The Qualities That Make an Effective Leader, From the President of the Goldman Sachs Foundation

Sponsored by Goldman Sachs

Photo Courtesy of Goldman Sachs.

Photo Courtesy of Goldman Sachs.

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May 29, 2024 at 10:3PM UTC

Asahi Pompey is the kind of leader many women aspire to be. As President of the Goldman Sachs Foundation and Global Head of Corporate Engagement, she helps deploy the firm’s resources, skills and expertise to make an impact in its community and develop the firm’s culture of service. In her everyday life, she also works to preserve the firm’s dedication to valuing the career growth of its talent — a cultural value she says has helped her get where she is today. 

“The tone from our CEO David Solomon has been clear – to prioritize progress over perfection,” she said. “Goldman Sachs encourages and trains people to have a growth-mindset. Our four core values are client service, partnership, excellence and integrity.”

While Pompey is still progressing as a professional, as we all are, she has learned a thing or two about progress-minded leadership from her tenure at the firm. She shared the strategy that has been most effective for managing a team, the No. 1 piece of advice she has for women moving into leadership and what she’s learned about the grittiness it takes to be a leader from her personal history and using these learnings to navigate challenging times.

Tell us a bit about your job.

I serve as President of the Goldman Sachs Foundation and Global Head of Corporate Engagement. I am the firm’s primary liaison with nonprofit organizations around the world. In addition, I identify new opportunities to strategically leverage the firm’s resources, skills and expertise to expand our impact in communities and further build on our longstanding culture of service. Our existing programs include, 10,000 Small Businesses, 10,000 Women, Goldman Sachs Gives, The COVID-19 Relief Fund, The Goldman Sachs Fund for Racial Equity and Community TeamWorks

Over the past decade, we’ve deployed over $2.5 billion dollars to support thousands of organizations in the communities in which we work and live. This work embodies the firm’s purpose – to advance sustainable economic growth and financial opportunity. 

I am also a member of the firm’s Management Committee, the senior governing body responsible for strategy, policy and management matters across all business lines globally. 

What has the past year looked like for your team?

This year has been about purpose, pivoting and meeting the moment. Communities around the globe continue to be in acute need of support, and we’re answering the call. 

In March, we launched the Goldman Sachs COVID-19 Relief Fund, a $30mm philanthropic commitment to support the hardest-hit communities globally – and to date, we’ve supported over 290 nonprofits across 28 countries.

We have also committed $750 million in emergency loans to small businesses across the country deployed by Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and other mission-driven lenders. In addition, we’ve committed another $25 million in capacity building grants to these lenders, to ensure they had the capacity to underwrite and deliver loans to small businesses.

Our people also contributed to our efforts – in April, we launched our first ever virtual-volunteering campaign to support groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. To date we’ve reached nearly 7,000 volunteers across 81 offices and worked with over 180 nonprofit partners. 

More recently, we launched the Goldman Sachs Fund for Racial Equity, which supports the vital work of leading organizations addressing racial injustice, structural inequity and economic disparity. The fund launched with $10 million from Goldman Sachs Gives, building on more than $200 million in grants over the last decade in support of communities of color. We’re honored to partner with anchor organizations, including the United Negro College Fund, Black Economic Alliance and Black Girls Code, to further their work and impact.

You’ve been able to successfully grow your career without company hopping. How has Goldman Sachs supported your career growth during your time at the firm?

The firm has supported my career, growth and development through stretch assignments and opportunities to lead global teams and develop new strategies. This has allowed me to challenge myself in times like this year, when the need for flexibility and nimble decision-making is key.

The firm has a homing beacon for talent, in particular, talent that embodies the trifecta of excellence, intellectual curiosity and versatility. I’ve always been an athlete (former lacrosse player), and relish opportunities to take my skills in one area and apply them to another, and grow into new skills and substantive areas.  

How is this kind of support reflective of the overall culture at your company? 

Goldman Sachs encourages and trains people to have a growth-mindset. Our four core values are client service, partnership, excellence and integrity. 

But one word that is often confused with excellence is ‘perfection.’ Excellence is about working collaboratively, asking the right questions and constantly innovating and improving. Perfection is rigid and leaves no room for improvement. Perfectionism can stifle problem solving, which ultimately stunts growth.  

The tone from our CEO David Solomon has been clear – to prioritize progress over perfection.

What is one strategy you use to manage an individual or team that you think is particularly effective?

Active listening is a real super power. However, it can be hard as you have to pause all the thoughts in your head in order to provide meaningful responses with impact. I find when I actively listen to the ideas of team members, the aperture opens up. I see things more broadly, bring people along and achieve a better result.

Let’s take a step back and talk about your upbringing. Tell me about your experience emigrating from Guyana to Brooklyn, N.Y. at a young age. How did this experience shape you?

That experience taught me that talent is everywhere, but all too often, opportunity is not. My life has been marked by opportunity. 

I was 10 years old when my parents, four siblings and I immigrated to Brooklyn from Guyana. I attended New York City public schools. Thanks to a scholarship from the American Field Service, I was able to attend high school in Tokyo for a year where I lived with a Japanese family. I’ve also spent time in Germany as a corporate lawyer.

These experiences taught me the importance of grit, empathy and adaptability. I had to become a quick study and orient myself to different environments. Often that meant taking risks, not choosing comfort and always being ready to pivot, which has been especially helpful navigating the challenges of this year.

Who has been the most influential person in your life and why?

I am humbled by the teachers and professors who invested in me, in particular at John Dewey High School and Swarthmore College. Their dreams for me were greater than my dreams for myself.

But the most influential persons are my parents, Edith and Theodore. I grew up watching them work hard. I can still see my mom dozing off as she sat at the kitchen table overseeing the homework of her five children after a long day’s work, cooking (no takeout!), etc. My father often worked the 7am-11pm shift. My parents are materially modest and ‘values rich.’ I owe my work ethic to them.  

My siblings and I all had chores, by the way. And I am passing that practice on to the delight of my two sons! 

What is the most memorable piece of advice you’ve received from a colleague or mentor?

When things go wrong, I try to: 

1. Take stock of what happened. 

2. Extract the learning. 

3. Move on and don’t dwell! 

My mother gave me this piece of advice, after my hundredth phone call to her about the challenge du jour – remember, rain doesn’t fall on one roof alone. 

Leaders don’t fail less; they have a shorter recovery time. Tomorrow is a new day and you’re now stronger for having learned the lesson.  

What is your no. 1 piece of advice for women who are moving into leadership? 

When you get a seat at the table, scoot over and make room for the next person coming up — and set others up to do their best work. It’s important as a leader to amplify the voices of others around you.


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