It was early 1988, and eight months before I had been sent to London by Goldman Sachs to build an international asset-backed securities business. My co-captain in this endeavor was Tom, a top young sales specialist. Tom, however, no longer saw this as a substantial opportunity the way I did, and was having second thoughts about whether he wanted to stick with it.
When the previous year we had each agreed to leave our positions in the US and move to London, the prospects appeared unlimited. A whole continent of European investors who had little experience with US securitizations, and no indigenous securitized markets of their own, would be ours for the taking! It did not take much arm twisting for us to each agree to go.
As we got down to work, we found some truly exceptional people in Goldman’s London office and many impressive investors, from among whom we forged several strong relationships. Yet it soon became all too evident that we were facing a hard road ahead, not made any easier by the 1987 stock market crash that occurred during our fourth month there. New investors were not beating down our doors to invest in our securities, deals were not being closed, and revenue numbers were disappointing. In February the partners in the New York head office reviewed our progress and asked for our assessment. Tom had identified his strengths as being well-organized, a deal closer who succeeded best within an established framework. He had worked on his skills and established himself in the US with significant management potential there. In London, he foresaw a long, uphill struggle within an evolving and uncertain environment that was not going to play to his strengths. He asked to be returned to New York to resume the career path he had left there.
For my part, I saw the same uphill haul, but I welcomed the challenge. I maintained that although we had not yet realized much success, the same great opportunity lay before us as had existed eight months before. I felt we had a chance to break through soon. Unlike Tom I thought my strength was operating in an uncertain environment with a degree of independence from New York; thus the London opportunity suited me well. I expressed my strong desire to stay and continue. The partners granted both of our requests, and within a few weeks Tom was back in New York.
Both choices proved correct. Tom moved back to the states and stepped into a sales management role which proved a good move for both himself and the firm. I remained in London, and within a year the London business was thriving. I was able to help create several innovative transactions that brought Goldman a leadership position in the market. Furthermore, I was also able to support an effort in Asia, closing innovative transactions there as well. In the end both Tom and I had been true to ourselves and properly identified the positive attributes that we believed we could cultivate. The result was that we both prospered and found fulfillment on differing paths, each uniquely his own.
The lesson is straightforward: focus on your strengths and how to use them as your foundation. Neither Tom nor I dwelt at all on our weaknesses. We each saw the traits we could cultivate into something greater, and we were honest with ourselves and our colleagues. I learned a second lesson here: your positive attributes are unique to you. Do not concern yourself with the attributes of others. Tom did not analyze himself in the context of what I thought about myself, and I did not evaluate my situation in terms of his context. Consequently, neither of us was unnecessarily distracted. We both came to correct, but opposite, conclusions.