Virtue of a harsh professional environment

It’s been quite funny if you know how I spent my first night ever in New York city in last July.  That was a late July afternoon.  I flighted 9 hours from HCMC to Doha, spent 12 hours of my coldest night ever there in the airport, and took an early morning flight from Doha to New York.  I arrived New York City after an additional 9 hours flight and was completely exhaustive.  Upon arrival, I managed to call my cousin to notice as well as asked for way to go from JFK Airport to NYC – I know he was stuck with the company and working long hours had been the norm in investment banking industry.  So, even coming from half the world away I didn’t expect a welcome at the airport.  Every traveler knows, finding ways in a completely strange place requires a lot of asking here and there, going back and forth from stations to stations, and getting up and down of subway/bus in all kinds of numbers and colors.  So to cut the story short, I came to a New York University (NYU)’s dorm, where my brother stayed, in early everning.  It was a nice and vintage building in my eyes (lately my brother called it the worst dorm building in the whole campus).  I was truly truly hungry after a long long day with a long long flight and long long way from JFK to NYU.  Kindly don’t forget that I was fresh and flesh from an aircraft; meaning that I had a lot of luggages to bear.  My brother already proposed a great first night exploring with great New York foods and exciting sight seeing program.  So, I had a lot to hope for.

It was 7 something in the everning.

In the first 15 mins in the dorm I was so excited to observe everything.  First impression was a very strict and disciplined Indian security guard who repeatedly said with NYU students about being right with the rules.  No one there gave a damn care about the rules of bringing guests in and out of their rooms.  So every single time the guard had to stop the students and the guests after they passed half of the gate, requested them to sign-in, kept the guests’ personal IDs, argued agajnst students’ unhappy faces, repeated all of the rules, and ended the conversation with with a firm and proud voice: “rules are rules”.  I hid a laugh at the time, but lately the guard become our (my brother, his roomate, and me) truly pain in the ass in later days with his unnecessarily eye-blinded way of following the rules.

In the next 30 minutes I watched half of students in the building going in and going out: for dinner, drinking, dating, and sporting.  They all looked shining and bright, spoke well structured English.  Every single student going out in group and in pair was very well dressed.  All girls seem had long legs, carefully made-up, wore high heels, and in perfectly fit their dresses.  All guys looked handsome and, uhm, well, that’s it, I didnt watch them much.  I sit there happily watching and living in a different world to my normal life, hungry and looked like from the third world.

At 8 pm my brother was still no where near my sight.

Internet connection was an issue.  We used viber to call and text.  We arranged a meet up at the dorm in 6-7pm so he could sign me in and well, at least I can have a bath (I’m not going to deny that I didnt have an attractive smell at the time by the way).  Feeling enough with watching people, I openned my iPad and started to read some reports.  I knew reading economic reports in an NYU dorm building after paying $1,500 airfare from HCMC to NYC was not the best idea, but it was among the good ones given I had some meetings in the city and I shoud prepare.

I finished the first report.

I finished the second report.

I finished the third report.

I looked outside.  It was a beautiful blue navy sky color with nice yellow lights on the street.  New York famous yellow cabs kept passing by as quick as chasing thieves.  The dorm was then quite empty and gave room for the guard to question my existence. Oh man, I would remember how troublesome he was. I continued to be hungry, uncomfort with my smell, and quite lonely.  During the night, I had some interesting conversations with some NYU and Harvard students.  Unexpectedly ranging from playing Age of Empire to practicing Private Equity in South East Asia.  But my brother had no where near my sight and his promise.

I got internet connection late in the night from a nice Chinese student (logged in with her ID and password) after getting bored with reports.  My brother texted me he couldn’t return to the dorm due to his unfinished works with Goldman Sachs and try to talked to the Indian guard to let me in.  Well, signing in guest through phone is not written in the rules so “rules are rules and I cant let you in, sorry!”.  It was nearly 10 pm in the everning.  With the deal through the phone had dead, my brother managed to come back the dorm by a cab, signed me in, then we threw my luggages into his room and immediately took the cab back to Goldman Sachs global headquarters in 200 West Street, Lower Manhattan.  He was rushing with time and he needed to finish his work before the next week in order to have enough data for his analysis that would be used in his internship presentation.  That night was a Friday night.

Mid Friday night in GS headquarters, Lower Manhattan, NYC

Mid Friday night in GS headquarters, Lower Manhattan, NYC

In the end, we (my brother, his supervisor, and I) left Goldman Sachs at 3 am in the next day.  My brother canceled his trip with me to Boston in the next day to have time finishing his work.  He worked the whole weekend and stayed completely awake during Monday to Tuesday of the next week to finish the project.

In retrospect, my brother and I didn’t spend a lot of time together.  Yet, we had great memories due to the high quality of the time we had ranging from playing Age of Empire the whole day when we were young to talking about meaning of religions the whole night before he went to UC Berkeley for his first university year.  I didn’t see him grow up but I felt it every time we saw each other.  Regarding my first night of New York that I usually joke that I completely “wasted” it in Goldman Sachs headquarters, I felt so happy for my brother.  Fighting everyday in a professional environment, I know how critical it is to have a good company to work for.  A good company that can hone your skills and knowledge, provide challenging and meaningful works to do, and foster you to be more mature everyday.  In the case if you are lucky enough to have a great professional mentor(s) who cares and puts high standard on your work, attitude, and behavior – remember to never let them down because “the case” that I am mentioning is not a usual case that people can just walk out and see.  It is usually a rare case in either US or Vietnam corporate environment and only luck can tell when we see one.  Most of, if not all, the cases when we found a great professional team that put high standard on the quality of the work we have to trade it with longer working time, and much harsher professional judgments.  Communication may be very tough and errors are not well tolerant – the reason is people expect a true warrior that can stand the challenges together with them as a team.  So if you, the young and the about-to-join the workforce, are lucky enough to land into such a “harsh” environment and team; don’t ever miss that chance to hone your skills, knowledge, and professional judgments.  Bring to the team a determined attitude and the willingness to learn, a good team/mentor(s) will know how to train their next generations – because they know a determined attitude and willingness to learn are also rare ingredients in the workforce.

Back to my brother and my New York trip, my brother’s project was a new programing language to analyze and transmit massive Goldman Sachs trading data that, according to what I know, only a small groups people in Goldman Sachs know how to code and how it works.  He had an offer to return Goldman Sachs after his graduation in his last days in New York before before leaving for San Francisco.

He denied it to pursue a less traveled road.

I’m already curious to see how much he grows up in the next time we meet.

1:52 AM – Vietnam Chitin Headquarters, Ho Chi Minh City

Dedicate this post to my brother, the young, and the about-to-enter workforce

Tri Ton

Businessperson with private equity expertise. Interested in strategy and investment.

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