A few weeks ago, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein gave a speech to the students at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University. To be precise, he spoke at the university’s School of Economics and Management (SEM), Tsinghua’s business school, where the MBA and Masters in Finance student live.
Blankfein wasn’t the first Goldman CEO to give a speech at SEM. Henry Paulson and John Thornton were there before him. For Thornton, it was much more than just a speech – he has been a professor and Director of Global Leadership at Tsinghua University since 2003, when he stepped down as co-COO of Goldman Sachs.
SEM was founded in 1984. The first Dean was Mr. Zhu Rongji, who went on to become China’s Premier in 1998. But he remained in the Dean’s position until 2001. How exactly the school and Goldman first became close was never known, but it was widely reported over ten years ago that the engagement started from a conversation between Zhu and Paulson.
Facing the daunting task of reforming China’s lackluster state-owned enterprises at that time, Zhu was seeking advice from Goldman as how best to turn young Chinese talents into professional managers with a solid Western-style training and a global perspective. Paulson was said to recommend John Thornton, who was managing Goldman’s Asian business. Since then, Thornton was increasingly on an advisory role to Mr. Zhu, which resulted in his decision in 2003 to quit Goldman and start to teach at Tsinghua.
In 2006, Thornton brought his passion about China back to the US, where he funded the launch of a China Centre at Brookings Institution. In October that year, the China Centre opened an office in Tsinghua University, further strengthening the tie between Thornton and the school.
Tsinghua university is famous for having trained large number of senior Chinese leaders. Mr. Zhu Rongji himself graduated from Tsinghua in the early 1950s. The two most recent Chinese presidents: Mr. Xi Jinping and Mr. Hu Jintao are both Tsinghua alumni. Not to mention numerous other senior technocrats who have played key roles in running China’s day-to-day economic matters. The current governor of People’s Bank of China Mr. Zhou Xiaochun is just such an example.
Tsinghua SEM students also tend to go into finance after graduation. Which is not surprising. According to SEM’s 2014 undergraduate employment report, a massive 62.1% went into finance. By comparison, Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, which is often regarded as the only other state-managed business school in China that’s as good Tsinghua SEM, only had 46.4% of its undergraduates going into finance in 2014.
Publicly available data shows that Goldman Sachs in China has a bigger propensity to hire from Tsinghua as well. For those who currently work for Goldman Sachs China, about 4.8% have an education from Tsinghua, while it’s only about 2% for Morgan Stanley China.