Agostina Pechi of Goldman Sachs: “Have an open-door policy”

Have an open-door policy — It’s essential to be open to your team member’s suggestions, concerns and feedback. This will ensure important information reaches us and we can make necessary improvements and tackle every problem. For example, I implement a weekly email follow up or in person catch up just to give some cadence to our interactions. […]

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Have an open-door policy — It’s essential to be open to your team member’s suggestions, concerns and feedback. This will ensure important information reaches us and we can make necessary improvements and tackle every problem. For example, I implement a weekly email follow up or in person catch up just to give some cadence to our interactions. So, I don’t wait until they come to me with an issue or progress. That way those checkpoints are well defined and I’m relaxed that I will be posted on the progress in a certain period of time.

As part of my series about the “How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Agostina Pechi.

As Managing Director at Goldman Sachs, New York. Agostina Pechi (a.k.a. Agos) has established herself as a fast‐rising female executive in the financial services industry. Throughout her 13+ years of experience with stints at Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and currently Goldman Sachs; Agos has developed deep expertise in Emerging Markets Commodities and Structured Credit Sales with a focus on Central, South American and Caribbean Markets. At Goldman Sachs, she has led the development of new verticals, promoted entrepreneurship and led large initiatives to facilitate sustainable financing in Latin America. Leading ESG initiatives in Latin America, Agos became the voice of sustainability discussions with Sovereigns and Corporates. Professional career aside, she has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to giving back to the community as a board member at ProjectArt and Mindo Futures. In her free time, Agos loves to dance the Tango and finds it to be a way for her to stay connected to her roots.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thank you so much for having me. I am Agostina Pechi, you can call me Agos. I have been with Goldman Sachs for 7 years, and am a Managing Director working in their Global Markets Division. I grew up in Argentina, and received my Bachelor of Economics in Di Tella University. As a daughter of Italian-Hispanic immigrants there were a lot of hardships with family finances, while I was growing up. It is during these formative years that I realized the importance of finance and capital in Latin America. I also developed a desire to give back to my community. I dreamt of finding a job at a global bank that would allow me to work at one of the major financial centers.

Soon after completing my undergraduate studies, I got a job offer at Deutsche Bank in Argentina. During that time, it was unusual for recent graduates to join a major bank and obtain an international work visa. However, I was lucky to get one and was able to start my training program. This role was a unique opportunity for me as I was the only female Latino in the program that year. Upon completion, I moved to my permanent role and through a couple of international movements, I found myself in London and then finally in New York.

In New York, I gained years of experience in Emerging Market sales across different products. I also had the opportunity to work with Credit Suisse before coming to Goldman Sachs. I think that’s a little bit of my back story. It has been very exciting with a lot of ups and downs.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Sure. From a young age we spoke three different languages at home — Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. When I first started my journey moving from Argentina to London and then to New York, it was not only a challenge in terms of relocation but also in terms of language. But I said Yes.

However, I underestimated the difficulties of navigating the cultural differences and the business environment in a male dominated industry. I often felt that I was lacking mentors, and that made it even harder for me. I really never considered giving up because I felt it was a unique opportunity, that would lead to more opportunities for me, as well as for more women to follow the same path.

Initially, I think the drive came from the support of my family. Over time, through constant networking efforts, I was able to find great sponsors and mentors, who gave me the guidance and support that I needed to grow. And with their help, I was able to find what I was good at and what I was passionate about. To find something where your skills and passions are aligned can provide great confidence, and help you overcome those tough times when you question yourself.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

This is a very tricky question. Well, when I was a vice president, I organized a trip to meet with a Latin American sovereign with senior management from the bank. It was a unique opportunity for me to show my leadership capabilities and be able to present our platform to the government officials. When we arrived, the government officials thought I was the senior most person on the delegation because the “Vice President” in some countries is considered a very senior role. However, in the financial industry it is middle management.

At the beginning I was really liking the attention and I loved being in the limelight. But it became a little concerning when the government officials wrote an article saying “The Delegation Led by Agostina Pechi, Vice president of Goldman Sachs.” Luckily the other Directors on my team saw the humor and we had a good laugh about it.

Key lesson learned: When you think of connecting companies and servicing clients globally, it is important to be aware of the cultural differences and be forthright, instead of delaying anything you want to say. That has been a very important lesson.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

In my opinion, it is our culture, values and our constant focus on improving ourselves to better serve our clients. Our firm is constantly encouraging managers to innovate and to focus on core targets. As the world has evolved the organization has really pushed us to focus on climate transition, diversity and inclusive growth.

