cira Nickerson Talks About Having A Positive Impact On People’s Lives

Cira Nickerson, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Financial Advisor

Cira Nickerson has been with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney for 15 years and is a Senior Vice President and Complex Manager. Here she talks about her ascendance to that role and the opportunities for women seeking a career as a Financial Advisor.

What did you do before you got into this business?
Just prior, I started a fundraising business back home in New Jersey that serviced the needs of elementary and middle schools. It was a great entrepreneurial experience and was very successful. After I sold it to one of our suppliers, I took some time off to consider my next move. A friend of mine who was a real trailblazer at, what was then, Smith Barney - and one of the few successful women in the business at that time – suggested I consider becoming a Financial Advisor.

How did you get on the path to become a Complex Manager?
Having come from a sales/entrepreurial environment, I knew early on at that I wanted to be in management. To be in management, you really needed to be a Financial Advisor first so you fully understand what the core business is about. So I moved into a “bench program”, which is a variety of apprentiship positions designed to help prepare you to become a Branch Manager.

How many positions did you hold prior to becoming a Complex Manager?
I started in 2000 as the Regional Sales and Training Officer covering the Mid California Region. After that I became an Assistant Branch Manager in San Francisco in 2002. In 2003 I was asked to head up a branch in LA. I became the Interim Branch Manager for almost a year…all still part of my bench responsibilities and training. Then, I became Branch Manager in San Diego for the next four years.

In 2008, I was promoted to head up the Palo Alto office. It was soon after the merger with Morgan Stanley took place and I was awarded the Complex Manager role.

Tell us about the role of a Complex Manager.
There are 137 Complex Managers at the firm who oversee all the branches and all the Financial Advisors. I oversee seven branches, and still manage the Palo Alto branch. There are about 140 Financial Advisors in my complex.

I’d say the foremost role of a Complex Manager is to surround yourself with a capable, motivated and intelligent team. People who are an extension of yourself … with skill sets that cover all facets of the business: risk, service, operations, staffing, technology, training, business development etc.

Once you have the right team in place, you can focus on the big picture - how do we achieve the goals that have been handed down to us, how do we drive the initiatives of the firm on a local level … how do we continue to coach people, to insure that Financial Advisors are achieving their personal and professional goals.

What is your day-to-day focus?
I’d say my overriding focus every day is in making sure that my Financial Advisors are succeeding and growing, and their clients are enjoying a great “client experience”. I spend a lot of time talking to the people in my branches and recruiting talent. And of course, I keep a close eye on our risk and make sure there are no gaps in our ability to supervise that risk.

What are the qualities that a woman needs to succeed?
In my opinion, women don’t need any different skills than men. To succeed in general, you need perseverance, people skills, listening skills, a strong work ethic and an understanding of the sales cycle - which often includes rejection. This is the recipe for success regardless of being a man or a woman.

So when you ask what does it takes for a woman to succeed, I’d say that most women already have what it takes, they just need the confidence to give it a try.

What traits contributed to your success?
When I was young, I participated in sports - lots of sports. So I was accustomed to being around high-performing, competitive individuals. That’s why I was never intimidated by this business. And then, as an entrepreneur, I learned that the key to success is to listen, be compassionate, be thoughtful and work at the highest level of integrity and honesty.

Why is Morgan Stanley Smith Barney a smart choice for women seeking a career as a Financial Advisor?
I’d say we now have the best resources, the best talent, facilities and leadership, and the best Financial Advisors. So if I’m someone looking to transition into this business and weighing options about where to hang my shingle, I want to be on this winning team.

What are the long-term benefits of being a Financial Advisor?
This industry can afford you immense satisfaction over the course of your career. You can have such a positive impact on people’s lives…and create a rewarding, flexible work/life balance for yourself. If successful, the economics are very favorable.


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