Google just stole Wall Street’s most powerful woman

Thinking big.
Thinking big.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Morgan Stanley’s chief financial officer Ruth Porat is heading to Google.

The tech giant is poaching the most powerful woman on Wall Street to be Google’s Chief Financial Officer at a time when tech companies and Wall Street are increasingly jockeying for top talent.

The announcement on March 24 follows the departure of Goldman star tech banker Anthony Noto, who took over as Twitter CFO last year, underscoring an overall shift toward Silicon Valley that has drawn an influx of top college graduates to choose startup life over the promise of fat banking bonuses.

Porat has helmed Morgan Stanley’s finances through transitional times. The bank has struggled to find its footing ever since it got pummeled during the 2008 financial collapse. As it tries to figure out whether it wants to be an investment bank or a brokerage firm, its profit growth has floundered. Continued legal costs, regulatory hurdles, and a slump in trading revenue have stunted CEO James Gorman’s comeback plans to transform its wealth management business, cut costs, and boost returns.

In the most recent quarter, the bank’s revenue fell 1% to $7.76 billion, as fixed-income trading revenue fell to less than half of what it was in 2006. Meanwhile, its profits rose to $1.04 billion from $84 million the year before and its stock price, which is hovering around $36, has yet to come close to its pre-recession highs of more than $85 a share.

Porat made her name on Wall Street as an M&A powerhouse, eventually becoming co-head of Morgan Stanley’s tech investment banking before becoming the bank’s CFO in 2010. After advising the US government during the financial crisis on housing lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,  as well as the rescue of insurer AIG, her name was floated as a strong candidate for deputy secretary of the US Treasury. She ultimately declined the post.

Porat is a member of the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, a group of highly placed financial executives that advises the US government about market dynamics and demand for US government bonds.

The daughter of a psychologist and research engineer, who grew up in northern England, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Palo Alto, California, Porat characterized the move as a return home.

“Growing up in Silicon Valley, during my time at Morgan Stanley and as a member of Stanford’s Board, I’ve had the opportunity to experience first hand how tech companies can help people in their daily lives,” she said in a Google blog post.

As tech giants like Google and Apple amass giant stockpiles of cash, the role of tech CFO is starting to look a lot more like the job of managing a bank’s finances. At Google, cash and short-term investments amounted to roughly $64.4 billion at the end of 2014.

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And there’s no doubt Porat will bring her government connections, as well as a wealth of financial experience to Google’s active mergers and acquisitions strategy.