According to Wall Street veteran Carla Harris, meritocracy is a myth. The subjectivity of human evaluation pollutes supposed meritocratic environments. Therefore, to get ahead, you must have a sponsor, someone with influence who is willing to argue your case. So take the time and energy to invest in a sponsor relationship. Harris’s candid, assertive advice will appeal to ambitious workers seeking to scale the ladder.


In 1988, Carla Harris attended her first Wall Street round table, an annual meeting that determined employee bonuses. Attendees – a notetaker, presenters, and invited guests who knew and were more senior to the subjects under review – discussed all employees and categorized them into “buckets” that defined their bonus range. As this process would later decide Harris’s bonus, she was happy to get an insider’s view. The recorder called the first name, Joe Smith. Smith’s presenter described his virtues until someone interrupted and said, “Great candidate. He goes in the top bucket.” Mary Smith was next. The committee determined she was a solid performer but “nothing special” and assigned her to the middle bucket. Arnold Smith’s presenter barely...

About the Speaker

Carla Harris is a vice chairperson of wealth management at Morgan Stanley and author of Expect to Win.

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