Voice of Experience: Lale Topcuoglu, Portfolio Manager, Managing Director, Co-head of Global Investment Grade Portfolio Management, Goldman Sachs Asset Management

Lale TopcuogluOriginally from Turkey, Lale Topcuoglu studied economics and politics at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and then took a job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs in 1999, where she quickly ascended the ranks, being named a managing director just ten years later. “That’s probably my proudest achievement,” she said, “getting promoted to Managing Director and co-head of the Investment Grade business. We manage $70 billion in assets and I co-lead a team of 22 people in the US, Europe, and Asia.”

“When I look back at my career, Goldman Sachs has been a land of opportunity for me,” she added.

How did she rise so quickly? Topcuoglu said one of the skills she’s glad to have learned in her career is the ability to negotiate. “Nobody really teaches you this,” she explained. Getting a sense of how your company really works is also important for career growth, she continued. “I learned pretty quick on the job, if you can understand how organizations work, the administration, it will help you.”

Finally, she said, learning self awareness was important for her advancement. “Be aware of your little professional quirks,” she said. “Sometimes I make knee jerk responses, and I’m learning to start with a yes, instead of a no.”

Diversity in Alternative Investments

“I find it fascinating that it’s so difficult to locate women in this industry. I don’t think there’s enough of us,” Topcuoglu said. “I don’t think there are enough of us in senior roles. I find it fascinating. If you look at the graduating population, certainly there are more women in school.”

She continued, “In any industry viewed as male dominated, it’s going to be an issue if you don’t have your ducks in a row and support programs in place to build an inclusive environment.”

“Goldman Sachs has come a long way, but it’s going to be a challenge to continue to attract and retain women in the overall industry without supporting them.”

Topcuoglu is a co-head of Goldman Sachs’ EMEA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Network and says she is pleased with the progress the firm is making when it comes to diversity. “We did pretty well in the Stonewall rankings this year, and we want to leverage that to highlight Goldman Sachs as an employer of choice.”

Advice for Professional Women

Topcuoglu advises women to plan their careers carefully. “You have to learn that you have to manage your career. You’re in the driver’s seat. If you want to take on more responsibility, just doing your job is not going to be sufficient at Goldman Sachs or any other highly competitive firm.”

One way to do this, she explained, is to communicate with your manager regularly. “Have continual conversations with your managers – most people only talk once a year or every six months about career planning. Ask them to help you formulate a plan to get you to your career goals.”

She added, “If you don’t tell them what your goals are, how are they supposed to know?”

Topcuoglu encouraged senior women to reach out to the next generation as well. “Take a step back, look back, and remember these are the same steps that you took years ago. Women should give back, whether that means sponsorship, mentorship, or recruiting.”

In fact, Topcuoglu herself has spent a considerable amount of time recruiting. “To the extent that people see me as a role model, I try to answer questions in an honest and truthful way.”

She also spends time speaking at LGBT events, particularly discussing same-sex parenting. “Having a same-sex family in New York, London, or California, it’s less of a big deal than if you are elsewhere, looking through a different cultural lens.”

“In our field, the struggle you have is the double glazed glass ceiling,” Topcuoglu said. “You’re female starting off and then being gay on top of it – it’s a second glass ceiling. But I think that being female is the primary challenge.”

She continued, “My advice is to choose where you’re going to work very carefully. In this industry, we work really long hours and you see your colleagues more than you see your family. If you work in a place where you are unhappy, it’s just not worth it.”

“Research how inclusive they are, how important diversity is to them,” she added.

In Her Personal Time

Topcuoglu lives in London with her wife and three-year old son. She is a member of Mount Holyoke College’s LGBT alumnae group called Lyon’s Pride. “We have an annual fund for students whose education has been interrupted because they came out to their parents,” she said, “and now we are expanding the scope by funding a new internship vehicle for students who want to pursue an unpaid internship to give back to the LGBT community.”

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)