Goldman Sachs COO Cohn Speaks at New Finance Center Opening

President Petillo and Gary Cohn

News Story: May 6, 2015

On the heels of a visit from former General Electric Company Chairman & CEO Jack Welch and his wife, Suzy, Gary Cohn, the president and COO of investment banking and securities firm Goldman Sachs, stopped by for a “fireside chat” at Sacred Heart University, late Tuesday afternoon, April 28. Cohn’s visit coincided with the celebration of the opening of the new Finance Center, located in the University’s new Frank and Marisa Martire Business & Communications Center. More than 100 business students, faculty and SHU administrators gathered for the presentation.

The day began with an afternoon of educational workshops for business students led by nine Goldman Sachs representatives. Collectively, the program was titled the “Building Your Brand Seminar” and featured segments on resume writing, interviewing, professionalism & workplace etiquette and the elevator pitch. The sessions were capped by the chat, between Cohn and SHU President John J. Petillo, who were introduced by John Chalykoff, dean of the Jack Welch College of Business, and Richard A.M. Schaeffer, a SHU trustee and chairman of Armada Water Assets and Move Systems, Inc.

Schaeffer extended appreciation to the Goldman Sachs staff for their workshop input, saying, “thanks for helping mentor our kids and showing them how to make the transition from business school to the business world.” Then, setting up Cohn and Petillo, he noted, “both are preeminent people in their professions. Dr. Petillo has built an incredible staff and team here and allowed us to build a very substantial endowment for the university. As for Gary, I’ve known him for about 35 years. He was a mentor of mine and part of businesses I’ve been involved in, like the New York Mercantile Exchange. You can imagine all the heads of state and business leaders that want to have his time. What the two share is giving back. There’s nothing more important.”

In the Q&A-style session with Petillo, Cohn addressed several topics, beginning with leadership. “The great leaders are learning every day of their life, and you have to be willing to make mistakes. But don’t make the same mistake twice,” he offered. With regard to risk, Cohn said, “Risk becomes risky when you don’t understand the feedback you’re getting… and when you don’t acknowledge your mistakes. My most successful trades always started out as losers.”

He also said a key to leadership was choosing the right people to work for you. “If you have the right people, you are all set day to day. It’s in times of crisis that people need to be led. They need to be able to look at you and know that you think everything is okay.”

Petillo asked Cohn how new rules are affecting his industry. “Banks are safer today than pre-’08. Goldman, for instance, has doubled its equity capital footings, to $835 billion. And leverage has come down dramatically, with $180 billion in cash a night. All we’ve done, though, is shift risk to other areas of the economy,” he noted.

On the prospect of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, Cohn said simply, “I don’t think they should,” adding that the issue is complex. With rates at zero, the option is to do nothing or raise them. However, he said, there’s no legitimate reason to raise them, given low inflation and continued uncertainty about growth. Cohn also added that the U.S. would be “out of step” with the rest of the world if it raised its rates.

Petillo asked Cohn, who recently interviewed the CEOS of Uber and Apple, to compare the two companies. “Apple has evolved quite a bit. The question is, ‘Can it keep evolving?’ Meanwhile, Uber is trying to be a disrupter, and the more drivers they have and less downtime, the more revenue,” he said. “Uber has made the decision to lose money for now in the hopes of future rewards based on customer loyalty. Apple must always keep looking for the next great thing. They are constantly asking themselves, ‘what next?’ ’’

Offering students a satchel of career advice, Cohn said, “It’s impossible to plot your own course. The twists in the road are the most interesting opportunities you’ll have.” He told them that working at Goldman Sachs was never part of his two-year, five-year or 10-year plan.

A workshop participant and finance major, Brianna Carolan ’16 said the day’s activities were extremely helpful. “They stressed working hard, making connections, being well prepared, asking questions and being able to defend your resume,” she said.

Smailly Recinos ’16 found Cohn inspiring. “I come from Guatemala. He makes me believe in myself and feel more relaxed,” he said. Added Louis Stober ’18, “it was such an honor to work with some of the employees at Goldman Sachs. The information they provided was invaluable to me as I build my interviewing skills for the future. I learned what an employer looks for in a resume and in an interview. With this information I will be better able to confidently interview for internships and jobs in the future. I really appreciate everything Goldman Sachs provided for us.”

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