Value the boring-but-necessary: At many, if not most, companies, the deal-makers bringing in new business are rewarded and celebrated. Those who slog through contracts or financial statements in the back offices are overlooked and far less well-compensated. But those are the very people who can save a company from disaster.
At a finance conference sponsored by Wharton business school last fall, Goldman Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein said the company's risk committees meet constantly: "It's like painting a bridge. You go from one end of the firm to the other, and when you finish, you go back to the beginning and start over again."
Risk management may not be very glamorous, but if done consistently and diligently, it can make the difference between a company's life and death.
Beware of groupthink: Once upon a time -- all of two years ago -- mortgage derivatives and credit default swaps were the coolest things going in the investment world. Banks and investment firms all jumped on the bandwagon, even when they didn't really understand the securities they were buying and selling.
Goldman decided to swim against the tide. Its record earnings in 2007 were in large part due to well-timed hedges against subprime mortgages. The credit crisis did catch up with Goldman eventually, but it was far less hobbled by risky investments than its competitors.
Transform when necessary: Goldman Sachs operated for more than 100 years as an investment bank. But when Wall Street institutions began tumbling this fall, the company acknowledged that desperate times call for desperate measures. In September, Goldman asked the Federal Reserve to change the company's status to that of a bank holding company.
The switch brings tighter regulations, but should also lead to increased customer confidence. It's one thing to stay true to your company's mission and history during good times. But sometimes total transformation is your best, and maybe only, option.
Chase new markets: While the U.S. economy is shaky, business deals continue to be made in places like Brazil and India, and Goldman wants a piece of them. By pushing aggressively into international markets, the company spreads its risk across the global economy.
Most small businesses can't afford a full overseas rollout, but expanding beyond your traditional base should be seen as an option. It's a necessity.
Slash costs -- starting at the top: Along with practically every other major American corporation, Goldman laid off employees this year, about 10% of its workforce. But more importantly from a PR perspective was the cost-cutting in the executive suite: Blankfein and other top officials turned down bonuses this year.
Don't feel too sorry for them: They still get their $600,000 base salaries, and Blankfein got a bonus of $68 million last year. But the move showed employees that management was willing to take a hit for poor performance.
By fostering a culture that balances careful risk assessment with a willingness to bet big on international markets, Goldman Sachs has positioned itself better than most of its rivals. Can the same be said for your company?