Goldman Sachs is like the military: It gets people while they're young and malleable, breaks them, and remakes them in the firm's own mold. Eric Mindich, for instance, started working at Goldman Sachs in high school, made partner at 27, packed it in for alleged retirement at the ripe old age of 36, and then went on to start a giant hedge fund. Unfortunately, the world of finance, and Goldman Sachs in particular, has been too busy apologizing and schmoozing to trot out their financial Doogie Howsers recently.
Enter Jan Sramek, a 22-year-old (!) Czech Republic–born, London-based trader for Goldman Sachs. At an age when most people in finance are futzing with Excel spreadsheets, and most other people his age are sitting around watching Days and taking bong hits, Sramek is entrusted to run millions of dollars in trades. This week, he was named in the Financial News list of 100 Rising Stars, a kind of 40-under-40 list for the continental financier set. He's the youngest-ever person to make the the list (and that's counting his nomination last year, when he was still at the London School of Economics), and his résumé is already exhausting.
Here's a portion of FN's writeup:
He achieved 10 A-grades at A-level, played handball for the Czech Republic and won £100,000 worth of scholarships to fund his studies. While at university, he worked as an intern at Goldman Sachs, Marshall Wace, AKO Capital, BarCap, Deutsche and UBS, founded a social network and a careers website, co-wrote a motivational book entitled Racing Towards Excellence, and still managed a high first-class degree from the London School of Economics.
Also, it should be mentioned, Sramek runs marathons, doesn't smoke or drink much alcohol, and wants to get married and have six kids. He counts mega-hedgie Peter Thiel as a role model.
Sramek isn't unaware of his Pinky and the Brain credentials; he's one of those geniuses who has no trouble admitting it: His Twitter profile, for instance, describes him as a "visionary," and much of his book Racing Towards Excellence, a section of which was obtained by Daily Intel, is a chronicle of his overachievement. In a chapter titled "A Leveraged Life," Sramek describes growing up in a one-room house in Moravia in a village of 1,000 people. His father, a mechanic, and his mother, a schoolteacher, encouraged him to study at an early age, and Sramek started his first company, a jobs site for IT professionals, at 13. In 2003, he won a scholarship from George Soros's Open Society foundation to Cambridge. Later, he transferred to the London School of Economics to focus on finance.
In truth, however, Sramek has little regard for the plodding benchmarks of financial achievement: "3 hrs [sic] of classes today were an utter and complete waste of my time," he tweeted recently.
"Academic finance is largely nothing more than intellectual masturbation."
Sramek would rather focus on his long-term goal: getting rich. He's already planning out his future in philanthropy; he told an interviewer he wants to focus on education, which would require him to amass a significant amount of wealth: "I would like to once be in a position where I can do something about it, and do it from a position of power," he said, adding that wealth was necessary "to get the required leverage or to try and do things differently."
At 22, Sramek has a world-weariness beyond his years, and a penchant for aphorisms. In his book, he says he would send this Ayn Rand quote to his "younger self": “The question isn̻t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”.
When asked by The Gateway, a website that bills itself as "The Financial Times for students," for advice to up-and-comers, Sramek said, “See everything in terms of risk-reward, almost like a trade. Determine your entry, exit and stop loss. Know when to get out.”
Such cocksure arrogance combined with youth has already caught the attention of the media: Back in March, CNN invited him to talk about the G20 conference on air. Afterward, Sramek tweeted:
"Just spent 45mins defending capitalism against 4 leftish postgrads. CNN's editing may make me look like a son of Ayn Rand and Gordon Gekko."
We can expect to see more of Sramek. As he puts it in his memoir, his "own sprint towards excellence [is] barely out of the starting blocks." That is, unless Goldman Sachs, whose executives shun publicity, puts the kibosh on the formation of his personal brand. But then again, he may not let them stop him.
Jan Sramek [Twitter]
Rising Stars 2009 [FN]