Part of the fun of working at Goldman Sachs is not knowing what’s right around the corner.
I went to Regis High School in Manhattan, and then Harvard College, where I studied mathematics.
I wrote a thesis in my senior year about the mathematics of knots. One of my interviewers, seeing this on my resume, asked me a very difficult question about the co-homology of knot groups (a topic I knew—and still know—nothing about). It turns out he stumped himself on the question, as he sat there, for 30 minutes trying to figure out the answer. I sat patiently.
One thing I’ve noticed about finance, even through several business cycles, is that the questions clients ask don’t really change. “What’s my optimal capital structure?” “Should I initiate a dividend?” “Should I buy this company?” However, clients judge us by our ability to be innovative, and so the pressure is on to show up to these conversations with new frameworks, ideas, methodologies, etc. It’s hard to be creative on demand, though, and almost by definition, creative ideas are new and therefore may take a long time to gain traction and buy-in. Still, it’s important to keep the fires of innovation burning, and one “game” I play with my manager is to show him one new analytic, or framework, or approach, in every book I put together. It’s exhausting, and it doesn’t always bear fruit, but sometimes we find something that really resonates internally and externally.
I suffer from intellectual insecurity: I always need to be learning something new, or understanding something I already know in greater depth, in order to feel like I’m growing as a person and as a professional. At Goldman Sachs, I’d call that an asset, and it’s paid enormous dividends to me throughout my career. My expertise (across industry and product groups) keeps growing, and I like to think that it gives me a lot of intrinsic value, and the firm a lot of time value.
I have many, many mentors, and I also participate very actively as a mentor here at the firm (both formally and informally). In my opinion, it’s impossible to survive here, let alone succeed, without the support of a sort of “personal advisory committee." By the way: mentors can, and should, include colleagues who are junior to you, particularly as you grow into leadership roles.
I joined a group that, within six months, became the first strat group inside the Investment Banking Division. So to a large extent, the opportunities I’ve been given along my career are those that would fall naturally out of any new collaboration between the strats organization and a division—lots of internal mobility around business units, etc.
I remember one time, towards the end of my analyst career, I went through my “quarter-life crisis,” and assumed my opportunity set at the firm was empty. I applied to a host of graduate programs that were far afield from my limited experience (and expertise) in finance (including national security studies!), and went to visit one of my close mentors, Paul (whom I first met on a recruiting trip to Cornell). I explained to him that I wanted to leave, and he said: “You can leave if you want. But, before you do, you need to come into my office and convince me that you’re excited about what you’re leaving for. If you can do that, great, and stay in touch. If not, you’re making a huge mistake.” I realized I couldn’t do that (even though spy school sounded awesome), and so I stayed. That was one of the best decisions of my life.
I’m a member of the LGBT Network and the Firmwide Hispanic/Latin Network (though I’m more involved in the former). I recently co-chaired Americas Pride Month for the LGBT Network, which was a lot of fun. I think the best thing about my experiences in these networks has been the opportunity they’ve given me through events and other programming to meet professionals from around the firm, in divisions and groups near to and far from where I sit. And subsequently, when you find a reason to interact with those colleagues for business reasons, the process is that much smoother.
Working at Goldman Sachs is doing something interesting, with interesting people, in perennially interesting times. Part of the fun of working at Goldman Sachs is not knowing what’s right around the corner. Personally, I’m hopeful that, as our focus on the growth markets intensifies, I’ll get to visit more clients in those regions, many of whom will be thinking about the tried-and-true questions of corporate finance for the first time. That will be a lot of fun.
Find mentors for and stakeholders in your career as soon as is credibly possible.
Expect to “grow up,” fast (particularly if you’re joining right out of college). You’ll be an adult, and exposed to exceptionally serious things, much sooner than you think.
Your first seat at GS will likely not be your last, and we don’t always get placement right on the first try. See the firm for what it is—a global organization with a dynamic opportunity set that’s usually only available to top performers. So, no matter how you feel about life, accrue a narrative about your performance that will give you the access you need to a better match.