At the end of the summer, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein had a fireside chat with the bank’s head of human resources Edith Cooper for the summer analyst class.
During that discussion, Blankfein shared his best career advice. A video of the 42-minute discussion has just been released by the investment bank.
Blankfein also took questions from the interns who were watching globally. They asked him about his background, how he keeps grounded and his daily routine.
Blankfein has a well-known rags-to-riches story on Wall Street.
He grew up in the projects in east Brooklyn. He’s the son of a postal worker and a receptionist.
After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, he attended Harvard. He then received his Juris Doctor and practiced law for a while before going into banking.
One intern based in Salt Lake City asked him how his background and upbringing has shaped his perspective of money, power and the world.
“I read those stories. I know they’re interesting. I’m not that comfortable with the old rail splitter walking three miles to return a library book like that whole thing. I talk to kids all the time who grew up in middle class or lower conditions in countries where there was no access and somehow they had much harder scrabble lives than I had and managed to get themselves to fill out an application and got themselves into an Ivy League in the United States and on and on and on….I think it’s like a common story here and I think it makes the culture of the firm better. This is not a place that recruits entitled kids for their entitlement…By the way…there are advantages to growing up in a place with a lot of access to a lot of privileges and there are burdens to that also. And the burdens of that are the insecurity that comes from having had things more easily. That knowing the confidence with having achieved in the face of adversity should come a higher level of confidence. Whoever you are, wherever you are stationed, these are the cards you got dealt. You can’t spend your time wring your hands about it. You play the cards you have. You accept the burdens in the context of which you came from and enjoy the privileges and don’t be guilty and either one of them.”
One of the main skills Blankfein thinks the interns should have in order to be successful is that they should be a “complete person.”
“I think you also have to be a complete person. You have to be interesting. You have to be somebody who is interesting to yourself.”
A New York-based interns asked him what he does to be complete and what he does to stay grounded.
“I go from the top of the totem pole to the lowest guy on the totem pole just by going home so that…I strive to get to the surface of the ground. That keeps you grounded,” Blankfein joked.
“You know you have these positions and with these positions comes enormous responsibility, too. And it has to work out. You get grounded by circumstances….When you get jobs like this, it’s not the end in itself. The goal is to be successful in the job and to be though to well and to produce a good legacy. To me, leave the place stronger than you found it. That’s the thing. That’s not an achieved by virtue of getting a title. That’s something that weighs on me like doing a good job in your job weighs on you. That also keeps you grounded.”
Blankfein added that some people can be “haughty” about their position, but he noted that there are people from this intern group who will have very significant accomplishment and do important things for the world.
“When I look out, I don’t see people who I have risen above. I just see people who are younger than me.”
Blankfein was a history major in college and he loves to read biographies.
A London office intern pointed out that in a lot of biographies the author writes about the subject’s daily routine, so he wanted to know what Blankfein does.
“This job is pretty consuming. Last week, I mean I don’t want to tell my sad story to you. But last week I was in China, since I was so close I stopped in on Sydney on the way back, which is only 11 hours away in the wrong direction. So I spend a lot of time at this and on Saturday I go to Europe again. When I’m on the plane, you think I’m reading all those…See, people say things that are different from what they do. I tell you how I like to read this stuff. But I’ll tell you when I’m on the plane I’m reading my notes for the meetings I’m going to have.
“If you look at what I do, I go out I like to run and laugh and jump with the other boys and girls and play golf and do all those things and talk to my kids and lie on the couch. Sometimes I pray for a rainy day so I don’t feel guilty about lying on the couch is what I really want to do. But come Sunday, which it may be depending on the time of the year, the football game will be on or I’m doing it in the morning or the early evening I’m living my next week. I get big briefing books over the weekend with the meetings that I have and notes on it and who they are and they may expect that I know something and I will and I do. There’s consequence. It’s not just window dressing. I’ll get caught up. But that takes time. And I can’t do that five minutes before I’m scheduled to see somebody because my day goes blump, blump, blump…So on Sunday I go through my week and I remind myself during the week…”
He went on to explain that his weekends involve a lot of communication with the folks at the firm, but he still goes on about his weekend life. He also said that a lot of his social life involves being friends with folks in the industry.
For his parting words, he told the interns to just relax and loosen up a bit. He also shared some words of wisdom from the golf course.
“I would say people at the age of the people in this room could also relax a little bit too. Life is very unpredictable and uncertain. It’s good to have your ears open for opportunity. You don’t really know yet what business is like or what this industry is like or that firm. You don’t really know. Importantly, you don’t know yourselves. And so I’d be a little less concerned of where I should be at this time and what kind of skills I should come out of college with…I mean, I thought by now I’d surely be on the Supreme Court having gone to Harvard Law School and practiced in a law firm. It didn’t workout that way. That exceptional situation is not the exception, it’s the rule. And so it doesn’t relieve you from the pressure of trying to get it right as soon as possible right out of the dorm room. And there will be stories of people who do, but it’s very unlikely that you will and not highly consequential if you don’t get it right right away….I would advise you all to work hard, try to get it right and be a little less anxious….
“I came to golf late, and it’s stupid, and anyone who saw me play would be really weirded out that a I use a golf metaphor because I’m so bad. But they always tell you if you hold the club tight it won’t go as far and it won’t go as straight and if you’re loose and your hands are like strings it will whip around and go faster. So less energy is actually more. Loose is better than a hard group. I think that applies to your careers and your life too. If you’re loose and comfortable, you may not only be happier you may actually be more successful if you’re so focused and tightly wound about things. So lighten up.”