Lisa A. (Manzi) Cregan (COL’81, MBA’83) on Intentional Leadership and Supporting Others

Photo of Lisa A. (Manzi) Cregan

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Georgetown McDonough joins the nation during the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. For the School of Business, this history began in 1960 when the newly formed school awarded its first business degree to a woman. This historic moment set the stage for the extraordinary achievements of six decades of female graduates, who continue to break barriers and pave the way for future generations of women business leaders. 

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we are highlighting several stories of McDonough alumnae who pushed boundaries and found success in their personal and professional lives. 

Lisa Cregan (COL’81, MBA’83) jumped directly from being a Georgetown undergraduate (government and French major) into the first Georgetown MBA cohort. Choosing her career path over pursuing an Olympics berth as an equestrian, Cregan has made a substantial professional mark in the financial services industry for the past three decades. She also has been a driving force for opening a traditionally male-oriented profession to women. The first woman regional director in the 150-plus-year history of UBS, she now devotes increasing amounts of time and effort to organizational change and women’s leadership at Morgan Stanley.

How did you come to Georgetown?

Lisa A. (Manzi) Cregan (C’81, MBA’83)

I grew up riding horses and aspired to compete at the highest levels. My father would support “my riding habit” only if I attended good schools and achieved excellent grades, which I did. I’ve had the good fortune to be first at several things. I was in the first class of women accepted into Phillips Andover. I then chose Georgetown because I wanted to be a government major, and it was near my riding coach. I had hoped to compete at the most advanced levels while completing my education, but my coach believed for me to become the best in the world, I needed to “quit school and just ride.” I couldn’t do that, so I made the painfully hard decision to give up riding and fully devote myself to my studies.

What made you want to stay at Georgetown to pursue your MBA?

During my junior year, I interned for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It was then I realized I was put off by the business of politics. I took a marketing analyst job at an engineering consulting firm but quickly realized that to succeed in business, especially as a woman, I needed a business education. So I entered the first cohort of Georgetown’s MBA program. I loved the school and was intrigued because it was a new program.

What were the classroom dynamics of the program like?

Amazing! There were 30 people in our class. It was intimate and intense in good ways. There were many strong personalities; everyone was bright and enthusiastic. The coursework also was incredibly interactive, which I loved. The professors challenged us, and we pushed back and challenged them. It was a perfect environment for me. I thrived in an open forum with lots of discussion, lots of give-and-take. I’m not sure if our class was 50% women, but women made up a significant percentage of the cohort. This was notable in the 1980s; most MBA programs were still populated mostly by men. The diversity made the group stronger, offering us points of view we wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve embraced the power of diversity throughout my career. I saw early on how diversity provides a strategic advantage in all situations.

Leadership is never about you. It is about making others better.”

When you’re working with people and building the culture, what do you include?

Over the years, I’ve developed six leadership principles that I apply in one way or another every day: 

  • You must openly care about the people you lead.
  • You must listen more than you talk.
  • You must have somewhere to take the people you lead (vision, strategy).
  • You must be genuine, honest, and treat others with respect, regardless of the situation.
  • You must have a sense of humor.
  • You must be fully engaged and enthusiastic; it shows.

People will move mountains for you and with you when they know you support them, that you have a clear goal and strategy, and that what you’re doing is not selfish, but other-oriented. Leadership is never about you. It is about making others better. As they succeed, positive results are a natural by-product. And, I always try to maintain a sense of humor — it helps everyone, especially in challenging or stressful circumstances.

What motivated you to start the Women’s Advisory Council at Morgan Stanley?

To make a difference and show how diversity would give the firm a strategic advantage. And I wanted to ensure that the women following behind have it easier than I did. 

The council is entirely business and community focused. It exposes women advisors to potential clients. I wanted women to do business in ways that fit their styles and schedules. The council proved wildly successful. For example, the new-asset growth of the women on the council was two and a half to three times greater than the broader population. From this inaugural group, others formed. Now, there are more than 40 councils around the country. This helps make Morgan Stanley the destination firm for women.

“I asked both women and men to climb hard with their careers, but be sure to pause and lift and support someone coming behind. If everyone promotes only one diverse person, it will make all the difference in the world.”

What can women do to help other women succeed in male-dominated fields?

I have a Creganism that I promote to as many people as I can as often as I can: “Climb, Pause, Lift.” Most women have demanding roles outside of work. And, when we are at work, we are so wholly focused on completing what we have to accomplish, we find little time for traditional networking or professional development. 

So, I apply Climb, Pause, Lift as a way to have women take responsibility for one another. It’s a pledge to open pathways to the future. I asked both women and men to climb hard with their careers, but be sure to pause and lift and support someone coming behind. If everyone promotes only one diverse person, it will make all the difference in the world.

Is there an accomplishment in your career that you are most proud of?

One, being named the first-ever woman regional director at UBS. Another, becoming a regional director here at Morgan Stanley. Yet perhaps what I’m most proud of is making differences that extend beyond the institutional support of the advisory councils. I’ve been able to hire and place talented women and diverse men in roles that make a difference. Roles they might not have had access to otherwise. During my first four years as a regional director, I increased the diversity of my managers from 9% to 30%, and we continue to grow that number.

My experiences tell me that you must be intentional to (a) place talented women and diverse candidates into visible positions, (b) offer them stretch assignments, and (c) expose them to senior management. It’s also essential to give them the coaching that they require to succeed. Whether it is me coaching or via professional coaches, I just make sure they get the support they need, when they need it. You can’t be hesitant to support good people.

If you practice being mindfully fearless, you’ll get to the point, as I have, where you will tackle pretty much anything. You’ll have built confidence upon a foundation of success.

As you look back over your career, what advice would you give to your younger self?

One suggestion I have is to become mindfully fearless. Routinely identify things that you find “scary,” things which you might otherwise run from or shirk, then mindfully take on those tasks or challenges. I encourage you to do this daily, no matter how small the task. Doing so builds skills, resilience, and breeds success. Becoming mindfully fearless is something I created because there were no role models in the industry. But believe me, there were many naysayers along the way.

If you practice being mindfully fearless, you’ll get to the point, as I have, where you will tackle pretty much anything. You’ll have built confidence upon a foundation of success. I believe in this concept so strongly that I’m developing a mindfully fearless program to teach these skills to women.

This is an excerpt from the 60 Years of Alumnae: Memories, Milestones, and Momentum book, which shares the experiences and accomplishments of six decades of trailblazing women at Georgetown McDonough. Order your copy of the 60 Years of Alumnae book today to receive $15 off during Women’s History Month.