Perspectives – Marc Cooper – October 2023

The Battle for Brilliance: Engaging and Managing Top Performers

by CEO Marc S. Cooper

In the world of investment banking, the importance of top performers cannot be overstated. These individuals not only drive substantial revenue but also serve as invaluable mentors and role models for aspiring talent within the organization. In this ever-evolving, competitive landscape, I am often asked: How do you keep your superstars motivated and engaged? And how much leeway should a CEO grant to high-achieving rainmakers, even those who aren’t always easy to work with?

At the heart of any successful organization lies its talent pool. This holds particularly true in industries like investment banking, where intelligence and expertise are the primary assets. Unlike manufacturing industries, where machinery is the core asset, we deal with a different kind of asset – one that “goes down the elevator” every night. Managing these high-caliber individuals is both an art and a science.

In industries like ours, where the star system is prevalent, there is often a risk of individuals defining themselves solely by their professional success. Ego can be a powerful motivator but, when unchecked, can also undermine an organization’s culture. We look for individuals who view their lives as encompassing more than just their work – those who find purpose beyond their professional achievements in family, friends, hobbies, and other pursuits.

Our approach is unique in that we do not merely manage our partners; we strive to select the right people from the outset. When recruiting senior bankers, not only do we look for the best and brightest, but also those who align with our organizational culture and values. Expertise, integrity, and a steadfast commitment to advising our clients are essential for success.

While we have established guardrails and a systematic framework, I believe that our partners have to be active participants in this system, as opposed to being dictated by it. And they have to feel that they are being supported by the firm. As I often say, my partners do not work for me, I work for my partners. As CEO, it is my responsibility to provide the resources they need – whether that is coaching, mentorship, or support during critical pitches or client meetings.

Transparency is a cornerstone of our approach. We believe in granting our partners full visibility into how decisions are made, and they actively participate in shaping our organizational processes. This level of transparency extends to compensation, ensuring that our partners understand how they are rewarded.

It is also vital that we treat our partners as accomplished professionals and strive to eliminate rigid hierarchies within our organization. This approach fosters a sense of collaboration and mutual respect, rather than a top-down management style.

While we acknowledge the value of high performers, we aim to create an environment where our partners stay not because of golden handcuffs but because they genuinely want to. In today’s talent market, the challenge lies in attracting, retaining, and nurturing employees who not only drive revenue but also reinforce our organization’s culture and values.

At Solomon, we emphasize cultural fit, transparency, professionalism, and intrinsic motivation. In the battle for brilliance, that approach has helped us win over some of the top experts in the sectors we serve.

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