USF students dream of Wall Street when Goldman Sachs come recruiting

TAMPA — Nearly 30 ambitious and fearless University of South Florida business students gather to listen with rapt attention. It's early evening in USF's College of Business. Most of these 20 young men and eight women — students of finance, accounting and international relations — are decked out in ties and dark suits, pants and white blouses. They are girding to get the Big Interview.

Goldman Sachs, the brilliant investment firm with a bad-boy streak, has come recruiting.

For those somehow out of the loop on Wall Street and Washington clout these days, Goldman is the pinnacle of financial capitalism to many, a power-hungry profiteer to others. In Rolling Stone style, the magazine tagged the investment firm in an unflattering 2009 profile as the "vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." Less colorful characterizations call the firm "Golden Slacks" for its GS ticker symbol, "Government Sachs" for its constant flow of executives to the top positions in the federal government, or the Bandits of Broad Street (Goldman's former headquarters address off Wall Street).

Others simply acknowledge it is today's most powerful and richest Wall Street firm. To a business student, Goldman's a potentially life-changing employer.

On Wednesday evening last week, Goldman sent a small platoon of young employees, most of them recent USF grads themselves, to pitch the "gold" in Goldman: prestige, power, opportunity and, possibly, big bucks down the road. Are you, the Goldman recruiters seem to ask telepathically, sharp enough to compete and dedicated enough to work like a dog? Then you might make it to The Street.

"You can work eight hours a day and can do a good job," Goldman's Grant Purtell, chief recruiter and a USF grad with 10 years at the firm, tells his audience. Then comes the big pause.

"But others will be doing a better job," he says. And you'll probably end up in the bottom 20 percent of the firm's pay scale.

Last year, Goldman's average salary (including bonus) was a reported and misleading $545,000. Young associates just out of business school, depending on what the job is at Goldman Sachs, can range from well under $100,000 to more than $200,000. Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein received $13.2 million in compensation last year.

On Wednesday, the recruiters talked about becoming a controller at the firm. It's a less glamorous finance job involving regulatory compliance and rules. But it's an in at Goldman and, as Purtell explains, a career path of increasing importance now that surviving investment firms, following the near collapse and bailout of Wall Street, are under the government microscope.

After the pep and prep talks, Goldman's team breaks up and the schmoozing begins. Carolina Romero, a USF favorite who interned at Goldman Sachs and started full time there last summer, is from Bogota, Colombia, but loves New York even in this winter of blizzards. Simon Shewmaker, a USF grad from St. Petersburg, plowed his own job path by visiting Goldman Sachs on his own and persuading the firm to hire him. Abbas Khambaty, a recent USF graduate, finished his internship last summer and starts at Goldman next month.

Two 20-year-old business students, Tampa's William Bakos and Spencer Hayes from Seattle, attend the meeting and like what they hear. Hayes researched Goldman in advance. Everything he hears confirms what he already knows. At Goldman he'd be surrounded by the best and the brightest. Some of the other big banks seem to lack that culture, he says.

Adds Bakos: "If I got to Goldman Sachs, I know I could excel."

Student Robert Holland is old enough at 31 to have worked at a number of jobs. More than his peers, he understands how challenging the job market is. "It's rough," says the economics and finance student, who plans to apply.

Now, it might come as a surprise that Goldman Sachs, which can pick and choose among many of the sharpest and most ambitious at the elite universities in the world, is a regular recruiter at USF's College of Business in Tampa.

An early graduate named Michael Simpson got a job at Goldman and rose to the level of managing director. He helped steer some initial recruiting to USF. But lately, the business school's students seem to be doing something Goldman must like. At least 11 USF grads now work at Goldman. Most of those hires happened in the past several years.

So what's the value of a Wall Street elite like Goldman coming to USF, whose business college is still clawing its way into the second tier of the nation's business schools?

"Goldman Sachs recruiting here is a validation for what we're doing," says USF College of Business dean Robert Forsythe. "There are lots of places Goldman can go, certainly right in their own back yard. For them to establish a pipeline here, looking at our finance and accounting students, says we are doing the right things."

Not, he adds, that there isn't plenty of room for improvement.

Wednesday's prep meeting with Goldman was just the start of a long process. Students must apply online, and those who make the first cut will be flown to Goldman Sachs for an in-person interview for a possible internship.

Goldman's team spent several days last week on the USF campus participating in the university's career fair held at the student center. More than 100 companies ranging from Ernst & Young and Honeywell to Jabil Circuit and Raymond James Financial were on hand to recruit.

Not a bad showing in a metro area and state with 12 percent unemployment, well above the 9 percent national rate.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

USF students dream of Wall Street when Goldman Sachs come recruiting 02/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 4, 2011 9:50pm]

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