Earlier this month, an EDM DJ with a top-40 dance single was named the next CEO of Goldman Sachs. Yes, DJ D-Sol, a.k.a. David Solomon, will succeed Lloyd Blankfein as Goldman CEO on October 1st of this year. And although D-Sol is indeed an expert on the decks—he's worked turntables and dance floors in the Bahamas, South Beach, Montauk, and other popular EDM destinations—he's no Wall Street outsider. D-Sol has led Goldman's formidable investment banking unit since 1999. And prior to that, he worked for the once-formidable-but-now-defunct banks Drexel Burnham and Bear Stearns.
It's been said that D-Sol's background in banking, as opposed to Blankfein's in trading, indicates the direction Goldman will take under its new chief. That is, away from high-risk trading and toward less volatile businesses like M&A, securities underwriting, even consumer banking. That’s right, blue collar consumer banking, in which Goldman has made two major investments in recent years (though, some might call them fintech investments). Whatever you call them, consumer loan startup Marcus and personal finance startup Clarity Money are aimed at picking up new individual consumer banking customers, not massive large-cap investment banking clients. And that’s a strategy that will no doubt continue under D-Sol’s watch. However, it could take some time for Goldman's consumer business to become a big piece of its revenue pie chart. According to the Wall Street Journal, "The firm's belated push into consumer banking, where it is building a broad-based offering of savings accounts, credit cards and wealth-management tools, will take years to make a meaningful contribution."
Not unlike D-Sol's investment banking background will likely inform Goldman's business strategy, D-Sol's electronic dance music background will likely inform the firm's internal-culture strategy. Which is to say, it's likely that D-Sol's hiring points to the loosening up and opening of Goldman's culture. Today, a majority of Goldman employees are millennials, and one-third (and rising) are tech employees. A few years back, Blankfein famously stated that Goldman is no longer a bank but a tech firm. It was a statement some laughed at, but now, after Goldman's rollout of its consumer/fintech unit, along with its increasing reliance on its technology group to drive revenues, it seems to have a lot of truth to it. Currently, Goldman competes for talent with not only Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan but also Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. This means the bank needs to be able offer a similar work experience that employees get at big banking employers and big tech employers. Of course, that experience begins with company culture. And so, with respect to that culture, here's what's likely to change under the Goldman's new DJ-in-chief.
1. More transparency and even some vulnerability
Goldman has historically had a private, secretive, almost cult-like culture. That said, it's come a long way since it was a private firm; as a public firm (the firm went public in 1999), Goldman has become less secretive and less stuffy. But there's still plenty of room to create a much more open culture. And recently, D-Sol and others at Goldman have publicly indicated that the firm needs to be a more transparent, open, and friendlier place to work. To that end, the firm has already started offering opportunities through internal social media channels and volunteering experiences for its employees to share personal information and interact like they do at major tech firms (and like they do through their personal social media accounts). In addition, D-Sol has been quoted as saying that business leaders need to be “more vulnerable” and “put themselves out there,” pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones. D-Sol knows well that the highly sought after young talent of today places a lot of value in openness and transparency. And by putting himself out there—it was no easy thing for D-Sol to reveal his second life as an EDM DJ—he has, in effect, already laid down some new cultural guidelines at Goldman. Which doesn't mean that Goldman's M&A group will be holding team-building events at Burning Man just yet. But in a couple years, it's not inconceivable that D-Sol has a gig in Black Rock City and some of his employees follow him out to the playa and talk strategy atop a three-story art car.
2. Less focus on pedigree
Late last year, D-Sol was the subject of an Exchanges at Goldman podcast (the fact that the firm has a podcast is another sign of changing times), in which he passed along some excellent advice for college students such as: 1) take public speaking and writing classes, 2) take accounting courses, and 3) take courses in areas you’re passionate about. Also of interest in the podcast was that D-Sol spoke about his own college experience, when he was a student at Hamilton College, a small school in upstate New York. That’s noteworthy because, soon, the CEO of arguably the most prestigious banking firm in the world, which has for years only formally recruited at a dozen or so "elite" schools, will not have graduated from a so-called elite school. Compare this to Harvard grad Blankfein, Dartmouth and Harvard grad Hank Paulson (who led Goldman before Blankfein), Harvard grad Jamie Dimon (current JPMorgan Chase CEO), Columbia grad James Gorman (current Morgan Stanley CEO), etc.
What this means is that Goldman, which has already rolled out video interviewing for initial interview rounds in order to widen its talent search to more schools, will likely continue to broaden its recruiting process beyond the dozen universities it and other top Wall Street firms have mostly relied on to supply them with top, young talent. And so, soon, gone will be the days when if you didn’t go to an "elite" school, you had little to no chance of breaking in to a top investment bank. This shift should result in an even more richly diverse firm (Goldman is already one of the better Wall Street firms when it comes to diversity) with an even more richly diverse culture, and so will be able to better serve its diverse client base. As has been proven in various studies such as this one, more diverse groups of people solve problems faster than less diverse groups.
3. More passion
Perhaps the most important piece of advice and most revealing thing that D-Sol passed along in the podcast mentioned above was this: “If you can't find a way to have passions and pursue those passions and mix them into your professional life and your personal life, it's just harder to have the energy to keep on doing this.”
What D-Sol seems to be saying is that without the ability to work as a DJ, he wouldn’t be able to continue working at Goldman. That is, music is one of his passions, and he needs to be able to pursue it. If that means only doing it at nights and on the weekends, then so be it. But he needs to be pursuing it somehow and working for a place that supports that. Or, at the very least, allows him to do that.
And so, if culture starts at the top, this could mean that outside passions will be even more welcome than they already are at Goldman. Which reminds me of that ubiquitous phrase "bring your whole self to work." Overused, yes, but certainly important and relevant, as it points to the growing value that young talent places on the ability to be themselves in their jobs, and to bring all of their talents and interests and passions to the workplace.
Likewise, companies (the smart ones) have discovered that allowing employees to bring their whole selves results in better solutions to business problems; a closer, more tight-night team; and a more engaged workforce. So, I'd look for D-Sol to put into place initiatives that promote allowing employees to bring their passions to work. In fact, it could likely become a requisite to getting hired at Goldman. That is, you better be passionate about something, maybe many things, and be able to talk about how you incorporate those passions into your life (incidentally, find out here how to answer the "What's your passion?" interview question).
As a final note, it's important to point out that historically, where Goldman goes, others follow. So, while I wouldn't necessarily look for Jamie Dimon and James Gorman to be succeeded by hip-hop MCs, I would look for their firms to take note of the cultural changes that Goldman implements under D-Sol, and begin to put them into play, too.
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