Back to the Future - 10 Sales Commandments from Goldman Sachs written in the 1950’s

John Whitehead was a former co-chair at storied Goldman Sachs.  Among the many contributions at the firm was the set of rules he wrote for his fledgling “new business,” or sales department, back in the 1950’s, shortly after he made partner. 

"At that point, few people outside of New York had ever even heard of us," Whitehead wrote in his autobiography. But with a clear mandate, the sales team soon took off.

The investment banking leader grew from a mid-tier firm to a global powerhouse over the course of a few decades.  To learn more about this magnificent rise  “The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs,”  by Charles Ellis sheds a lot of light on growth management.

Whitehead, who is also known for writing the 14 business principles that you can find on the company's website, led the Goldman Sachs sales department, knows as Investment Banking Services.  By installing sales teams around the country, and later around the world, he ultimately helped take Goldman from a little known regional bank to today’s global leader.

He ran training sessions on “How to get an appointment with the CEO”, “How to treat the CEO’s secretary”, and “What to talk about when you do get an appointment”.  As his new sales team began to mature, Whitehead created the following guidelines in a memo to the team:

  1. Don’t waste your time going after business we don’t really want
  2. The boss usually decides – not the assistant treasurer.  Do you know him?
  3. It’s just as easy to get a first-rate piece of business as a second-rate one.
  4. You can never learn anything when you’re talking
  5. The client’s objective is more important than yours
  6. The respect of one man is worth more than acquaintance with 100
  7. When there’s business to be done, get it!
  8. Important people like to deal with other important people.  Are you one?
  9. There’s nothing worse than an unhappy client.
  10. If you get the business, it’s up to you to see that it’s well handled.

“I believe the most important thing I did was to set down in writing what Goldman Sachs stood for”, he wrote.

Many of these “commandments” still hold true and speak to focus, urgency and execution.  These are timeless business principles that can be applied to almost any business enterprise, regardless of industry or company size.  If these were and still are important to one of the leading financial services firms in the world, how much more important are they for early stage companies looking to accelerate their growth trajectories.

Having built a number of high performing sales teams, I’ve always believed that a client relationship is something to be nurtured and encouraged to blossom into profitable and enjoyable affiliations.  However, it’s not easy building quality relationships when chasing a quick sell and business that simply doesn’t make sense.  The principles above will enable the creation of mutual beneficial relationships and set the foundation for sustainable, strong sales growth.

“When there’s business to be done, get it!”