Robert D. Hormats

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Economist, Financier, Ambassador

Whether serving the public or private sector, Robert

Hormats’ expertise in international affairs, business,

and finance is unparalleled. He is Vice Chairman of Goldman

Sachs (International) and Managing Director of Goldman,

Sachs & Co. He joined Goldman Sachs in 1982 after serving

as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business

Affairs from 1981 to 1982, Ambassador and Deputy U.S. Trade

Representative from 1979 to 1981, and as Senior Deputy Assistant

Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs at the

Department of State from 1977 to 1979.

He served as a senior staff member for International Economic

Affairs on the National Security Council from 1969 to

1977, during which time he was senior economic adviser

to Dr. Henry Kissinger, General Brent Scowcroft, and Dr.

Zbigniew Brzezinski. These global experiences at a relatively

young age helped shape the life he was going to live, the

mission he was going to pursue, and the professional road he

was going to travel. Over the years, he has developed a reputation

as one of the world’s top investment bankers, and as a

man who has a quick grasp on any international issue and is

willing to run with it.

Robert D. Hormats

Run Your Own Race

In life, the challenge and the thrill is not to succeed at easy things

—it is to succeed at difficult things.

One lesson I learned early on is that no one is good at

everything. If you become unhappy because someone

in a room or in your class or in your group of friends is

smarter than you, better looking than you, richer than you,

or has cooler clothes than you, you are bound to be unhappy

all of your life because inevitably someone will be smarter,

richer, etc. Each of us has some exceptional talent—some of

us are good at one thing and not another, some excel at kindness

to others and human empathy, some at sports, some at

math, some at selling, and some at managing others. Develop

your best talents and do not dwell on what you are not good

at. And do not become distracted by people who try to bring

you down or make you feel inferior just because you cannot

do precisely what they can do. Eleanor Roosevelt put it well,

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So

don’t consent to it.

A good analogy is that of a thoroughbred racehorse; the

horse is fitted with blinders so that it cannot see the horses

on either side, so that it is not distracted by them and therefore

focuses on running its own race. Run your own race.

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Baltimore,

first attending a private school through eighth grade, then

moving to a public high school that offered advanced courses

in language, science, and history. I attended Tufts University,

majoring in economics and political science, and then stayed

Source: Printed with permission from Robert D. Hormats.

on to do graduate work at the Fletcher School of Law and


As an undergraduate, I spent one very special summer on

a project called Operation Crossroads Africa—a three-month

Peace Corps type experience—building fences and barns in

rural Kenya. It was my first trip abroad. For a kid from a

southern city, it was eye opening to live in a dramatically different

society—ethnically and economically. Happily for me,

I had previously had at least a limited exposure to kids from

other countries—at the age of 10 my parents had sent me to

a wonderful summer camp in the Poconos, run by a lovely

Quaker family who recruited the children of UN diplomats

and councilors from around the world.

Helped by my African experience, I was selected during

my first year in graduate school to be a summer intern in the

African Affairs Bureau of the State Department. The next

year, I was selected to be a summer intern in the U.S. Embassy

in Bonn, Germany—where my study of German in high

school proved invaluable. It was during the Cold War—and I

was intrigued by visits to West and East Berlin, then divided

by the Wall.

Toward the end of my last year in graduate school, I was

asked to join the economic staff of Dr. Henry Kissinger; he

had been recently selected as National Security Advisor to

the newly elected President Nixon. An earlier graduate of the

Fletcher School, Fred Bergsten, headed the three-person economic

staff. Of the three, I was the most junior. Later I moved

to the State Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

for Economic Affairs, and then became Deputy U.S. Trade

Representative and then Assistant Secretary of State for Economic

Affairs. In 1982 I left to join Goldman Sachs in New

York, where I am now Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs (International)

and a Managing Director.

In looking back over my career, several important moments

stand out. One night in college I was struggling with a

tough math problem on a take-home exam; my inclination

after about an hour of fruitless effort was to conclude that it

could not be done—and throw the paper out of the window.

Then I decided that of course it could be done—that this

problem was in the test precisely to pose a challenge far

greater than the other problems. If it were easy everyone

could get it. It was there precisely because it was supposed

to be difficult. I was determined to do it—and with a change

in attitude I succeeded in getting it done and turned out to be

one of just two in the class who did. The conclusion I came

to was that in life, the challenge and the thrill is not to succeed

at easy things—it is to succeed at difficult things.

Later, in reflecting on my experience working with Dr.

Kissinger, I was struck by the same phenomenon—the thrill

of working for him was that he demanded far more of his very

young staff than we ever thought we could do. And that experience

led most of us to accomplish more in that job and

then later in life than we ever could have imagined.

Louis Pasteur, the great French scientist, spoke of the

“prepared mind.” Read, learn, and experience as much as you

can. We do not always know which piece of knowledge, bit of

information, or experience will be valuable to us tomorrow

or next week or next year. When we least expect it, something

we have heard or learned or experienced can make all

the difference. Success is about building on experiences. Few

people achieve instant success—even if it sometimes appears

that way. It requires a lot of work and training to be a great

musician, doctor, artist, or scientist. Sir Isaac Newton was not

the first person to see an apple drop from a tree, yet when he

saw it, it opened a whole new science because his mind was

prepared by years of experience and study; the insight enabled

him to understand the force of gravity. Preparing your mind—

in school, through reading, through your life’s experience—

will enable you to do great things later on.

Recognize that the essence of life is people. Treat others

as you would like to be treated. As one very wise person once

said to me, “If you can’t be anything else, be nice,” a simple but

lovely concept. One way I often judge the character of others

is whether they are as respectful and kind to a waiter or a taxi

driver as they are to their boss or someone in authority.

Because life is about people, it is important to make good

friends throughout your life, but almost invariably, those

friends you make in your earlier years are the best and truest

ones—the ones you can rely on not only when things are great

but also when things are not so good. Friends can be great in

your career, helping you to find a job, helping you to make

changes in your life when you are not satisfied with what

you are doing, helping you to get back on track if you have a


The time I spent in Africa—where many people live in

small villages—showed me a part of our early culture that we

sometimes miss. If we go back far enough, we all come from

small bands or tribes. Our ancestors all lived in small villages

—in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and throughout

America—wherever we came from. People looked after one

another and cared about one another and helped with schoolwork

and farm work. We don’t live like that in America anymore,

but the basic concepts of reinforcing and reaffirming

ties of family and friendship are important.

Finally, one thing stands out from my time in Washington.

I saw a president destroyed by lies he himself fashioned with

a small coterie of staff. The night President Nixon resigned, a

very wise senator reflected over dinner: If you leave Washington

with one thing, he said, it should be with a reputation for

integrity. If you lose that you have nothing. There are enor-

mous temptations to cut corners, to try to deceive others in

order to achieve a certain objective, to succeed at the expense

or others or by putting others down, but in the end if you lose

your integrity, the chances are others will know and will think

less of you for it—and even if they don’t know it, you will

think less of yourself.

For each of you the sky is the limit. Your parents and your

teachers can give you wings—but it is up to you to soar on

your own—and there is not a single one of you who can’t.