Goldman trader Josh Birnbaum has mastered the great interview art of turning his weaknesses into strengths.
In the 35-year old’s self-performance review (found on page 243 of the 900-page beast document and first pointed out by the Financial Times) Birnbaum deftly veils strengths with just a wink of an eye.
Check out this one statement masquerading as a need for improvement in the “working with others” arena:
- Be more open, leverage the firm: As our products have evolved and new products are coming online, we have increasingly seen opportunities to trade products or execute transactions outside of our typical domain. In doing so, I need to make sure I enlist the firm’s collective expertise by working in more collaborative arrangements (whether with sales, trading, or strategy) whenever possible. In doing so, I need to work on being more open and transparent with information. Translation: Now that the firm’s products have evolved to my level and the firm has enough experts, I’ll start working with them and we can all be awesome together.
And these two:
- Mentoring: I think I command considerable respect from younger members of the department based on my experience and market impact. I need to spend more time converting this respect into a comfort and trust for them in seeking my consultation and guidance on any topic. Translation: Subordinates are intimidated by my skills. I’ll help the little ones feel more comfortable in my presence so that they can tell me things and then I’ll know more and have even more power!
- Recruiting: Although I have had some isolated successes such as recruiting arguably our most productive Strategist in mortgages, Jeremy Primer, I need to do much more on this front. Additional effort in this area will allow me to focus more on promoting diversity in the running of our business. Translation: I am a really good judge of character so I’ll help find you some more rockstars. I know some really important people.
It’s all inspiring, but this is the real masterpiece. It comes from the “Missed Opportunities Category,” where he basically says, the firm missed out because no one would listen to me, so I should have insisted.
- The #1 missed opportunity for the mortgage department in 2007 was externalizing profitable shorts from the ABS desk to clients instead of applying them against longs in the RMBS origination and CDO businesses. When the ABS desk was under pressure to cover risk for VAR reasons at the end of February, I was concerned and quite vocal that the department was much longer than the MarketRisk group was asserting because the rest of the department’s risk was not adequately measured. As a leader with significant experience quantifying and managing a wide range of mortgage risks, I could have spoken even louder and tried to piece together something to support my assertion that other areas were quite long and in need of incremental hedges. Had the department kept those shorts and applied them to businesses that needed them, the department would be up more than $3bln with most ofthe $2bln+ in losses in the RMBS and CDO origination groups being avoided.
It’s just so beautiful. No translation needed. He says it all.
It’s worth nothing that Goldman might not have recognised Birnbaum’s prodigousness enough. He left the firm in April 2008 (shortly after bonus season. He helped net earn the firm $4 billion; he got $10 million.) to start his own hedge fund, Tilden Park Capital Management.
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