Ingolv T Urnes: The Goldman Memoirs – Part Two

    No Mission Impossible: Snowstorm & Car Crash

    Another part of the DNA was this idea of never giving up. The deal or the project was pursued with the intensity of elite soldiers (I acknowledge that this appealed to me personally and that having survived, there may be a bit of rose-tinted glasses going on here).

    On a late-evening February flight from London to Munich, I meet two colleagues. Due to a snowstorm, their flight to Vienna had been cancelled. My flight to Salzburg had also been cancelled and we agreed to rent a car together; they would drop me off in Salzburg and continue to Vienna for a big meeting at 9am.

    Despite heavy snow we finally left Munich at Midnight, aborting the mission would have been a very un-Goldman thing to do. It kept snowing, literally no one on the motorway, and we were in a rush; on a clear day its 4-to-5-hourdrive... Snoozing in the backseat in a warm comfortable German car, I suddenly woke up as we spun around 2 or 3 times and hit the railing with a thump; all I could see were pillows of airbags everywhere.It is eerily quiet for a second, Oh shit, all ok? the most senior guys says; How the [ ] are we now going to get to Vienna on time says the other.

    By 2am still snowing, the three soldiersin banker attire, flag down a snow-plougher who for €50 agrees to take me to Salzburg and to drive past his uncle’s house who against a reasonable fee agrees to take my colleagues to Vienna where they arrive at 7.30am, have a quick shower at the hotel and go on to pitch and, eventually, win a very large IPO.

    Lessonsfor 2021: Don’t give up easily; always keep the teams goal in mind.

    Infamous AllNighters and RoleModels?

    The all-nighter (working through the night) was a pretty common occurrence during the nineties among junior investment banking staff. Goldman no exception; maybe another category they also ‘won’. The Firm was literally set up to enable all-nighters all over the world, with 24hour office support, including pools of people helping create presentations (or ‘books’ as we called them, bound copies of presentations). If not an all-nighter, standard practice was certainly for junior staff members to complete work in the office at between 10pm and midnight, then ask ‘Production’ to make 10 copies, delivered to your home address at 6am, then taxi to Heathrow and first flight out.

    Did it make any sense? Were we actually productive? I now have a hardtime surviving on less than 8 hours of sleep (which I encourage everyone to get!).

    Deepak Chandarana, my friend and Managing Director of psKINETIC, I think is fundamentally right when he saysyou only get excellence by systematic planning and execution, not by asking your staff to work all night.

    Yes, you want crazy intensity to deliver successful projects and compress as much learning as possible into a short time; but all-nighters are not the answer. It may just have worked in the nineties, but it is not necessary, and it will not work with current generations. Here I believe the key continues to be learning but also a much greater focus on the purpose of what we do (see below).

    Lessonsfor 2021: Plan, work smart, NO all-nighters in the office (it’s not productive and not healthy)

    My boss is sleeping in the office

    I think if the outside world peeked into Goldman in the nineties, they would have been surprised by the willingness of very senior people, some who were making a few million dollars a year, to make sacrifices that today seem completely unreasonable.

    For over a year, I worked with one of the most intense and energetic guys at the Firm. He was a Doctor of Medicine and quickly raced through the ranks to become a Partner (this was before the IPO).He would frequently work alongside his juniors till midnight or later. To save time, he kept a yoga matt and a few suitsin the office. At least one night a week he would sleep on that yoga matt in the office for a few hours before getting a taxi to Heathrow and the first flight outto a client meeting. Not very glamorous but clients loved it.

    There was a large contingent of very senior bankers who could almost seem priest-like in their austerity and willingness to sacrifice. Very senior guys in New York wore Timex watches priced at less than $200; one of the brightest minds in Mergers & Acquisitions ‘always’ had holes in his shoes and a crumpled (but probably expensive) suit. When I worked in New York, the Head of M&A (…the world’s most prestigious job in banking?) sat in a cubicle2.5 by 2.5 meters in the middle of the office.

    Lessons for 2021: No special treatment for senior staff, all have the same desk, same perks, no all-nighters

    Performance Review or How junior bankers kill a senior banker

    Goldman had a ruthless 360 feedback system which was the basis for all that mattered – pay and promotion😉.Completing the feedback forms took no less than 2 full days; 5 to 10 superiors, 5 to 10 peers, and 5 to 10 juniors would have to be scored on a dozen dimensions alongside a narrative.

    The comprehensive, systematic performance review system felt fair. It was also an incredible tool for personal development. Nobody minced their words, and as a junior person you could track your progress year on year and your performance vis-à-vis your peer group. It was taken deadly seriously by top management and it gave everyone a voice.

    What was amazing was how important the voice of the junior staff was. Working in the Frankfurt office, there was a senior vice president (a lateral hire…always viewed with suspicion) who was seriously unpopular with junior staff. He had no qualms aboutasking people to work all night based on an incomplete brief, he was never grateful, and good at taking the glory. Technically he was probably pretty good and he did make money for the Firm, but after 7 or 8 junior staff around the water cooler agreed to show no mercy in his performance evaluation, he was gone a few weeks later. Making money was not enough, you had to support the team.

    Lessons for 2021: Systematic ½-yearly review, focus on strengths; when you need to fire people, the development process has failed

    Insights

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    The Goldman Memoirs

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

    The Goldman Memoirs

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