David Solomon ’84 and Thomas Tull ’92 gave a Hamilton audience a glimpse of their first-hand insights into the ways new technologies have revolutionized business and finance and what might come next. In a relaxed and wide-ranging conversation in Wellin Hall on Tuesday night, the two former government majors talked about the vast technological advances since their undergraduate days, affirmed the power of a liberal arts education, spoke about their own careers, and took questions from the audience.
Solomon is chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. Tull, who founded and ran Legendary Entertainment, is chairman and CEO of Pittsburgh-based investment-holding company Tulco. Both men are Hamilton trustees.
Here are three take-aways from their discussion.
The Hamilton Network
Tull: “It had a big impact on me, first at Legendary. Because of Hamilton I got to know A.G. Lafley*, who I argue is one of the best managers in the last 40 years, at Procter & Gamble. A.G. came on my board of directors and provided incredibly valuable insight at meetings and beyond. And then when there were signs that I felt like, ‘I think the business is changing; I think I ’d like to sell my company,’ I had the opportunity to call David [Solomon] and ask not only for his advice, but he flew in and met with me and my board at the time he was running investment banking at Goldman Sachs. That’s a pretty big thing to be able to do, and without Hamilton I ’m not sure either one would have happened.” (*Lafley ’69 was president, CEO, and chairman of Procter & Gamble and is a Hamilton trustee.)
Disruption in the Finance Industry
Solomon: “The big place where there is going to be really significant disruption around financial services is the way we all, as individuals, deal with financial institutions and our financial affairs — and the ability to [manage] our financial affairs and financial wellness and information in an integrated digital platform. This is very different from the experience of dealing with people and bank branches and the kind of disjointed approach between — whether it’s borrowing money, saving money, protecting or insuring investing — it’s been relatively siloed. There’s going to be a much more integrated, digital experience. There are going to be players that are going to be big, legacy players in those businesses, and there will be other business platforms that find ways to control the activity in those businesses, too. I think that’s going to be very significant in the next 15, 20 years.”
Tull: “The basic thesis is that in the middle of Tulco we have Tulco Labs, which is a bunch of Ph.D.s in data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence who work with our business analysts. We find sectors and then, within those sectors, management teams running companies that we think are really interesting and ripe for innovation. So if we end up buying the company, Labs will go in and fundamentally change the way that they do business and hopefully fundamentally change the value proposition of the company.”
Impact of Artificial Intelligence
Tull: “There can be fairly profound implications, I think, both in terms of the technology itself, how much more efficient we can be. In terms of society you are going to have implications across what folks’ jobs entail, between person-machine interface. There are going to be implications across policy writing and government, business practices. I think we ’re put in a really interesting position with China in terms of their rule-sets versus ours, and the competitiveness and the race to be the world’s leader in artificial intelligence. And then socially, there are all kinds of implications. [At Tulco] we think about this every day. There are massive jumps in productivity and other things, but there are certainly going to be splashes that are made from that, some of which I don’t even think we ’ve thought about yet.”
Digital technology and modes of thinking are changing the world and Hamilton prepares its graduates to work effectively in this new environment.
Solomon: “There’s no question the forces Thomas are talking about are real, and the pace of change in some places is accelerating. You’re going to see, you’re going to hear, lots of debate around the effects it has on labor force, job opportunities, how society functions. I ’m of the belief that the change in the way that machines and automation can anticipate and perform certain tasks will accelerate. But I’m not as sure that the impact on labor force will be as dramatic as some speculate. I think we create new platforms, new opportunities, and we create new jobs that come out of that. At some point I think people are going to need different skills, different training, different evolution to be productive in society.”