Advice from the most important Goldman Sachs partner you've never heard of

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Advice from the most important Goldman Sachs partner you've never heard of

Goldman Sachs partner is the sort of job title that speaks for itself. Once you've made partner, you're at the top of the tree. However, some Goldman partners are more impactful than others - and they're not necessarily the partners in the front office. 

If there were an award for Goldman Sachs partner of the year in 2020 (there isn't) it might go to Orla Dunne, the little known head of 'Foundational Infrastructure' at the firm. London-based Dunne was only made partner last week, but has been instrumental in Goldman's ability to survive and thrive during the pandemic.

Speaking at the Women in Technology online festival today, Dunne outlined the scope of her job. "I run the technology in our data centres, our buildings, for our voice networks and multimedia infrastructure," said Dunne. She is all about the technology infrastructure that lets Goldman and its people function.

This has been a huge year for Dunne and her team. It was Dunne who, according to Business Insider, was one of the first at the firm to apprehend the dangers of the pandemic. In late February, when the world was still trying to process the implications of the virus, Dunne reportedly sent an email suggesting that the firm should start thinking about where it could find equipment for staff if a 'shelter in place' lockdown were imposed. Preparations were initiated. 

Speaking today from a simple room somewhere in her home country of Ireland, Dunne recalled the significance of that period, describing it as a time of "very interesting challenges" as 98% of Goldman's staff moved to working from home. Goldman already had virtual desktops, said Dunne, but it was necessary to rapidly add "bespoke solutions to make internet and audio bridges the primary focus instead of buildings." This unfolded at a time of "unprecedented volatility" in the markets and coincided with "peak volumes in market data update rates", with peak trading volumes and transactions. It also coincided with a pre-planned accelerated data centre migration in Hong Kong.  

Goldman navigated the chaos. Net earnings in the markets division were up 63% year-on-year in the first nine months (before the 1MDB fine). Dunne had been a managing director at Goldman for 11 years before she was made partner last week, and her promotion surely had something to do with her quick thinking and competence in this COVID year.

Speaking today, Dunne said technologists at Goldman "enable the business." "We partner with them from the moment we see an opportunity," she said. Their role is about designing and executing a solution and then seeing it delivered. Technologists are not second class corporate citizens.

Dunne worked for Morgan Stanley and UBS before joining Goldman in 2000 as a vice president (VP) in the technology division. Today, she cautioned against presuming your career will progress in a graceful upwards arc, recommended embracing change and focusing on what you can rather than can't control. She advocated listening. "You have two ears and one mouth and you should use them in that proportion," said Dunne, noting too that, "You are often judged more how you react to bad news than good news." 

If you want to get ahead in technology - or anywhere in banking, then Dunne advised against becoming the sort of irreplaceable subject matter expert that prevents you escaping from a silo; always be training your replacement. Go easy on yourself: "When I reflect back on my early career, the person who put pressure on me was me," said Dunne; "I thought I had to be twice as good to be half as good." 

Dunne also had some advice for all the people in London who are about to be transplanted to Europe because of Brexit. Early in her career, she was asked to move to Paris to build a new data and telecoms network. When she arrived at Gard du Nord she was struck with panic: "I didn't speak the language, I didn't know anyone in Paris, I wasn't ready for life on a trading desk." It worked out: sometimes uncomfortable situations are an opportunity to evolve.

Lastly, Dunne said you need something beyond your career to thrive: you need a hobby. "Find something you love," she advised.

And then the camera turned off, and Dunne disappeared into her 1950s work-from-home backdrop in Ireland, a location made possible by the work of she and her team. Goldman bankers in home offices globally have Dunne to thank.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available. Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t.)

 

 

 

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