As a high school student in Jacksonville, Fla., in the 1970s, Carla Harris had no idea that she would end up on Wall Street, publish two books and become one of the most powerful women in corporate America.

“I wanted to be a lawyer,” Ms. Harris said on a summery afternoon this week, a few doors down from the hustle and bustle of Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs. She recalled her early penchant for Perry Mason and her reputation as someone who likes to argue.

But Wall Street offered a challenge she couldn’t refuse.

“If you tell me I can’t do something, I’m all over it,” she said. “So the fact that people said, oh, it’s really hard, you don’t see a lot of women, you don’t see a lot of people of color, you have to wear a beeper, you won’t have a life, I was like that’s what I’m going to do. Right there.”

Fresh out of Harvard Business School in 1987, she landed a job at Morgan Stanley, launching a career in financial services that has bordered on celebrity. Along the way, she has authored two books on navigating the corporate landscape, and achieved wide recognition as a motivational speaker — all while managing a successful side career as a gospel singer.

Ms. Harris stopped by the Vineyard this week to keynote the 30th anniversary conference of The Partnership Inc., a Boston-based nonprofit with Vineyard roots that works to foster diversity at all levels of industry.

Coincidentally, this year also marks Ms. Harris’s 30th at Morgan Stanley, where she is vice chairman of wealth management and senior client advisor, working to increase client connectivity and enhance revenue across the firm.

At around the time that Ms. Harris was completing her business degree in Boston, The Partnership was just getting started, working to support young black professionals in the city. As a young professional herself, Ms. Harris had heard about Bennie Wiley, a Vineyard summer resident who founded The Partnership in 1987.

Although Ms. Harris never formally crossed paths with The Partnership in its early years, she noted its strong influence in helping create a corporate environment where more companies recognize the value of diversity.

Over the years, The Partnership has expanded its mission, fostering inclusion and diversity in organizations across the country through fellowships, consultation and other services. Carol Fulp, a former senior vice president at John Hancock Financial and a summer resident of East Chop, took over as the organization’s CEO in 2006.

This year’s conference, at the future home of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Vineyard Haven, was the largest to date, with 360 guests, 23 speakers and more than 40 corporate sponsors. For Ms. Harris, it was an opportunity to discuss issues of diversity and philanthropy, and to share some of her wisdom.

With her characteristic enthusiasm, Ms. Harris told the Gazette she seldom goes anywhere without her pearls, both literally and figuratively. Her first book, Expect to Win, lays out some of the key insights — Carla’s Pearls, as she calls them — that she has collected over her many years on Wall Street.

Expect to Win embodies an approach to career development that Ms. Harris said she has always possessed, although it took a few failures along the way to rediscover her natural sense of fearlessness. Strategize to Win, her 2014 follow-up, takes a similar approach, but with a focus on young and mid-level professionals.

Ms. Harris’s talks have been known to flow effortlessly from professional strategizing to stirring renditions of Amazing Grace and back again — all while staying on-point with her audience. Her resume includes three gospel albums and five concerts at Carnegie Hall. A fourth album is expected next year.

Music and faith have long played an important role in Ms. Harris’s life. She recalled singing with the Radcliffe Choral Society in Leipzig, Germany before the fall the Berlin Wall, and experiencing how music itself can break down barriers.

“I was singing a negro spiritual, and I knew that they didn’t really know English, and I didn’t know German, but yet they were crying and were emotional at all the right places,” she said. “And I remember thinking, gasp, this is it. Music really is the universal language.”

“No matter who you are, no matter what your faith or organized religion happens to be, if somebody is delivering a gospel song in the right way, you feel it.”

But despite her background in both singing and banking, she credits her work in nonprofits, including the New York City Food Bank, as creating a foundation for her skills in public speaking. “I was speaking in those settings even before I was speaking in the boardroom,” she said.

These days, Ms. Harris has been clearing space in her nonprofit schedule to serve on corporate boards. But giving back to society has always been a key part of her playbook. Her talks often stress the importance of philanthropy as marking what she calls a transition from success to significance.

“I would say that I’ve been doing that all along, but now I’m far more intentional about it,” she said. “You don’t do it because you think you are going to get something back, you do it simply because you can.... I don’t know if it’s hard for people to understand that, I just don’t know if we all are as intentional about it as we could be.”

Decisions made early in life can be equally important, she said.

For students graduating from high school this year, she offered some practical advice: “Try as many things as you can.” She stressed the importance of college summers in particular for exploring different fields and career options. “The way you really figure out what you want to do is by trying different things or by talking to a lot of different people.”

In life as much as work, she said, “expect to win” is a pearl worth keeping.

“In my first five or six years of working, I realized that if you go in worried or if you go in scared, then you’ve already lost the game. But if you have an expectation that you are going to do well, then that drives your behavior, that drives your mentality, and it absolutely will drive your deliverable so you can win.”