Credit Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New York Times
Companies from Wall Street to Silicon Valley have been forced to adapt to technological and regulatory changes in the last seven years, but have their work force cultures adapted quickly enough?
In an informal poll of the audience at The New York Times DealBook conference at the Whitney Museum on Tuesday, more than half of the respondents said Wall Street banks were no more or less trustworthy than they were in 2008, when the financial crisis erupted, sending the global financial markets in to a tailspin.
There remains an illusion â on Wall Street and beyond â that only a small pool of talent is capable of working on Wall Street, said James P. Gorman, Morgan Stanleyâs chairman and chief executive, who spoke in the morning at the conference about the future of finance.
âIâve worked with a lot of people on Wall Street,â he said. âTheyâre not all special.â That quip aside, the banking industryâs growing pains coming out of the crisis have left top companies trying to change from the inside.
Mr. Gorman said his bank focused on cultivating future leaders who could be either âcollaboratorsâ or âstirrers,â those who push for gradual change and those who disrupt the status quo.
The Goldman Sachs Group is in the middle of its biennial election of the next class of managing directors, an envied status that puts the lucky few just a breath away from the companyâs loftiest title of partner.
The managing director class that will be inducted starting in January is being culled now, said Gary Cohn, president and chief operating officer, who added he had âno real concernsâ about the culture of the bank.
Mr. Cohn said Goldman had learned to adapt and change over the years as its model shifted from a traditional private partnership to a global publicly traded company.
While business school graduates have favored jobs in Silicon Valley over traditional Wall Street in recent years, Goldman continues to attract talent, he said, âas long as we provide the opportunity for talent to do what they want, and we provide an environment for them to work in where they feel like theyâre able to change the world and theyâre able to be involved with companies that matter.â
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But questions remain whether the high-pressure workplace culture, where working all night is not uncommon, has changed enough.
Goldman recently paid $ 50 million to New Yorkâs financial industry regulator for failing to supervise a now-former employee for obtaining information leaked from his former employer â and another Goldman regulator â the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And Goldman recently fired about 20 junior-level employees for cheating on a routine employee test.
Banks arenât the only companies feeling the pressure to adapt their cultures to changing times. Muhtar Kent, the chairman and chief executive of Coca-Cola, said his biggest worry about his 770,000-person global work force was âarrogance.â
Coca-Cola often needs no introduction in markets at home and abroad. That makes it difficult for managers to avoid being complacent, he said.
IBMâs chairman and chief executive, Virginia M. Rometty, is steering the company into data analytics and artificial intelligence as IBMâs traditional software and services businesses are under pressure, saying that companies need to be able to change to survive.
Asked whether female chief executives â she is just one of 22 women who lead major companies â endure harsher scrutiny in their jobs, she replied, âTo run any company today you need great resilience. Growth and comfort never coexist.â
In Silicon Valley, changing the habits of a work force also comes slowly. Women are underrepresented in top management, and societyâs culture at large means young girls are not being taught the same financial literacy skills as boys, said Chris Sacca, the founder and chairman of Lowercase Capital, an early stage investor and the father of young daughters. Girls arenât taught to âbluff, pitch and sell,â he said. âThereâs a princess manufacturing complex.â
And it begins at an early age, he said. âIn a store like Target, there are two sticker packs. The boysâ sticker packs literally say sports and careers, and the girlsâ literally say princesses and fairies.â
Asked whether the mostly male culture of Silicon Valley is likely to change, Mr. Sacca, one of Twitterâs major investors, said, âItâs changing, slowly. The numbers are really clear. Companies are almost entirely run by white guys. The boards are almost entirely white guys.â And yet, he said: âLook at the user base of Twitter. You have black users overindexed to Twitter, and yet we donât have any representation of that audience in the upper management or the board of that company, and thatâs just weird. Weâre guiding things for an audience we canât address.â
On the issue of gender, he added: â I think the level on which the problem has to be solved is on the level of the founders. I think it will change when you have women who have successfully founded companies. Thatâs the problem you need to think about.â
The educational backgrounds of many Silicon Valley workers â heavy on engineering and light on liberal arts â also play a role in shaping the industry culture.
âWhat I worry about is how unidimensional computer science students have become as a result of the rigor of the curriculum,â Mr. Sacca said. âThey donât get to study abroad. They donât have summer jobs. They donât wait on tables â what you get is a 23-year-old engineer at Google yelling at a chef because they ran out of pheasant that day. They donât understand how people get by in the developing worlds. They donât know anyone trying to make payday loan payments. I really worry about how homogeneous our culture is getting in Silicon Valley because of the lack of experience.â
Some Silicon Valley chiefs are trying to steer the culture from the top. Netflixâs chief executive and one of its founders, Reed Hastings, says he takes six weeks of vacation a year and hopes the companyâs leave policies will inspire loyalty and trust with his workers. The company, which has long had unlimited vacation for employees, recently introduced unlimited parental leave.
âPeople try to find a successful way to balance life and work, but itâs really about work and life integration,â he says. âWeâre all learning how to do it.â