"Bowles was appointed by the independent directors of the board," and his selection "reflects the firm's governance policy of rotating lead directors after a period of time," Morgan Stanley said in a statement.
Bowles will take over from C. Robert Kidder effective Feb. 1.
"We are extremely pleased to welcome Erskine as our lead director," Morgan Stanley Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James Gorman said. "Erskine brings strong leadership to the board with over four decades of distinguished experience in financial services and public service. We also want to take this opportunity to thank Bob for his outstanding service over the years, guiding the board through the financial crisis and the transition to a new CEO. He continues to be a valued contributor to the Board."
"I am honored to be appointed the lead director at Morgan Stanley, and look forward to working with the board, our shareholders and our employees to position the firm for continued success," Bowles said in a statement.
Bowles has served as a director since December 2005 and as chairman of the Compensation, Management Development and Succession Committee since 2010. He served as the Democratic co-chair of President Barack Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with Alan K. Simpson in 2010.
He was president of the University of North Carolina from 2005 to 2010 and was White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton in 1997-1998.