• 06.30.96

The Team Player

The Team Player

Name: Robert Higgins


Company: Goldman Sachs

Age: 51

Title: Partner; coheads U.S. investment banking services department

Education: BA, Brown University, 1966; MBA, Columbia University, 1972

Years at company: 14

Career Path: Joined Goldman Sachs as a securities analyst in 1975, left after three years for investment banking jobs at Warburg Becker Paribas and later Shearson Lehman Brothers, where he reached the partner-equivalent rank of managing director in corporate finance. Returned to Goldman in 1985 to work with investment banking clients in the Northeast. Named partner in 1988


In a corporate culture such as Goldman’s, where teamwork is an obsession, success comes from excelling at the work you’re given — and having faith that your achievements will eventually get noticed. Obvious politicking for promotions is a dead end: it sticks out like a polyester suit in a crowd of pinstripes.

How I Learned to Get Ahead at Goldman

It was in 1975, and I’d been working as a securities analyst at the firm for only a few months when I got a phone call from Robert Rubin — the current U.S. treasury secretary, who was then head of Goldman’s arbitrage trading department. He wanted to understand the strategic fit between a diamond-drill-bit manufacturer and Hughes Tool, which was making a takeover offer. I nervously huddled with him for an hour or so, gave him my appraisal, and returned to my desk.

I’d only been back for a few minutes when I got a call from the head of research, who told me that Rubin had called him to say how helpful I’d been. That kind of response isn’t unusual here, but it was my first experience of Goldman walking its teamwork talk.

The Lesson: Get the job done; recognition will follow.

How Our Promotion Process Works

In the investment banking division, I evaluate my peers and junior people, and they evaluate me. It’s a 360-degree process, and each of us does about 30 written evaluations. The actual forms solicit feedback in 11 different categories, including an assessment of overall performance, as well as teamwork. In the case of teamwork, you’re judged as to whether you avoid political behavior, whether you share information and credit, whether you’re a resource to others. The goal is to learn the business, not to get advice on your career.

The Lesson: To get ahead, you’ve got to produce at a level that puts you among the top people at the firm. But it’s your contribution within the team framework that determines whether or not you’ll make it to the senior level.