Diversity in Leadership: Phillip Han — Goldman Sachs

Phillip Han
Ellen Wallop/Asia Society

Phillip Han is the managing director, global head of quantitative prime services at Goldman Sachs, where he also serves as the co-chair of the firmwide Asian Professionals Network. In advance of his appearance at the 2017 Diversity Leadership Forum, Asia Society caught up with Phillip to discuss his career in finance as well as why diversity makes companies like Goldman Sachs stronger. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What led you to pursue a career in financial services?

Like a lot of people, my junior year in college at Emory University was a time when I began to think about my career. I interned at New Line Cinema in Los Angeles because I thought I was going to be in the marketing, publicity, and promotional side of film. While that experience was valuable, I was eager to try something else. I applied through my career center at Emory and an opportunity came up at Wells Fargo.

To be completely honest, my pathway to financial services wasn’t so deliberate. There’s a small percentage, maybe five to 10 percent of the population, who know from a very young age what they want to do — whether it be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer or something else. My process was one of deduction, trying things, and experimenting. That ultimately led me to where I am today.

Was there ever a point in your life where you considered changing professions? Have you ever dabbled with something else?

Because financial services is such a big umbrella, I’d say that I have changed professions, but it’s all within the financial services and banking industry. When I had my first role at Wells Fargo, it was a rotational program through many different areas of the bank. When I got to Lehman Brothers, I started in the technology area and after a year and a half, I moved into a sales role. I found that I really enjoy advising and helping people. Soon after, I transitioned to a similar role at Goldman Sachs. Here, I’ve worked at building client relationships that are authentic, deep, and differentiating. 

Over the last two years, my role has expanded to business building and strategy. It’s all within the same construct, but the content has changed. I have found that stretching myself professionally and solving new problems is a big part of what keeps me here energized, every day.

Outside of the office, I really enjoy contributing to causes that are personally important. I was on the board of my prep school for a period of time, and it was a very fulfilling experience to give back to a school that gave a lot to me. Then over the last few years, I’ve been co-chair of the firmwide Asian Professional Network, which is also a really nice way to give back to the folks here and to a community that works so hard and gives so much.

What are some common misperceptions about finance and Goldman Sachs?

A common misperception is that we’re all predisposed to being completely focused on markets and trading stocks, currencies, or bonds and transacting in different asset classes. People see Goldman Sachs and think “oh you trade or do these big banking deals.”

My experience has been so much more than that. Every day, I work with people from so many backgrounds and perspectives. The opportunities to make an impact here are as wide as they are deep. For example, while my job is very technical, I’ve never traded any asset class in my nine years here. I’m in the lending business — and that lending business is very much a relationship, service, and technology-driven business.

Typically you’ll find that our reputation is something like — work with Goldman Sachs because of our trading prowess, and our best ideas for investing and hedging securities or assets. In the Prime Services business, our goal is to lend securities and money to our clients and we do it through the quality of our technology, our people, and our ability to service assets, so there are many more areas for people to develop their careers in finance.

What advantages do companies who serve a diverse range of backgrounds have over companies that don’t?

The benefits are pretty concrete. We care deeply about not having group-think. Diversity is not just important in the traditional sense, but also in terms of diversity of thought, approach, process, and analysis. All of that contributes to generating ideas for our clients, for managing risk, and to building a strong business. There are enormous benefits to all business functions by having the type of diversity that we have achieved. As co-chair of our Asian Professionals Network, it is gratifying to see the firm’s talent efforts continue to evolve and support our people.

How does leveraging this talent base of Asian Americans help drive business goals at Goldman Sachs?

I think one of the key misunderstandings about being an Asian Pacific American is that the Asia-Pacific region is monolithic — actually as we know, it encompasses hundreds of languages in almost 50 countries. While there’s a lot of affinity among the Asian Pacific American community, there’s also a clear knowledge that there’s a lot of diversity among us.

For example, we’ll host a Lunar New Year event in which we include our clients, taking time to develop key relationships. We’re also in the middle of planning an event with members of our management committee, where our clients can congregate under the umbrella of the Asian Professional Network and hear perspectives from our most senior leadership. During this year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we hosted Juju Chang from Nightline and Eddie Huang to talk with our employees about their careers and experiences as Asian Pacific Americans. We also take time out of this month to invite external Asian Pacific American professionals outside of Goldman Sachs to learn about all that we offer here. 

What are some ways that these companies, not just Goldman Sachs, can do a better job of becoming even more diverse and recruiting more Asian Pacific Americans? What are some extra steps or challenges?

For the Asian Professionals Network, the key theme we are focusing on this year is “Advocacy.” We define advocacy as a process of supporting and enabling people to express their views and concerns, defend and promote their rights and responsibilities, and explore choices and options. Many individuals that we have seen succeed in their careers can attribute their success to having champions or sponsors who advocated for them. 

Our observation is that professionals need to be strategic and deliberate about how they manage their career growth and which relationships to develop. This is a big part of why we believe advocacy as a theme will help support our network’s mission and continue to increase the development and visibility of our employees and our Asian community.