Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon was rejected by the firm twice
In a recent keynote speech at NYU Stern's 2023 graduation ceremony, Solomon spoke about his tumultuous path into the bank, his lack of a plan for the future when he was in his early 20s and his three tenets for success. All the while, he made hints that he intends to stay at Goldman for the foreseeable future.
He could have been a drummer/lawyer/doctor.
Chances are, if you hold a position that high in one of the top companies in your industry, you will have had your eye on it since birth. David Solomon however had far less idea of what he wanted.
"If you had told me as a kid growing up outside the city of New York someday I would be on the stage of Madison Square Garden I would have hoped in my dreams it would have been as a rock and roll drummer," he said.
His mother had high expectations for him, though not as a banker. She wanted David to go to medical school an aspiration which "hadn't been available to her" as a 1960s female graduate. While she would have "settled for a lawyer", Solomon said he was too busy; "I was doing a lot of things, one of those things was not studying for the LSATs."
David Solomon was "not Goldman Sachs material."
It's fairly common knowledge that David Solomon was initially rejected by Goldman Sachs. What's not as commonly known is that those rejections happened on multiple occasions.
"I like to remind people that I was rejected by Goldman Sachs not once, but twice." he said. "The second time I made it to the final round interview where I had to meet with a partner of the firm. When he arrived (an hour late by the way) he was right out of Central Casting: portly, suspenders."
After looking at Solomon and his resume, he said "David, let's face it, you're really not Goldman Sachs material." Solomon worked at a number of other banks for the next decade, lastly becoming an MD at Bear Sterns where he "was competing for a piece of business with Goldman Sachs and one of the partners started to recruit me."
Solomon isn't stepping down any time soon.
While a university stage is not the time to announce personal business decisions, Solomon certainly hinted that he's in no hurry to end his tenure as Goldman Sachs CEO.
"I've been working for 39 years and I feel super young" he said, (with kitesurfing being the only exception 🏄) "I hope, at least for the next few decades, I'll be working."
3 "foundational values" for a fulfilling career
Most motivational speeches can be distilled into buzzwords or phrases. Solomon does the condensing for you by giving you his three "foundational values" which he says will result in adherents being "satisfied with how you spent your time."
- Resilience - He says "life is a marathon, not a sprint" and that "one of the big mistakes people can make is, when a job starts getting tough, they give up and go some place else."
- Excellence - "Excellence is a choice" to Solomon, one that involves "refusing to settle for good."
- Empathy - "Connecting as a human" makes the journey more fulfilling, says Solomon. "When someone does something nice for you, write them a handwritten note, even if you have terrible handwriting."
Take it slow
The most often repeated idea in his speech was simply, as he quotes from his grandmother, "don't be in a hurry."
"How you spend your time is how you spend your life" he says. "You will always have a choice," and its up to you to "strike a balance between work, family and your personal interests."
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