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“Being Important”… And The 10 Commandments Of Goldman Sachs



Mai Le


*All of my articles express my individual opinions and are not representative of any institution’s views.

In 2013, during my tenure as an IBD intern, we had the privilege of hearing Lloyd Blankfein share several pieces of advice for summer interns (YouTube Link)  He emphasized one particular point: to study the biographies of those in positions of power, wealth, admiration, and respect, in order to learn from them. I have since delved into the lives of politicians, philanthropists, public figures, successful entrepreneurs, and managers. While some might argue that no two lives are identical, making such studies redundant, I’ve derived meaningful and insightful lessons from these extraordinary people. It’s almost as if they’ve been resurrected as my mentors.

One such individual whose biography I studied is John Whitehead. He passed away on February 7th, 2015. John was instrumental in transforming Goldman Sachs from a modest commercial paper trading shop into the global juggernaut it is today. You can read a brief obituary on the FT. His concise biography (~20 pages), recounted in his own words, is certainly worth perusing.

I recall attending the A-Level Girls program by Goldman Sachs during high school. We delved into the 14 Business Principles of the Firm, which are prominently showcased on GS’s website and marketing materials. John was the author of these principles. What I hadn’t realized back then was that there was a precursor to these principles – the “10 Commandments of Goldman Sachs” penned by John. These commandments steered Goldman through the late 20th century, aiding its rise to prominence.

10 Commandments of Goldman Sachs:

1. Don’t waste your time going after business you don’t really want.
2. The boss usually decides— not the assistant treasurer. Do you know the boss?
3. It is just as easy to get a first-rate piece of business as a second-rate one.
4. You never learn anything when you’re talking.
5. The client’s objective is more important than yours.
6. The respect of one person is worth more than an acquaintance with 100 people.
7. When there’s business to be found, go out and get it!
8. Important people like to deal with other important people. Are you one?
9. There’s nothing worse than an unhappy client.
10. If you get the business, it’s up to you to see that it’s well handled.

In this article, I will focus on the 8th commandment.

Important people like to deal with other important people. Are you one?

What does “important” entail? Typically, we regard someone as “important” based on their value or status/influence. In Vietnamese, for instance, “important” translates to “quan trọng”. “Quan” denotes authority or influential figures from antiquity, while “trọng” signifies weight or respect. Hence, this commandment suggests that influential individuals prefer to interact with their peers and challenges the reader to introspectively consider if they align with this group.

Why this preference? Isn’t it somewhat superficial?

This inclination stems largely from trust and mutual benefit. Influential individuals prefer their counterparts mainly because there’s an inherent trust that neither party would jeopardize the other’s wealth, resources, or well-being, given their established status. Furthermore, such interactions often yield mutual benefits.

Everyone likes to perceive themselves as significant. Many gravitate towards individuals they believe mirror their own stature. However, not everyone can be above average. Some are average, while others fall below. In a world where many overestimate their own significance, those who acknowledge their limitations often have a competitive edge.

For those in the median, appearing important might be more vital than actual significance. People are drawn to others they perceive as standing out. Yet, if you merely project importance without substance, this facade will crumble over time. True value lies in offering something indispensable.

Remember: others gauge your worth, determining your perceived significance.

Much about “being important” hinges on how you present yourself to the world. Many may not possess what others desire, yet they market their offerings effectively and vice versa. Convincing someone of your worth requires unwavering self-belief.

Commandment #8 underscores the sentiment: influential people seek their peers. Do you consider yourself among them?

Illustration provided by the talented Karl. For more of his works and daily insights, follow him and join our community on Instagram: @official.mai.le.

If you’re looking for comprehensive resources on cover letters, I’ve compiled over 300 cover letters from myself and friends at the Cover Letter Library. This exclusive library features successful cover letters from individuals who secured positions at major investment banks, big 4 firms, and more. Take a peek!

Written by Mai Le

My name is Mai. I am originally from Vietnam. After my university years at LSE, I worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. After a wonderful time there, I started several of my own business as well as helping others on theirs. I've always been building communities and businesses for as long as I can remember, and absolutely thrilled to see others enjoy what I've built.


1 Comment

  1. Lily Nguyen

    Thanks for another great blogpost ! I really enjoyed reading it. I also want to start studying the bibliographies of successful people. Would you recommend reading autobiography or biography? And do you have any recommendations on who I should start learning about? — Thanks!


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