This is the second in a three-part installment of “Leaders in the Clubhouse: Executive Women in Golf” presented by KPMG.
In addition to her leadership duties at Morgan Stanley, the firm she joined straight out of Harvard Business School 27 years ago, Carla Harris chairs the National Women’s Business Council, a position she was appointed to by President Obama. Harris is also the author of two books, Expect to Win and the new Strategize to Win, as well as an accomplished gospel singer. Between these endeavors, speaking engagements and her work as a board member for several community organizations, Harris still finds time to work on her golf game whenever she can.
How did you get interested in golf?
I was at a corporate retreat in 1992 and was put in a foursome with my boss. I told him, “I can’t wait to do this—I’ve never played before.” He said, “What? Maybe you better go over there with the pro.” I’ve always been athletic, so I stomped off to the pro, thinking, Why do I need a pro? Golf can’t be that hard. Ten swings and misses later I was hooked, because I love challenges. That the game requires mental discipline as well as physical acumen, and you get to play in beautiful places, also sucked me in.
How is your game these days?
Not as good as I’d like it to be. But I am committed to getting my handicap into the teens this year. That means going to the range diligently, starting this weekend. So much of the game is in the practice. If you’re only playing rounds in the late spring and summer, you’re only going to get so good. I’m ready to take it to the next level.
What’s been holding you back?
My putting hasn’t been great over the past two seasons. Reading the greens and the speed have been my biggest challenges. I thought it was my putter—but two new putters later, it’s not the putter.
What are your favorite places to play?
The two most special places I’ve played are the Princeville Resort on Kauai, Hawaii, and Dye Fore at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. And I love my club, Fiddler’s Elbow in New Jersey. We have three fantastic eighteens.
Do you have a favorite golfing moment?
My first hole in one happened in Jacksonville, Fla., at a place called Mill Cove Golf Club. I also have a great memory of hitting the green on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. That’s stuck with me—because I haven’t been able to do it since!
Are you a big believer in golf as a business tool?
It’s an amazing tool if you have a client who loves golf. When you offer someone the chance to play, even though you may still talk business, you’re doing it in the context of something they really enjoy. It changes the dynamic and the tenor of the conversation.
Mentoring and sponsoring women in business is a key focus for you. Does golf play a role in that?
Absolutely. In the summer, I try to find a group of junior women in the company who either play golf or are interested in playing and take them out. Because golf isn’t intimidating at all if you go out with someone who is patient and can tell you the ins and outs of the game.