When former Goldman Sachs co-chair John Whitehead passed away earlier this month, he left a huge legacy at the company.
But one of his lesser-known contributions was the set of rules he wrote for his fledgling “new business,” or sales, department, back in the 1950s, shortly after he’d made partner.
Whitehead, who is also known for writing the 12 (now 14) business principles that you can find on the company’s website, spearheaded Goldman Sachs sales department, known now as Investment Banking Services. By planting sales teams around the country and the world, he ultimately helped take Goldman from a little-known regional bank to the global leader it is today.
He also ran training sessions on “How to get an appointment with the CEO,” “How to treat the CEO’s secretary,” and “What to talk about when you do get an appointment.” And as his new sales team started to take shape, Whitehead drafted the following guidelines in a memo to the team:
- Don’t waste your time going after business we don’t really want.
- The boss usually decides — not the assistant treasurer. Do you know him?
- It’s just as easy to get a first-rate piece of business as a second-rate one.
- You can never learn anything when you’re talking.
- The respect of one man is worth more than acquaintance with 100.
- When there’s business to be done, get it!
- Important people like to deal with other important people. Are you one?
- There’s nothing worse than an unhappy client.
- If you get the business, it’s up to you to see that it’s well handled.
(Though the memo has been referred to as his “Ten Commandments,” Whitehead’s autobiography, “A Life in Leadership,” only lays out these nine.)
“At that point, few people outside of New York had ever even heard of us,” Whitehead wrote in his autobiography. But with a clear mandate, the sales team soon took off.
“I believe the most important thing I did was to set down in writing what Goldman Sachs stood for,” he wrote.
In 2005, when his autobiography was published, Whitehead said the memo still hung on the office wall of one of Goldman’s “all-time best” salesmen.
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