Gary Schermerhorn

A song from Cabaret claims “money makes the world go round,” but Gary Schermerhorn’s success suggests putting more stock in being (and staying) well-rounded.

Schermerhorn A.B. ’85 (Computer Science), who serves as co-chief operating officer for the Goldman Sachs Technology Division, credits his broad education and global perspective (he and his family lived in Japan for four years) with providing the best route to get from Harvard Square to Wall Street and beyond.

He currently resides in New Jersey with his wife Miriam Esteve A.B. ’85 (Applied Mathematics) and their three sons.

Esteve, who also earned an M.B.A. in operations management and marketing from Columbia University, is executive vice president of Operations and Technology at U.S. Trust and previously served as head of Operations and Technology for the Global Wealth Management at Citigroup.

Their travels away from the Yard, however, have ultimately brought them closer to it. The couple created the Miriam Esteve and Gary Schermerhorn Undergraduate Financial Aid Fund in 2005, easing the first steps for future globe trotters, and most recently have returned to the campus to share career advice with students.

What’s your take on professional education at the undergraduate level?

While I wrestled with philosophy or abstract computing theories, I was concerned that students at other universities were receiving a more practical, technical education. But I gained a much broader perspective on technology. I am very analytical and tend to search for root causes in most problems in my private and professional life. I can’t say that it’s only the Harvard approach that has made me this way, but I would be against diluting the foundational approach to technical learning to expand the practical.

But isn’t it important to know what’s inside the ‘Intel inside’?

Sure. But it’s all based on foundational computer and engineering sciences. Implementations change and breathless advances are made, but they’re all somewhat bounded by underlying laws. It’s easier to navigate decisions if you understand these laws. And huge impacts on a place like Goldman Sachs can be made.

How have innovations in technology changed in your lifetime?

In the old days, corporate and government investments resulted in consumer technologies such as the personal computer and the Internet.

Today, consumer technology companies like Apple and Google are driving innovations we will see in the workplace. This blurs the line between your identity as an individual consumer and as an employee in an enterprise.

You’ve also been open to the changes in the wider world. What was living in Japan like?

It was the greatest personal adventure in my life. It’s instructive as an American to experience an ancient culture and make comparisons to your own.

For instance, it’s so pleasant that in Japan there is no tipping! We also make it a point to see more of the U.S. because international travel has made us equally appreciate the people and places close by.

With technology, doesn’t close by refer to the next county and the next country?

You can find a Starbucks in Tokyo and share Flickr photos with people you’ve never met.

Distances between places and people matter less. Whether technology and finance help to magnify or celebrate cultural differences is frankly up to the people who harness them and what ends they choose to put them to.

Is there any way for us to prepare for or adapt to this global landscape?

As an American, it’s important to have a sense of what America means and what contributions this country has made and can make to the world. This can be easy to forget for someone committed to “thinking global.” So adaptability is important, but knowing yourself and what you believe in may be the most key preparation.

Does knowing yourself mean making sure work does not solely define you?

I have played drums my whole life, been active in sports (admittedly more so now as a spectator), and have entertained (or humiliated) my children for years with sleight-of-hand I taught myself as a kid. In addition to continued study in the technology and mathematics fields, I am also a director for several not-for-profit boards.

What kind of view has life outside “The Street” given you?

I am a trustee of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), the oldest population nongovernmental organization in the country.

PRB professionals regularly visit the most undeveloped regions of the world, getting health, family, and environmental data to journalists, governments, academic institutions, and grassroots organizations. It’s about as far from what I do day to day as you can imagine. It is a humbling reminder that not all the world’s movers and shakers are on Wall Street.