Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

How to land a top job on Wall Street

February 5, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Edith Cooper is executive vice president of investment banking firm Goldman Sachs
  • Since joining in 1996, Cooper has worked her way up the ranks
  • She is also global head of human capital management in charge of finding new talent

Editor's note: Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time -- remarkable professionals who have made it to the top in all areas of business, the arts, sport, culture, science and more.

New York (CNN) -- When a Goldman Sachs employee unexpectedly wrote a scathing op-ed in the New York Times in March 2012 about why he was leaving the investment bank, he painted a picture of a "toxic" workplace that embraced morally corrupt practices at the expense of their clients.

Edith Cooper's reaction wasn't rooted in damage control. Instead, as the firm's global head of human capital management -- overseeing more than 30,000 employees -- she wanted to know why.

"It was to figure out why it was that there was an individual who worked at Goldman Sachs who felt that the only way they could voice their experience was to write an op-ed in the New York Times," she recalls to CNN's Poppy Harlow.

"We've emerged from what was one of the most challenging periods of financial services history, and we've come into a better, more normalized position ... We've been able to take a step back and really think about the future," says Cooper.

Intel president wants more women in tech
Blair refused to adjourn her career
Alison-Madueke: 'Born into the oil sector'
World Bank boss' quest to end poverty

As one of Wall Street's most sought after investment banks, named one of Fortune's 100 Best Companies to work for this year, Cooper has led the human capital management department for the past six years and is responsible for recruiting the best and brightest talent for the firm.

"We continue to be amazed by the extraordinary talents of this generation. They are smart. They get information instantly. And they ask really tough questions. As a result we've got to stay on our toes.

Data drives performance

To find the best candidates, she explains, Goldman Sachs uses employee performance metrics.

"Value add is being able to mine all the data that's out there. Think about the people landscape right now ... We develop, we invest, we compensate thousands of people every year. How are we using that data to inform our decisions going forward?

"If you had asked me 30 years ago, 'would I be on the management committee at Goldman Sachs and be the influence of our success through our people?' Oh no way. And so, I think that I've come to expect the unexpected," she says.

As one of the most powerful people on Wall Street, surprisingly Cooper never planned for a career in finance. As a young woman, her ambition was to own her own clothing boutique in New York City.

To make her dream a reality, after graduating from Harvard College Cooper decided she needed to go to business school. She took a job at a Chicago bank while attending business school at the same time at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management.

Three decades later, she's still in finance and the clothing store is a fond but distant memory.

Broadening horizons

Looking back over her career, Cooper credits much of her rise at Goldman Sachs to her time spent working overseas in the firm's London office.

"I think in today's economy, operating outside of your comfort zone is really, really important. I can't think of any industry where it's not important to be able to take that risk of stepping forward into the unfamiliar."

"We can't be the great firm that we need to be, to be relevant to our clients, if we don't have diversity at every level.
Edith Cooper, global head of human capital management, Goldman Sachs

She describes moving abroad as an "extraordinary experience" where she reveled in learning how to work with people from all over the world. With some 30,000 employees around the globe, the management skills she honed in London continue to help Cooper in her role today.

"I'm responsible for them -- the good, the bad and the not so perfect," says Cooper. "[I] need to make sure that we are continuing to be viewed as a terrific place to work."

Cooper is also one of four women on Goldman Sachs' 29-member executive committee. It's a number she says needs to rise and notes diversity in all areas -- not just gender -- is key to success.

"There are four women, but I also see that there's other types of diversity as well and we need more of everything." We can't be the great firm that we need to be, to be relevant to our clients, if we don't have diversity at every level."

Corporate confidants

As she has risen up the ranks, Cooper is well aware of the help she has received from peers along the way. She recalls when she joined the management committee and was pulled aside after the first Monday morning meeting by the bank's president and COO Gary Cohn.

"He said, 'You know what? You did not represent what you do and what you know at the management committee this morning. Going forward, every Sunday ... we have a call -- you're going to go through with me what you're going to talk about."

Had she failed? Had Goldman Sachs made the wrong decision in promoting her? These questions raced through Cooper's mind. But in retrospect she says it was the guidance she needed.

In the end, she had only two calls with Cohn. It was all she needed.

"It meant that I wasn't alone in the experience.

"A lot of times, mentoring is listening and feeding back to people that they can actually figure it out but they just need the confidence boost to do that," she explains. "I'm successful because other people have gotten behind me. It's my passion to be there for other people as well."

CNN's Poppy Harlow contributed to this piece.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 1, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
In 2007, Arianna Huffington collapsed at her desk. Suffering from a broken cheekbone, the editor-in-chief decided to change her workaholic ways.
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Their job is capturing the most horrifying images on Earth -- keeping their eyes open, where others must look away. Meet Kate Brooks and Gerda Taro, the war photographers of today and yesterday.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
Gloria Steinem speaks onstage during Equality Now presents 'Make Equality Reality' at Montage Hotel on November 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
As Gloria Steinem turns 80, Kathleen McCartney highlights the remarkable life of the feminist so far.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
CNN hosted a Tweetchat on gender equality with special guests including Nobel Peace prize laureate Tawakkol Karman. Here's what you missed.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1059 GMT (1859 HKT)
From shaving her head for climate change to opting for a sustainable business model, Vivienne Westwood is simply unstoppable.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
In what would be a dream come true for her alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw -- Sarah Jessica Parker has turned her love of fashion into a new shoe range with Manolo Blahnik.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
The Facebook COO's latest headline-making action is a new "Ban Bossy" campaign, which aims at getting rid of the word "bossy."
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Meet Gail Kelly, the woman who started as a bank teller -- and now runs the banks.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 0546 GMT (1346 HKT)
What kind of politician is slashed in the face with a knife, and upon waking up in hospital the first thing they ask about is the election campaign?
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
Former U.S. State Deparment Anne-Marie Slaughter says Brad Pitt is 'posterchild for engaged fatherhood'.
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
Cast your eye across a line-up of world leaders and it might look a little something like this: Man in dark suit, man in dark suit, man in dark suit, Angela Merkel in fire engine red two-piece.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Meet Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, the chairperson of French commodities giant Louis Dreyfus Holdings, with a net worth estimated at an eye-watering $6 billion.
February 17, 2014 -- Updated 1138 GMT (1938 HKT)
YouTube has a new boss and she has a "healthy disregard for the impossible" -- according to Google CEO Larry Page. Here are five things you didn't know about her.
ADVERTISEMENT