Profile: Renee LaRoche-Morris, COO of BNY Mellon Investment Management
- December 1, 2020: Vol. 7, Number 11

Profile: Renee LaRoche-Morris, COO of BNY Mellon Investment Management

by Mike Consol

Renee LaRoche-Morris was a peculiar kid, by her own estimation. She read the dictionary and was more interested in hanging with the adults rather than her contemporaries. Even at age of 5, she sought to play a leading role, taking control of situations and telling those around her what to do, which did not exactly endear her to the adults in her life. She read the newspaper and taught herself to type on a manual typewriter in fifth grade.

“I was just different,” she says.

Despite her precociousness, LaRoche-Morris recalls that her childhood was an “unsettled” affair, as the family moved between the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York — perhaps explaining why she sought to establish a greater semblance of control in her life. Her dad worked for International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and relocated to take advantage of the promotions offered.

She was also a Girl Scout and thrived in that atmosphere.

“I really needed that, frankly, and enjoyed [it]. It was one of the few consistent things that I had when we were moving,” she recalls. “I could go to the local Girl Scout troop, and it was the same pledge, uniforms and badges. It was some consistency when everything else was inconsistent. And I’m a doer and have a spatial learning style, so sewing and camping and earning the badges was great for me because it was very hands on. I think it laid a foundation for a lot of the things I am comfortable doing today.”

One of her enlightening experiences during high school was a trip to Spain, which affirmed her long-time interest in other cultures, as well as allowing LaRoche-Morris to exercise her interest in and aptitude for other languages.

“I was good with languages,” she says. “The trip to Spain was important for me. U.S. citizens are sometimes too narrowly focused.”

It was her older sister — who had already established her intellectual moxie and credibility by attending Harvard Business School — who advised LaRoche-Morris to choose a course of collegiate study that interested her, rather than choosing something career specific, and then study business post-graduate.

That led her to the University of Virginia, where she majored in foreign affairs, further feeding her interest in other languages, cultures, and relations among various countries. The experience also revealed that multiple cultures existed even domestically, within the vast confines of U.S. borders.

“I had not spent much time in the South,” she says. “For a young black woman to go down to Charlottesville, it felt not only utterly foreign but also familiar and comfortable to me in a way that I couldn’t describe. I didn’t really know what the South was like, so that was very eye-opening.”

Her father had somewhat the same experience at IBM, where the firm had only recently started diversifying its ranks, and getting established was challenging. After initial resistance and years of breaking barriers, he had a successful career as an executive over the course of his 24 years at Big Blue, as it was called during its heyday as the world’s dominant technology company.


It took LaRoche-Morris a long time to get comfortable with the idea that she and her father had much in common.

“The environment at the time was different than today,” she says. “My work environment is very different than his. As a kid, you don’t quite understand what your parents are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. That generation was breaking into those white-collar roles, and people weren’t necessarily ready for the change.”

Having better understood over time the racial struggles that generation endured and their emotional impact, LaRoche-Morris now speaks to how she and her father share a directness in their style of communication, how they lead with common sense, and their penchant for corporate settings, despite the challenges.

“I understand him better as an adult,” she says.

Circumstances for black professionals have decidedly changed for the better, though, as a black woman, LaRoche-Morris still sees too few reflections of herself in the corporate environment — whether at BNY Mellon or corporate America in general. She has been an active leader in BNY Mellon’s diversity and inclusion strategy and as co-chair of IMPACT, the bank’s global multi-cultural business resource group, which works to attract, develop and retain diverse talent while creating an inclusive culture where all staff feel they belong and can succeed.

“We continue to focus our efforts on recruiting diverse talent at all levels and have increased our efforts to bring in entry-level talent from a broader range of colleges and universities.”

Beyond that, her extracurricular activities include her continuing involvement with Girl Scouts (even being named one of the organization’s Women of Distinction in 2018) and sitting on the board of Dress for Success Worldwide. She considers Dress for Success a women’s empowerment group. Her first exposure to the organization happened in connection with the Bank of New York’s financial literacy program; she was approached to give a keynote speech at a Dress for Success graduation event.

“The women I met that day were so impressive, so hard working and were so committed to improving their lives, improving their families and communities. I was totally hooked,” she recalls. “Then I met Joi Gordon, who is the CEO, and she and I hit it off and I joined the board.”

The starting point for Dress for Success is often a woman who has lost her job, joined a social-work program that referred her to Dress for Success as a means of getting some fresh job- and interview-skills training, and clothing suitable for job interviews. The objective is to prepare women to re-enter the workforce through educational programs in financial literacy and other personal and professional skills that help sidelined women get back on their feet and advance themselves.

“The program helps them really step into their power,” LaRoche-Morris says of her experience with the organization. “It is just an amazing organization. When you see the work it does for women and how many women have gotten back on their feet through that organization, it is really impressive. We are changing lives.”


