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2023 Career Champion: Morgan Smith

Nominated by Sarena Gaylor

Morgan Smith (TrakAmerica) paved the way to success for her former colleague Sarena Gaylor. Her willingness to make room at the table and shout out the potential of others make her a model mentor and career champion.

Morgan Smith

The first time I met Morgan, she was a former client who just so happened to live in a city I was visiting for a wedding. Unbeknownst to me, she would become a coworker and one of my biggest cheerleaders. 

In our first meeting, it took all of 5 seconds for me to realize that Morgan was someone I needed to call a friend, and more importantly, a mentor. She was (and still proves to be) strong, confident and powerful. She doesn’t know how intimidated I was in that meeting because I really embrace the “fake it til you make it” philosophy, but she was someone I wanted to be. 

A year later, our managing partner approached me to ask my thoughts on bringing Morgan onboard. Without hesitation, I said yes and made it my mission to ensure that I had immediate access to her whether she liked it or not. 

Luckily, it all worked out, and she didn’t seem to dislike me. She and her saint of a husband, Steve, took a leap of faith and moved to New Orleans. Not only was I working directly with Morgan, but she literally had no other family or friends in the area. I successfully trapped her!

Morgan walked into our office on day one and notified me that I was going to be the future owner of the Firm. I needed to be the one who called the shots. I needed my name on the door. Bold statements coming from someone I had spent all of 24 hours with. 

I don’t think she knew at the time that I never wanted to be an attorney, much less a partner or owner of a law firm. It was nothing I needed nor wanted. She was our COO and “strongly suggested” the Firm add me to the Executive Committee. Not only did Morgan get me a seat at the adult’s table, but she got me more money too. I knew I liked her for a reason. 

COVID was a particularly fun time for us, or at least for me. I received an infinite amount of personal and professional guidance from Morgan, and in return, she acquired a taste for sparkling rose from me. (Our husbands also formed a support group and indulged in the sparkling rose.) 

We worked wild hours, got a million paper cuts, and executed our Firm’s processes, incidentally improving them. I was so impressed with her willingness to dig in and literally put in the blood and sweat. There were no tears, we’re not cryers. 

Shortly after the COVID experience, Morgan made the decision to leave our Firm for a new opportunity. She again “strongly suggested” that I step into her role. I don’t really think I had a choice, but allegedly, it was just an option. I was selfishly upset to see my friend go but knew she was going on to achieve one of her goals. Besides, we had a lifelong connection, so there was no way we wouldn't stay in touch. PSA: if you’re my friend, you’re going to be my friend for the rest of your life whether you like it or not. 

Following Morgan’s departure, I continued to prod for insight and advice as I navigated the next stage of my career, trying to fill the giant shoes Morgan had left. She was integral to my continued growth, and eventually, I felt comfortable running the operational show. But all good things must come to an end. 

Now I have beef with Morgan. Morgan won. It took her four years, but she won. I still don’t want to be an attorney or a partner or an owner of a law firm. Too bad, Morgan said I would be, so I am. 

I have always been confident in my abilities, the self proclaimed queen of “no Fs given” and poster child of the strong, independent woman movement. What I didn’t have for so many years was someone in my corner, promoting my successes to those who needed to know, and making space at the table for me. I didn’t know I needed that person. Would I have eventually landed where I am today with continued persistence? Maybe, however, I have a deep appreciation for those women (and men) like Morgan who put the egos aside and pave a way for those they feel are worthy. I hope everyone has the opportunity to meet their Morgan. You’re the best MS! 

We're proud to recognize Morgan as a part of our 2023 Uplift Award's Program (sponsored by ARM Compliance Business Solutions). Get updates about next year's awards as well as inspiring career stories and helpful advice when you subscribe to the WCF Newsletter.