As an example, during the pandemic which is something very recent, we realized that the most vulnerable sectors in the emerging market were struggling. The company came together to think of innovative ways to help those sectors. We are not a regional bank and we are not necessarily locally present in the jurisdictions where we do business. But we developed deep partnerships with regional and development banks. Hence, we were able to make accomplishments towards impact-oriented initiatives, including lending to SMEs’ and women owned businesses, despite not being physically present in some of those countries in Latin America.

We have also expanded our reach locally, through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 women program, which started in 2008. The program focused on development of women through instructor led training. However, this year in April during the pandemic, we launched it online on Coursera for free, in Spanish and Portuguese. Managing Directors like myself are engaged in these mentorship programs to help women entrepreneurs. I feel that the firm moved very quickly to adapt and give back which is very much in line with our cultural values. This is what makes the firm unique and one of the reasons I love to work here.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I think we’ve heard the phrase, “It’s a marathon not a sprint”. It’s cliché but there is some truth to it. For me, human connection helps overcome stressful situations. I simply invite a friend or a colleague over for a coffee and spend time chatting.

Apart from this, I recommend the following to my colleagues and mentees;

1) Indulge in nonwork related activities, something you feel passionate about to do in your free time.

2) Establish a healthy routine, including exercise and proper sleep.

3) Try not to handle multiple tasks at once. Focus on the things that are truly important. We are less successful when we try to do everything at once — things end up falling through the cracks and the result is just mediocre. By prioritizing and staying focused we can be more productive.

4) Learn who you are, what you value, and focus on your strengths.

5) And lastly, feel empowered by the impact of your actions. This empowerment energizes us to keep going. I think that’s been my formula. Taking action and achieving outcomes at work has helped me to find more energy to keep going.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have had multiple sponsors throughout my career and I am grateful to all of them. But if I have to choose a particular person, then that would be my mother. Even when we went through difficult times, when my father got really sick with cancer and he passed, my mother was always there for me.

In fact, both of my parents made incredible sacrifices for me to be able to go to university including giving up their savings. Back then in Latin America it was not common for women to go abroad so young, but my parents encouraged me to keep going. Even when I had thoughts of giving up it was their reassurance that I was doing the right thing that allowed me to continue to grow. That was the key.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?

In my opinion, delegating is one of the key aspects of a leader because it helps build the confidence of the employees while at the same time building trust. Trust is critical in order to effectively motivate and mentor. As leaders, if we are able to inspire our team, they will go that extra mile to achieve results.

This collective effort not only results in superior outputs but also empowers the team as they strive to achieve both their personal and professional goals.

A person’s time is finite. As a leader, delegating also helps me focus on strategic efforts, leaving the day to day activities to the team. The team members soon develop into leaders and the cycle would continue, building a great organization.

Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?

There are several reasons why delegating is challenging.

1. Sometimes organizations don’t set the right incentives for managers to delegate and there is a perception that in order to be credited fairly one needs to do things on their own. However, this turns out to be counter-productive as the manager is not able to focus on strategic planning.

2. Delegating is also hard because it requires an investment of time and energy to select the right people, and working with them to set challenging yet achievable success criteria.

3. Trusting doesn’t come naturally to everyone, many times we are so insecure that it becomes difficult to trust others. There would be many situations where we feel that we can do a better job rather than delegating it. This would impede our growth and it also impedes the professional development of our team.

In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?

To ensure that an organization incentivizes the culture of delegating, leaders have to clearly discuss goals, growth aspirations with their middle management team who in turn should clearly understand their roles and responsibilities as compared to that of their associates, i.e. direct reportees. If performance is tied to team growth, then automatically the middle management will work towards building a strong team and confidently delegating tasks to them. This will ensure that the associates do the same, creating a path for them to become managers, which results in the overall team growth.

To ensure that the time, energy and resources are utilized properly, I encourage my team to work on their tasks confidently. I empathize with them, understand their challenges and recommend alternative steps. I also give them their space and let them show what they are capable of. I like to keep an ‘open door policy’ and always be approachable.

And in order to ensure that we are able to trust our team completely, we have to invest in training, recruiting, and mentoring. Sometimes we are so busy we feel that going into the nuts and bolts of what needs to be done and explaining to our team members seems like a waste of time. But doing this is absolutely necessary and it requires practice.