When she graduated from the University of Virginia in 1993, the economy was sputtering, but still good enough to yield her three job offers. Saks Fifth Avenue offered to put LaRoche-Morris through its buying program with the intent of turning her into one of the famed retailer’s clothing buyers, a prospect she found intriguing, in part because she was influenced by her grandmothers and great-grandmothers, stylish ladies who were always “put together.” She ended up concluding, though, that the retail environment was highly competitive, and the pay scale and environment weren’t for her. Another opportunity came from Maersk Line, the giant international shipping company based in Denmark, which would have sent her anywhere in the world after a year of training in New York. Although keen to the idea of a globalized career, LaRoche-Morris was in a serious relationship at the time that probably would not survive a transcontinental divide. For that reason, Maersk got the thumbs down.

“He is my husband today,” she says, “so I think it was a good call.”

The third offer came from Chase Manhattan Bank. By this point, LaRoche-Morris was well aware the financial services sector was a composite of many different kinds of careers within the same industry, an appealing notion for a person of diverse interests.

“I had always loved Manhattan; it had the right cultural fit,” she says. “It felt right, so I went for it.”

Things weren’t always appealing at Chase Manhattan. When the financial services giant merged with Chemical Bank, the culture changed, and LaRoche-Morris found herself unenthused about going to work each morning, a dispiriting situation for a person who likes to work. She toughed it out for a few years, before leaving to earn her MBA in finance and marketing from Columbia Business School.

She moved on to BNY Mellon in 2003, initially with Pershing, a bank subsidiary where she led the unit’s financial planning and analysis and corporate development functions. Following a few years in that role, LaRoche-Morris had an interest in becoming CFO of wealth management at BNY Mellon. That was an easy calculation.

She soon found herself settling into an organization with a rich history and reputation. The Bank of New York Mellon Corp., commonly known as BNY Mellon, is a multinational bank and holding company headquartered in New York City, formed from the merger of Bank of New York Co. with Mellon Financial Corp. in 2007. It is reportedly the world’s largest custodian bank and asset servicing company, with $1.9 trillion in assets under management and $37.2 trillion in assets under custody. Through its Bank of New York predecessor, it is one of the three oldest banking corporations in the United States, and among the oldest banks in the world, having been established in June 1784 by a group that included U.S. founding fathers Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Mellon was founded in 1869 by the Mellon family of Pittsburgh, including Andrew Mellon, who later served as secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Bank of New York was also one of the first nongovernmental securities traded on the New York Stock Exchange, along with the Bank of North America and First Bank of the United States. LaRoche-Morris once got an opportunity to ring the NYSE closing bell.

“You just realize, wow, there is a legacy and a history and a foundation here that is really impressive,” she says. “At the same time, there is innovation. I’m interested to see where things go.”


The career path wasn’t always as smooth and direct as it might have sounded. LaRoche-Morris took that first assignment from Chase Manhattan hoping to be placed in the organization’s international private bank. It seemed a natural fit, considering her language skills and degree in foreign affairs. But after she completed the Chase training program, she was instead placed in a database marketing department, a situation regarded at the time as an epic career-ender.

“I was really upset and angry they did that, even after I was very clear about what I wanted. The head of the program told me, ‘You know, Renee, I had 10 people who could go to the private bank and only one person who could go to database marketing, and you were that one person.’ I honestly thought he was completely full of it.”

But in a mere six months, after she had settled into the database marketing role and had proven herself successful, LaRoche-Morris realized her manager had made the right decision.

“I learned from that. I was really young and, because of the arrogance of youth, I didn’t know what was best for myself. That really helped me understand that it’s good to seek outside opinions and to listen to the feedback of people who have more experience, who have seen more talent, who understand how to evaluate people’s skills. I didn’t have a sense for that at the time. I realized it pretty shortly thereafter, but I was a bit of a brat there for a little while.”

The other circumstance that rattled LaRoche-Morris, only to eventually prove an eye-opener, was the time she was passed over the first time she went up for promotion.

“What I realized was that doing a good job and working really hard wasn’t enough. You needed to really understand the process, you needed to know who the decision makers were, the decision makers needed to know who you were, and they needed to respect your work. Not that it is a game, but you are not necessarily in control of your own destiny, and hard work is not enough.”

Still, industriousness is one of the characteristics LaRoche-Morris most values, and one of the characteristics she seeks in new hires. But she’s also looking for “positive energy” and a can-do perspective toward work. Another attitude that will win a newcomer points with LaRoche-Morris is a down-to-earth viewpoint.

“My team will tell you that I say to them all the time: If the woman who picks up the trash didn’t come to work for two weeks, and Renee didn’t come to work for two weeks, who do you think they would miss first? They would miss the woman who takes the trash; the place would start to stink. Everybody has got an important role to play, and we need to respect what everybody does.”


Her career was given an assist by her long-time mentor, with whom she has consulted since she was vice president at Pershing, who consistently challenged her to think in terms of “what’s next.” Even during her first day in a new role, he would ask LaRoche-Morris what was next for her career path. That, of course, begs the question, what is next for LaRoche-Morris?

“It is hard to say,” she says, citing the recent change in leadership in the investment management division, as CEO Mitchell Harris headed into retirement and has been succeeded by Hanneke Smits. Currently, her focus is working with Smits to help her execute the team’s evolving investment management strategy.

“It feels almost like a new job in some ways,” she says. “I plan to keep doing this for a while longer.”


Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

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