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Goldman Sachs lures insecure overachievers, says ex-Goldman trader

Goldman Sachs HQ, home of the insecurely attached?

Is Goldman Sachs a bank that employs a lot of high performing, highly intelligent, very well motivated geniuses? Or is it simply a firm that preys upon the insecurities of intelligent people who need a lot of external validation?

Andrew Stead, the ex-head of European convertible bond trading at Goldman Sachs, thinks it might be the latter. Goldman attracts a lot of insecure overachieving people, says Stead. It's not that Goldman deliberately sets out to attract insecure over-achievers - that's just the way it pans out.

"I don't think recruiters at Goldman target people who are insecure and overachieving in particular," said Stead. "It's more that they set out to hire people who are very capable, willing to work long hours and able to make it through their very rigorous interview process. Insecure overachievers are who filter through."

Stead joined Goldman straight from university in 1995 and left the bank in 2004. He was interviewed 76 times by three different divisions at Goldman before gaining a job offer - something which he says was excessive even by Goldman's notoriously hyperactive interviewing standards. The neurotic workaholics who come through Goldman's recruitment funnel are beneficial to its business model, says Stead: "People go the extra mile and they will typically do so for less than the market rate. They want the prestige. It's the same for the top law and accountancy firms."

Stead echoes Nell Montgomery, a former Goldman Sachs sales trader-turned psychologist, who told us late last year that bankers are often people who formed insecure parental attachments as children. Because of this, they're also insecure as adults, said Montomery: "They are very good at competing, but they can be quite needy and attention seeking."

While Montgomery is now busy rectifying the psychological damage of early childhood in therapy sessions, Stead has devoted himself to propagating happiness and well-being with a new business, 'Your Daily Bread,' which promises to make happiness, 'understandable, practical and therefore achievable.' Stead doesn't have Goldman as a client, but he would be well-advised to target his former employer. Last April, Patrick Watt, then head of wellness at Goldman Sachs said mental health was a major issue at the bank and that when Goldman convened a 'happiness seminar' 1,000 people attended and asked questions along the lines of, 'What are the three things that will make me happy?'

Stead suggests that bankers are at a disadvantage when it comes to contentment because they're academically intelligent: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know - they often question things a lot more than others and can end up in a state of inertia."

The other slayer of hyper-intelligent bankers' serenity is their extreme preoccupation with money. "The most obvious problem in banking is that people become money-obsessed," Stead says. "When you leave university it doesn't seem like a bad thing to be earning decent money, but five or 10 years later money becomes the single benchmark by which you evaluate your life."

Stead himself discovered by default that money isn't the way to living happily ever after.  After leaving Goldman, he set up a venture capital-backed environmental building company and ended up losing much of the money he'd amassed as a trader. Now, he says he lives on a very 'modest income' and has come to focus on the things that really matter, like relationships and health.

He also thinks bankers are also a bit deluded about their worth. "The return on equity in banking isn't very high, but the return on capital is far greater - and that's because the business is so leveraged up. Bankers are highly paid, not because they are any smarter than anyone else but because they work in a highly leveraged industry."

Related links:

Research reveals 'dark side' personality traits required to work in finance 

Are you a feral hog? The definitive banking test is here 

Seven career lessons for bankers from Machievelli 

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Di
    27 June 2013

    To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost. Gustave Flaubert

  • ba
    27 June 2013

    I think Mr. Stead has equity and capital mixed up in the last paragraph. If we define capital as debt + equity or long term debt + equity, clearly in a leveraged business return on equity will be greater than return on capital.

  • Ca
    27 June 2013

    I would say that this can be said in general for investment banking and blue chip consulting firms (Mck, Bain, BCG). These firms atract mainly insecure overachievers who want to be admired for all that they do (like small babies who want to be praised by their parents). In general they can be successful dealmakers but awful managers and above all poor entrepreneurs. These guys do not take risk personally, somebody else does this for them but they take the merit in case the gamble turns out to be succuessful. This reminds me a lot of huge trading fiascos and the subprime crisis !

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