Seven things you need to know about Goldman Sachs' new Asia head

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Seven things you need to know about Goldman Sachs' new Asia head

Goldman Sachs has taken the unusual step of appointing a non-banker to its senior ranks with Kevin Sneader, the ousted former head of Mckinsey joining the US firm as  co-President for the Asia-Pacific region alongside Tod Leland.

Sneader, who will be based in Hong Kong, will report to Richard Gnodde, the Goldman Sachs International chief executive who oversees the bank’s operations outside of North America.

The 55 year-old was elected as McKinsey’s global managing partner in 2018 (the 12th since its formation in 1926), but he failed to win re-election in February, becoming the first person in that role to service just one three-year term according to the FT.  Sneader’s ousting followed a series of crises that reached a head under his watch, including US litigation over the consultancy’s advice to opioid manufacturers and its work in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia.  During his tenure, he did much to increase transparency and ‘de-mystify’ the McKinsey culture.

Goldman has appointed Sneader as it looks to rebuild its business pipeline and reputation across Asia after agreeing a $2.9bn global settlement with Malaysian regulators over the 1MBD money-laundering scandals.

So why has Goldman turned to Sneader?  Here are seven things you need to know about him

  1. He has deep Asia experience.  Although born in Canada and raised in Scotland,  he was based in Hong Kong as chairman of McKinsey’s Asia-Pacific business for four years directly before getting the top job.  During his time, he helped to establish McKinsey as one of the biggest consulting firms in China. This achievement, along with the breadth of contacts he has forged as a self-confessed ‘client guy’, will have been a big factor in Goldman hiring him.
  2. It’s not just about the numbers.  When Sneader joined McKinsey straight from university in 1989, he spent the first two weeks in the basement bathroom fretting about whether he was up to the job, he told the University of Glasgow Sound Tracks alumni podcast last year. “I couldn’t add up,” he confessed, and felt out of his league surrounded by colleague with economics and maths degrees. But his fellow team members gave him confidence, and he stood out for his writing ability and knack for making complex topics easy to understand. That forged his  leadership philosophy of listening to others and being prepared to learn new things.
  3. Seize the day.  Sneader comes from the Mike Tyson school of preparation (‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’ ). He reckons success is down to seizing opportunities in the present rather than following a closely defined life plan.  He arrived in Hong Kong in 1997 just before the handover to China, an event that focused corporate strategy on China.  Suddenly Sneader found himself in the most exciting region of the world. “It’s about seizing the opportunities in front of you and not spending too much time coming up with a plan. That’s not how life works.  It’s much more about serendipity,” he told Sound Tracks.
  4. Work-life balance.   Sneader told Sound Tracks that he lives by the maxim of one of his McKinsey colleagues who says that work should be “more than a job and less than a life.” It’s important to have a passion for work, and also have interests outside the office. Sneader is a keen sports fan.  No doubt David Solomon, with his side hustle as a electronic dance music DJ, will approve.
  5. Leaders need to show empathy.  In a discussion with Goldman Sachs President - and now fellow colleague  - John Waldron in April 2021, Sneader called upon CEOs to show their co-workers “love” as the world adjusts to post-pandemic life. “It may not be a core part of the CEO job description, but showing some love has been largely what has differentiated leaders in this moment. Those who are able to empathize and act on that empathy have been the ones we are all celebrating,” he told the McKinsey podcast ‘Inside the Strategy Room.’
  6. Be positive. Sneader likes talking to people who are upbeat and full of life. “It’s much more inspiring to talk to someone who’s energetic and optimistic than pessimistic.  Optimism can carry you a long way,” he told the Sound Tracks. And in his discussion with Waldron he said that that applies to companies emerging from the pandemic. “This is a window of time in which we must make change happen. I worry that those who hang onto the way things were will emerge much weaker because, with a solution to the healthcare component of this crisis, things can move quickly. That possibility is not yet fully recognized by enough CEOs.”
  7.  Flexible working. Sneader is an advocate of more flexible working arrangement. “Remote working, for example, means no commuting, which can make work more accessible for people with disabilities; the flexibility associated with the practice can be particularly helpful for single parents and caregivers. Moreover, remote working means companies can draw on a much wider talent pool,” he told ‘Inside the Strategy Room’

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