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Financial services executive Juan Carlos Morales ’93 has overseen billion dollar asset management deals and led global finance teams from Boston to Hong Kong. “You must have the courage to take informed risks to accelerate your career,” advises Morales, “but when things don’t work out, you must also have the courage to learn from your mistakes and move on.”

Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Morales left his native country to study accounting at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. His first job was with auditing and accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he ascended to the level of senior manager.

Morales caught the eye of one of his clients from then Fleet Bank, who offered him a position in a strategy group. “I was hired as a senior VP at age 30, which was unusual in big banks back then,” he notes.

This move launched his career in large-scale acquisitions and asset management. After successfully completing several transactions, Morales was made chief financial officer (CFO) and in 2009 the Boston Business Journal awarded him the CFO of the Year Award.

“Frankly, without the mentorship I received at this stage of my career, I would not have learned how to lead billion dollar transactions or been offered my first CFO-ship,” he shares.

In 2010, Morales was promoted to chief executive officer and chairman of the board at BNY Mellon Mexico, which meant moving his family to Mexico City. “It was a phenomenal career move,” he tells the Alumni Association, “but a terrible personal decision. Even with a full security detail, my family still experienced security threats. I loved the job, but I had to get us out of there.”

Still, had Morales not taken that risk, he would not have landed his next job as CFO of State Street’s Global Advisors. In this role, he led a multi-billion dollar shop with two trillion in asset management and operations in every single capital market in the world from Hong Kong to Tokyo, Sydney, Paris, London, New York and Boston.

“What I learned from the experience is the importance of multiculturalism,” says Morales. “The ability to operate in multicultural environments is really a secret weapon. You cannot just walk into some scenarios and impose your legacy and the way you were brought up without giving dual respect to the ways of your counterparts. It’s a very important lesson to understand the dynamics of the cultures that you are dealing with as you conduct business.”

Equally important is an understanding of an organization’s value system to ensure a professional environment where you will thrive, according to Morales.  He found that fit as the global CFO for TIAA-CREF Asset Management (TAM).  Here, Morales co-led the $6 billion acquisition of Nuveen Investments. The deal was the third largest transaction in the history of the asset management industry and catapulted TAM to become one of the largest asset managers globally, with approximately $1 trillion of assets under management.

Throughout his career, Morales has supported numerous charitable causes and in 2013, he co-founded the Latino Legacy Fund. A partnership between Latino philanthropists, community leaders, the Boston Foundation and Hispanics in Philanthropy, the fund supports community-based organizations working to advance their socio-economic status of Latinos in Greater Boston.

“Our goal is to raise $1 million to better our Latino community,” shares Morales.

“Ultimately, every person has three pillars to stand on—family, career and an outside defining passion,” reflects Morales. “For me, that passion comes from giving back to the community, particularly the community that I came from. That’s the most important lesson that I’ve learned.”

By Elena Lamontagne