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March 8, 2012

Cooperman Shares Career, Life Advice with Students

Although Leon Cooperman ’67 has spent his career managing money, he says enacting his favorite piece of advice doesn’t cost anything: be good to everyone.

Topics: Leadership

Although Leon Cooperman ’67 has spent his career managing money, he says enacting his favorite piece of advice doesn’t cost anything: be good to everyone.

Cooperman, chairman and CEO of Omega Advisors, shared professional and personal advice with students on March 1 as part of the David and Lyn Silfen Leadership Series. Cooperman has worked in the financial industry for 45 years, including 25 years with Goldman Sachs, which he joined right out of business school. He retired as general partner of the firm in 1991 to organize a private investment partnership under the direction of Omega Advisors.

Cooperman attributes much of his success to surrounding himself with smart people — and treating his employees well. “Don’t ever be threatened by hiring strong people,” he said. “You should always hire people who are smarter than you.”

Cooperman served as a partner at Goldman Sachs for 15 years. For nine consecutive years, Institutional Investor named him the No. 1 portfolio strategist in its all-America research team survey.

Even now, Cooperman has no intention of slowing down. “I work as hard today as I did 45 years ago,” he said. “Whatever line of work you enter, go into it with total commitment, excitement, and involvement.”

Cooperman said his expertise and experience have shown him that the market follows a cyclical growth pattern. While he doesn’t think the United States will see another 2008-like decline in the near future, he did caution that economic growth could continue at such a modest pace that it could pose issues down the line.

“We need 3-percent growth to beat unemployment,” Cooperman explained. “Less than that can lead to social unrest. We’re heading toward a national referendum in this country, but I don’t know what the outcome will be.”

Cooperman knows from his own story that success is often found in the long-term, even when the short-term looks bleak. His position today is a far cry from humble beginnings as a self-described “poor boy from the Bronx.” Cooperman said that his rags-to-riches trajectory influences his approach to business and life: he places family, friends, ethics, and charity atop his list of values.

“When you achieve financial security, give back to those who are less fortunate,” Cooperman said. “When in a position to help others, do so. You can’t take it with you.”

As a chartered financial analyst, Cooperman is a senior member and past president of the New York Society of Security Analysts. He is also a member of Columbia Business School’s Board of Overseers.