Ingolv T Urnes: The Goldman Memoirs – Part One
Ingolv T Urnes: The Goldman Memoirs – Part One

10 years at Goldman Sachs: 10 years at psKINETIC

Goldman Sachs has clearly shaped your approach to building psKINETIC,” a colleague said just before the Christmas break, “why don’t you write about it?”

From the attic I took down my retired, beaten-up banker briefcase; it was empty except for a lovely note from my wife for our first wedding anniversary, a laminated sheet with S&P ratios, and a 20-year-old coffee-stained A4 sheet of paper titled ‘Our Business Principles’ (see photo).

I was fortunate to spend nearly 10 years at Goldman Sachs in London, Frankfurt and New York across investment banking, private equity and capital markets; I even got to work with David Solomon, the current CEO, when he was new to the Firm. It was the most amazing time. Working with incredible people, the camaraderie and the satisfaction of feeling we were executing better than our competitors, more than made up for many a late night.

I left ‘the Firm’, or ‘the Church’ some people would say, to follow my love for building technology solutions and with the ambition of building an organisation with a culture and a passion for success as strong as my old employer.

Imagine my delight, many years later, when Goldman Sachs decided to entrust psKINETIC with the design, building and on-going management of a critical technology solution that is supporting the Firm across the world!

Not everything that Goldman does is right or a success. They have had their share of bad press, including the recent $3.9 billion payment to settle the Malaysian 1MDB scandal, but on the whole, it is hard to name a financial institution that is better regarded around the world by customers and employees.

I am biased, I simply relished my time at Goldman; but I also recognised there were lessons and approaches that I did not want to incorporate. To create some structure, I have set out below some stories, observations and lessons from my time with the Firm very loosely shaped around ‘business principles’.

Please bear in mind that the world was different 20 years back – this was in the heyday of Investment Banking – we have all modified our approaches and Goldman is no exception. As early as 2001 their seventh Business Principle was updated with “Being diverse is not optional; it is what we must be.”

How much money did Michael Jackson make?

In my 14th or 15th interview (final graduate round), I thought I had screwed up. A reasonably senior, reasonably arrogant, Brit came into the room and without introduction said Tell me how much money Michael Jackson made last year as he sat down. I tried to tell him that I was not really into music and had no idea even what a CD cost. I don’t care, we are not hiring DJs. Make assumptions, do the maths and tell me, he said as he deliberately began to stand up.

Goldman was obsessed with hiring smart people (who could do the maths), but one other thing they loved were life stories of sporting excellence, hardship and endurance – Olympic-level sports or gruelling military adventures.

My Jackson-income-calculation did not go very well. Give me one reason we should hire you?’ the Brit said as he was standing in the doorway ready to leave. ‘I made a drunken bet of one Kroneraround 20p that I would get a better grade in a law examination than my neighbour. This was a bit crazy as my neighbour has already completed the first 12 months of the degree and I was working full time as a drill sergeant in the Norwegian Airforce. I won the bet.’

Lessons for 2021: Look for great people that can become awesome team players; use relevant case studies when interviewing

Learning while the bullets are flying

So Ingolv, why don’t you go first,” the partner and head of Mergers & Acquisitions in Europe said, “what is your view?. I had been at Goldman a grand total of three months, there were six or seven bankers around the conference table including another partner, a few vice presidents and a few associates. “We like starting with the most junior persons view and end with the most senior; that way most quickly sharpens the senses.”

This is vintage Goldman, young, bright kids are thrown in at the deep end. Full Stop.

Another story on the focus on learning and self-improvement sticks: I was in the office of one of the oldest guys in Fleet Street, a partner approaching retirement. After we had discussed the upcoming pitch, he said Let me see your notebook [in the days of pen and paper].” I duly handed him my notebook a bit worried, as I have inherited my surgeon-father’s terrible handwriting. He did not open my notebook, but opened his notebook and showed me his page 1 titled ‘Lessons Learned’ and said In the cab home I reflect on the day and try to write at least one lesson learned, I can tell you I have learned some valuable lessons in the last 25 years”.

No prize for guessing what has been on page 1 of my notebooks after that.

Lessons for 2021: Everyone must be learning fast; reflect daily & commit it to writing (your phone is ok)

‘The neurotics always win’

The culture often perceived as arrogant from outsiders, was different on the inside. One of my bosses, a mid-forties brilliant, outwardly-confident Harvard MBA, summed it up best the neurotics always win in the end’ and often continued take nothing for granted, figure out every angle.

Boozy lunches were still common in the City; to most Goldman colleagues this was anathema – why on earth would you diminish your cognitive capabilities in the middle of a battle. Let the Baring guys tank up at lunch, they won’t even notice we are taking their business. I don’t think I ever had a business lunch where my colleagues drank alcohol; having said that, this was not a bunch of teetotallers. The annual winter conferences in New York were legendary and would probably win in the excessive-category (entertainment, booze, cigars, etc) – but being the best was part of the DNA.

Lessons for 2021: Be humble, consider all angles; party after 6pm


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10 years at Goldman Sachs: 10 years at psKINETIC “Goldman Sachs has clearly shaped your approach to building psKINETIC,” a colleague said …

The Goldman Memoirs

Under the hood of one of the most prestigious investment banks in the world…from one of their own

Ingolv T Urnes: The Goldman Memoirs – Part One

The Goldman Memoirs

Under the hood of one of the most prestigious investment banks in the world…from one of their own