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Goldman Sachs' Gregg Lemkau on going from IBD analyst to global M&A head

Gregg Lemkau of Goldman Sachs

Gregg Lemkau has been working at Goldman Sachs for nearly 24 years, and has co-headed its M&A business since 2013. Goldman is the only bank he's ever worked for and since rising to such a lofty position it's easy to assume that he no longer rolls his sleeves up to get involved on deals. However, Lemkau personally worked on multi-billion dollar deals and lead Goldman Sachs to top the global M&A league tables with $1.8 trillion worth of deals in 2015.

Goldman's appeal to investment bankers is reflected that it topped the rankings of the eFinancialCareers' Ideal Employer survey for 2015,both in the U.S. and globally. We've already spoken to Goldman Sachs’ head of human capital on what it takes to work there and succeed, now Lemkau gives his insight on how to make it to the top in M&A.

When did you join Goldman Sachs? What job titles have you had since then?

I joined Goldman Sachs as an analyst in the merger department in New York in 1992. I've had the opportunity over the course of my career to work in four different geographic locations – New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and London – manage two different Industry Groups (healthcare and technology,media and telecoms) – and hold numerous leadership positions, including chief operating officer of investment banking, chairman of commitments committee and global head of M&A.

What were some of your most important career turning points?

The most important turning points in my career occurred when I had the opportunity to embrace change.

The most notable examples are when I moved from our technology banking business to our healthcare banking business and, subsequently, when I moved from New York to London. In each instance, I was leaving a situation where I was thriving and enjoying great commercial success. Each new opportunity was exciting but was also unknown, and with it came the need to re-prove myself to a whole new set of colleagues and clients in a sector or a geography where I had no experience.

Yet in each instance, being pushed out of my comfort zone and being forced to work even harder to be relevant to a new set of clients helped accelerate my development and made me a better banker to my clients today.

Why have you stuck with Goldman?

First and foremost is the people. I have the great privilege to work every day with incredibly smart, hard-working, highly motivated people in a teamwork-oriented environment. That is very hard to replicate. On a personal level, I feel that the firm has always kept me challenged by providing me the opportunity to work across various sectors, products and geographic areas to enhance my experience.

What are some challenges that you have faced moving up the ranks?

The biggest challenge I faced in moving up the ranks was knowing when to let go and delegate.

By its nature, investment banking is an experience-based business. For example, the associate should be better than the analyst at modeling, as he or she will have had more experience doing it – and so on up the chain.

However, investment banking is also an apprenticeship business, and you need to strike the right balance between doing and teaching those that work with you how to do it. You have to do both so that they can learn the business and provide you leverage to be able to be out serving your clients. Striking this balance as to how “hands-on” to be is a continual challenge throughout one’s career.

What are some lessons you’ve learned over the years as it relates to career success?

Career success in investment banking is simple – it is all about your clients. If you remain focused on relentlessly serving your clients and giving them high-quality, dispassionate advice, then you will have a successful career.

It is easier said than done. Giving good advice isn’t about telling your clients what they want to hear, often quite the opposite. It can also be about telling them something counter to your perceived interests.

I still contend that the best advice I have given clients has been when not to do a deal. While there is no transaction and no fee paid as a result, it engenders trust and loyalty and cements the cherished trusted advisor relationship.

What advice would you give to your younger self, say, straight out of college?

I would encourage him to embrace career opportunity when it presents itself; work hard, but don’t forget to have fun along the way; never take yourself too seriously; and definitely go talk to that girl at the bar – she just might become the mother of your four kids!

What is your perception of the culture and work environment at Goldman? What are the most important things you need to do to succeed over the long term?

The culture at Goldman is quite famously team-oriented and collaborative. As such, the work environment is very collegial. If you need an answer to a question, you can pick up the phone and call anyone. Or walk into anyone’s office and ask. People will drop what they are doing to help you. If you have a piece of business you are trying to win, people will get on airplanes and fly anywhere to help you win it.

Having been here 24 years, I probably take it for granted until I see colleagues who have worked elsewhere and are incredulous at how willing everyone is to work together to get the best results for our clients and for the firm. That teamwork-oriented approach is at the root of the culture of success that the firm has built.  When everyone is focused on doing the right thing by our clients and no one is focused on who gets the credit, success naturally follows.

View the complete 2016 Ideal Employer Rankings

Photo courtesy of Goldman Sachs

AUTHORDan Butcher US Editor

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