“I was nervous that I had made a horrible mistake.”
This was how Heather Johnson felt when she first moved to New York City in 2013 with no job prospects and no contacts. Today, she works as a vice president in digital wealth at Merrill, a division of one of the largest banks in the world.
But her journey to this position really began at age 14, when she visited Thailand with her father, where they worked with refugee groups in the mountains for five weeks. Traveling abroad inspired her to learn more about the rest of the world, so when it came time for college, Johnson minored in Chinese while earning a degree in economics at Clemson. That decision led to a life-changing opportunity.
“I got an internship my junior year where they paid for me to go and live in Shanghai and work at the world’s fair,” she says. “That was my first taste of China; I had never been there before.” Working together with 60 other students at the U.S. Pavilion, Johnson thrived in the international environment.
After graduation, Johnson moved back to Shanghai, where she began working with Liulishuo, an English language-learning app, creating and recording content. “Thirty million people have heard my voice and tried to replicate it,” she says about the app.
After working two years in China, Johnson decided it was time for a change. Looking to advance her career, she set her sights on New York City and working in wealth management. Four rough months of job searching passed before she landed a position as a research analyst.
“My first job was miserable,” Johnson says. “It was not fun, but I had to do it to build my name in New York and meet people.”
Meeting people paid off, and a position appeared that was exactly what she was looking for: building technology designed for financial advisers at Morgan Stanley. Johnson worked for two years doing just that when she received a surprise phone call at lunch: a job offer from Merrill. Johnson jumped at the chance.
Now at Merrill, Johnson uses her economics background to produce new technologies that close the gap between financial advisers and clients. “We are working on building digital tools that address the increasingly complex needs of a digital world,” she says.
More than a decade has passed since that first visit to Thailand, and Johnson is glad that her path has led her to New York: “It would have been easy for me to get a job in Greenville or Atlanta — pushing myself to live in China and then New York City was scary and difficult. But now, I think it opened up so many more opportunities for me.”