So how do we ensure that we as a team are performing at the highest level much like an athlete, but with everyone having their style and pace? One example I always give my team when I think of pivoting into being better, is to compete against oneself. I tell them to think that each of them is on a treadmill, and that they are free to increase or decrease their ‘own’ speed. I would be there to provide guidance on whether they are on track and whether the team as a whole is on track. This way, they can make progress based on their own targets, personal situations and skills, without disrupting the overall team culture and constantly be comparing themselves with the person sitting on the adjacent desk.

Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Well defined responsibilities- It’s certainly number one. Define and clearly communicate to employees your goals and what you are expecting from them and let them handle it their own way. For example, we set high level objectives on a quarterly basis, and on a weekly basis discuss more specific business objectives. Especially as responsibilities can shift or grow during turbulent times, it is critical to focus on defining these responsibilities and clearly communicating them.

2.Make sure you have the right person for the job — You need to really know your team’s weaknesses and strengths, and find the right person for the task. For example, each member of my team has a unique background and brings a unique perspective. If we are analyzing a transaction that has a certain feature or is in a certain jurisdiction, or would otherwise involve some particular sort of background, it is important to reflect on each individual, and the combined strengths of the team, to staff most efficiently.

3.Have an open-door policy — It’s essential to be open to your team member’s suggestions, concerns and feedback. This will ensure important information reaches us and we can make necessary improvements and tackle every problem. For example, I implement a weekly email follow up or in person catch up just to give some cadence to our interactions. So, I don’t wait until they come to me with an issue or progress. That way those checkpoints are well defined and I’m relaxed that I will be posted on the progress in a certain period of time.

4.Identify clear targets and objectives — even when responsibilities are well defined and the right person is chosen. It can be hard for the individual to envision what you think is an optimum outcome. For example, onboarding 10 new clients is good for me, but for the individual onboarding 3 is good enough. And when we get to the performance review, we realize that each of us were targeting different results. Another example is that, sometimes people tend to think of projects in phases. Providing the overall picture and discussing what is expected will allow for timely results and realignment of goals when needed.

5. Check regularly with the team and trickle-down information: With ever changing market and economic conditions, we find that business priorities change as well. We need to implement a culture of communication and frequently touch base with the team to share the ‘big picture’ and provide feedback on their progress. In my opinion keeping the team informed builds the culture of transparency and encourages them to do the same within the team. This flow of information results in better outcomes. As an example, this type of communication and swiftly transference of information was critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, as we quickly prioritized or sidelined certain initiatives at the management level.

One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the often quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?

Well, I think it’s partially true. As a manager the first thing you need to do is to hire the right individuals and train them. That bit is the manager’s responsibility. Over time you should be able to assess their strengths, weaknesses and make the right adjustments so that the team is able to achieve its goals. A common mistake manager makes is to assume everything will work out and keep moving forward without making any adjustments. This generally backfires and the manager may feel that they could have done it better themselves. Hence it is of utmost importance to get this first step right.

So, the way I reconcile that is by being completely confident on that first step. You can then start trusting your team and trusting that the adjustments you made are the right ones. This will free up your time for more strategic planning for the medium and long term, leaving the day to day work to your team members.

However, when you inherit a team and you can’t make the hiring decisions you would want, again focus on getting to know the team’s strengths and weaknesses to be able to leverage what you have and be aware of areas of development. Mastering that is really important to become a true leader and not just a manager.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

First of all, thank you for having me and giving me this opportunity to talk about my experience and to answer some very interesting questions. Well, I am not sure about a movement but I can certainly think of some ideas that will help bring about significant changes. So, while thinking about diversity and inclusion I have been noticing all the unconscious bias which exists amongst us.

There are a lot of studies on how we empathize with people who look like us and behave like us. So, one of the things which I think would have a significant positive impact is providing training on how to identify and tackle unconscious bias in a more systematic way. This would ensure that corporations are able to meet their diversity and inclusion goals, at the same time reducing workplace discrimination. It’s important to make people understand how unconscious bias prevents us from getting to more diverse groups, and I think we will be better employers, better colleagues and better neighbors when we realize this.

We can always start small like,

1)Schedule round tables with clients and colleagues to discuss inclusion and diversity.

2)Schedule training with experts on the matter to generate awareness and help managers improve their selection criteria when they hire laterals or think of promoting team members.

3)Create the right incentives and measure manager performance taking into consideration metrics such as diversity, culture carrier and community engagement.

How can our readers further follow you online?

For more on Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program, please visit us here. You can also follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this.

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