From Janitor to CEO: The Ultimate Rags to Riches Story

Everyone loves an inspiring story. They ignite a newfound motivation in people once they learn of the seemingly impossible obstacles which people have overcome throughout history. Perhaps the most inspiring stories are of those who came from nothing and built million, sometimes even billion-dollar empires. There are quite a few of these remarkably inspiring businessmen and women in recent memory like George Soros surviving the Nazi occupation of Hungary to become on the world’s most successful investors or Ursula Burns, who grew up in the gang-infested Manhattan projects and now serves as the CEO of Xerox. However, no rags to riches story is more unlikely and inspirational than that of Sidney Weinberg.

Sidney Weinberg was born in 1891 and was one of 11 children in a Jewish immigrant family. He grew up in Manhattan, New York where his family ran a liquor store. Sidney’s academic career was disastrous as he dropped out of middle school at the young age of 13. He had seemingly no shot of making any sort of impact in the business world.

After dropping out of middle school, Weinberg found various odd jobs to occupy his time, including delivering newspapers, carrying feathers for a milliner, and shucking oysters. Weinberg eventually landed a job at the prestigious investment banking enterprise Goldman Sachs. His position was a janitor’s assistant, the lowest of the lows. The job paid $3/week and his duties involved cleaning the firm’s partners’ shoes and brushing their hats.

Despite his laughably frivolous job title, Weinberg worked hard day in and day out. His diligence paid off when Paul J. Sachs, the firm’s founder, took note of Sidney’s work ethic and promoted him to the mailroom. Sachs saw great potential in Weinberg, so he sent him to Brooklyn’s Browne’s Business College. It was there that he learned the fundamentals and strategies of economics and financial investing. Weinberg returned to Goldman Sachs in 1925 to work as a securities trader and was awarded a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Two years later he became an official partner and helped run the investment trust Goldman Sachs Trading Corp. This company division was decimated during the Great Depression, and the market value of the trading branch dropped from $500 million to a pedestrian $10 million. At this critical point, in 1930, Weinberg was elevated to the head of the firm and saved it from bankruptcy.

“Mr. Wall Street”

Sidney Weinberg would remain at his new position as Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs for the next 39 years, in which the firm flourished. Under Weinberg’s outstanding leadership and guidance, which earned him the nickname “Mr. Wall Street”, Goldman Sachs rose to the top of the American financial sector. Besides excelling in his role at Goldman Sachs, he also made a significant impact in the public financial realm. Weinberg played a pivotal role in organizing America’s private sector during World War 2 by encouraging CEOs of top corporations to aid the nation in overcoming financial and organizational challenges to keep the economy healthy. He also assisted in the underwriting syndicate of Ford Motor Companies IPO in 1956.

Takeaways

The story of Sidney Weinberg seems like a movie script that is too far-fetched to have really happened. How could someone possibly go from being a janitor’s assistant to becoming the CEO of one of the most prominent financial institutions in the world? Weinberg had no financial background, but was recognized by Paul Sachs for his intangible skills of having a great work ethic and being charismatic. Once given the opportunity of a more challenging role at the company; he accepted and excelled, working hard to elevate Goldman Sachs into its position as the pinnacle of financial investment institutions.

Sidney Weinberg’s journey from janitor to CEO has served as motivation for countless aspirational financial professionals with its timeless teachings of humility, passion, and effort. Take this story and use it as inspiration to work to your fullest potential, regardless of your position or circumstances, because you never know who is watching.

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