3 Lessons Young Professionals Should Learn from Goldman's Tourre

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Even if Goldman Sachs doesn't end up being found guilty of what the Securities and Exchange Commission alleges in its recent complaint (.pdf), one thing is for sure: the bank can't be pleased with the negative publicity. At the center of the sleazy-looking deal is the only other defendant in the case, a young Goldman banker named Fabrice Tourre. At first, Goldman appeared to have its employee's back, implying that no one at the firm did anything wrong. Since then, however, Tourre has been put on indefinite paid leave and de-registered in the U.K. He will soon have to testify before the U.S. Senate. Goldman can't be too pleased with his antics.

Tourre was clearly a rising star at Goldman Sachs -- a vice president by the time he was 28 and an executive director at 31. Obtaining those titles at such a young age is no small feat at any investment bank, much the less Goldman. There's little doubt that he's a very smart guy who made some extremely dumb mistakes. Even if he ends up being absolved of technically breaking the law, Tourre can still serve as an example to other young professionals of how not to act in business.

Take Your Job Seriously

Tourre probably thought he took his job pretty seriously. But he was clearly suffering from poor judgment or immaturity when he sent a now infamous e-mail from his work account to a friend, part of which read:

More and more leverage in the system, The whole building is about to collapse anytime now...Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab[rice Tourre]...standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities!!!

It's fine to think this to oneself. It's probably even fine to jokingly say that to a friend in a bar (just don't get so drunk you leave your top-secret iPhone prototype there). It's not fine to write this in an e-mail from your work address. Even if the SEC had never brought charges against Goldman, a supervisor should have been displeased with such an e-mail sent from an address ending with @gs.com.

Don't Be Cocky

This one was probably especially hard for Tourre. After all, he was a rock star. He was pulling in more than $2 million per year before his 30th birthday. Anyone getting paid even one-tenth that amount by this age that should be proud of himself. Clearly, Tourre was living the dream.

But he shouldn't have let that show -- especially not in his work. Cockiness leads to laziness and feeling that one's above reproach. No one is, especially not a 28-year-old. If Tourre had been a little more humble, he might have avoided some of his blunders that brought the SEC's suit against him.

Exercise Prudence

On this one, you have to assume the facts of the SEC case are accurate, which they may not be. But if they are, then Tourre allowed hedge fund manager John Paulson to have input in creating the pool of securities that he intended to bet against. Here, Tourre should have done one of two things. Either he should have made crystal clear to the collateral manager ACA that Paulson intended to short the portfolio, or he should not have allowed Paulson to have a hand in creating the pool.

Frankly, that second option probably would have worked out okay. If Tourre had approached ACA and said he wanted them to originate a pool for a synthetic collateralized debt obligation that was backed by subprime mortgages, it would have still done so. As one report indicates, ACA was perfectly happy to pick subprime mortgages itself for the pool that turned out to be disastrous investments. So Paulson would likely have been quite pleased to bet against almost any subprime mortgage portfolio ACA came up with, even if his fund didn't select any of the specific subprime mortgage-backed securities itself. And Paulson would have still made a lot of money.

The road to smashing success in business is not an easy one. Once you're there, however, it is easy to make a stupid mistake that overshadows all of your hard work and ruins everything. Fabrice Tourre may one eventually overcome this setback and find success again in finance, but the tarnish will likely follow him for the rest of his career.

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.
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