LONDON — Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM) held its second annual “Young Professionals and Future Leaders” conference at its London office last week.
The afternoon event was conceived of by two junior employees at GSAM who wanted to host an event that could help them meet their counterparts who worked at companies they work with.
“It’s a really good opportunity to get the younger generation of our clients into the room,” Antonia Benfield, one of the people involved in organising this year’s event, told Business Insider.
“There are loads of people here that we haven’t necessarily spoken to before and it’s great to obviously make those connections now because the idea of the conference obviously is that we’ll all be future leaders.”
This year’s theme was “Millennials,” the term used to refer to the generation born between 1980 and 2000 (the exact start and end dates can differ.)
Adam Collins, another organiser, said: “A lot of the conversation has potentially quite a condescending tone when you use the term millennial. I think the idea that these millennials are now growing up, or have actually grown up in many cases, to be the people who make the decisions and will continue to do so. To come up with a range of topics and ideas you can discuss about that, that was the idea.”
Around 100 people attended the event, up from 30 last year. BI was among them — here’s what we saw:
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Investing in millennial-driven markets
The event kicked off with a presentation from Simon Barnard, who co-manages Goldman Sachs’ millennials equity portfolio. Barnard jokes that he is “one of the oldest millennials in the world” before going on to explain that his fund focuses on investing in companies that he thinks are well positioned to benefit from millennials becoming the largest generation of consumers in the world today. There are an estimated 2.3 billion alive today, Barnard said, compared to 1.2 billion baby boomers.
Millennials are smarter consumers, Barnard said, and want price, convenience, and transparency. One of the biggest trends of their generation is tech-enabled consumption, with a preference for experiences and wellness over ownership and indulgence. As a result, Barnard points out that fast-food and pre-packed baby food companies are struggling to attract millennial consumers.
Barnard highlighted online video and autonomous cars as areas of interest for his fund. However, he eschewed big names in these sectors, saying that hyper-growth companies are often high risk as they can be quickly displaced at the top of the tree. Instead, Barnard highlighted an Israeli company called Mobileye as an example of a Goldman bet on autonomous cars. The company makes sensors that help cars create the HD maps needed for autonomous cars to become reality. In other words, it’s an essential enabler to an autonomous car future.
Barnard then took questions from the floor. The audience offered up suitably millennial questions, asking: have you modelled how a 2008-style crisis would affect your portfolio? How seriously do you take cyber security risk at companies you invest in? Do you see combating climate change as an investment opportunity? He answered: yes, it should bounce back pretty quickly; seriously; not right now, further down the line.
China, millennials, and diversity
Barnard’s talk was followed by one from Lin Yue, GSAM’s executive director of UK and Irish institutional business. Her session was titled: “China, millennials, and diversity.” Yue is originally from northeastern China. She said that the term “millennials” doesn’t exist in China and her generation is instead referred to as “post-80s” or “post-90s.”
Yue said that her generation lives in a “radically different world” to their parents and grandparents, who lived through the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s. By comparison, her generation has been spoiled, partly because of China’s one-child policy, and are often referred to as the “little emperors.”
Chinese millennials have grown up with fierce competition at home and are keen to explore the world, Yue said. Despite Western perspectives, only 30% of Chinese millennials believe their country will be the next global superpower.
Yue’s point throughout her talk was that the term “millennials” is far too broad — people the same age can have wildly different priorities, outlooks, and ideas across different countries.
A key question from the audience was how China will cope with the rise of robotics and automation — Citi and Oxford University estimate that 77% of Chinese jobs could be at risk of automation. Yue said that there’s actually a “huge desire to move out of the manufacturing chain” among Chinese. If a robot could do their boring manual labour job and free them up to do more interesting, creative jobs then that’s great.
Startups & corporate culture: Discussions with Deliveroo
After a short break, the audience were treated to an interview with Philip Green — no, not the retail billionaire, but the CFO of food delivery startup Deliveroo.
Unfortunately, this talk was off the record, meaning we’ve agreed not to report what was said. But, broadly, Green covered what it’s like to work at a startup, his advice to young professionals looking to get ahead, and some insights into where Deliveroo is right now.
Andrew Wilson, CEO of GSAM in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, told Business Insider after the talk that it is companies like Deliveroo that are the biggest challenge for Goldman when it comes to recruiting millennial talent.
He said: “The biggest pressures at the moment are probably in the technology space, whether it’s Facebook or Google or Amazon or whatever. They’re seen as being cool and people want to go there.
“We spend a lot of time at universities recruiting and try and explain what the career track looks like at an organisation like Goldman Sachs, the breadth of what we do, and the opportunities that come up as a result of that.”
But he added: “I think we’ve always been focused on making sure we attract the very best people and I think it’s interesting that through time those industries [that compete for talent] have changed.”
Senior leaders career panel
Wilson was on the final panel of the day, alongside other senior GSAM staff who shared their tips and advice on how to advance your career. Unfortunately, this panel was also off the record.
Antonia Benfield, a junior GSAM employee who chaired the discussion, told BI after the event: “The overall theme of this conference is young professionals and future leaders. Always an idea for this conference is this idea of career development, which is what we tried to bring out in the senior panel.”
She added that Goldman was a good place for career development in her experience, saying: “I’ve been here for about a year and a half but I actually have quite a long history with Goldman Sachs. I did the A-Level girls programme when I think I was just 18. That was 7 years ago. Then I did the Spring Week programme in the second year of my university, came back as a summer, and then joined as an analyst after that, all within GSAM apart from the A-Level programme.
“What’s great for me through my recruitment process was that I managed to see the firm at every level and every time I came back I got to do something a little bit different or gain some responsibility that I hadn’t had before. I’ve definitely witnessed first hand the emphasis they put on recruitment. It’s something I think about a lot. If I meet a 17 or 18-year-old girl, I would tell them about this programme.”