August 11, 2005
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David Viniar '76: Making hoop dreams come true
Outstanding: David Viniar poses center court with members of the men's and women's basketball teams in the new athletic center
Trustee David A. Viniar '76 - Union summa cum laude, Harvard M.B.A., philanthropist and father of four - is the man behind the gleaming new $3.2 million Viniar Athletic Center.
He is also the chief financial officer of Goldman Sachs, one of the world's largest investment banking firms, with more than 20,000 employees - some 40 percent of whom work under him. He heads the firm's Operations, Technology and Finance Division, as well.
Back in 1976, though, he'd never heard of Goldman Sachs, nor could the former student-athlete (varsity, under Coach Bill Scanlon) dream he'd ever be point man for a new basketball pavilion some day. He was no MVP on the basketball court.
"I was no star; it's true. The nice word is substitute. The real word is ‘scrub,'" he says with an affectionate laugh, remembering his days as a lanky, 6-foot-1 Bronx boy dubbed "Bones" by the other players. "I loved the team and my teammates. I was one of the first ones to show up at practice, the last to leave."
The passion and energy he invested in basketball, Viniar insists, helped him get to the top of his career game.
"It all started with Union, with playing basketball at Union," he says, speaking by phone from his New York City offices. "The things I learned from the people there - teamwork, hard work, preparation, dedication, communication - are all things I've taken with me throughout my life. I'm thrilled to be able to give something back."
The NET RESULT
A Viniar family affair: David Viniar '76 is joined by his wife, Susan, and son, Jordan, at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the dedication of the Viniar Athletic Center.
In 1999, Viniar donated $1.2 million for the new athletic center to house the men's and women's NCAA Division III basketball teams and intramurals. This personal gift was followed, in 2003, by a grant of $2 million from the Viniar Family Foundation. The dream was realized.
The Viniar Athletic Center is the fourth home of Union basketball and the first built exclusively for the sport. In addition to a game court with seating for 1,000, this state-of-the-art building features two practice courts and the Joel Fisher '76 Hall of Fame Room. The room was a 50th birthday gift from Viniar to his former teammate.
"I still play basketball with Joel and Billy (Henson '76)," Viniar says. "My 10 best friends in the world are from Union, and half are from the basketball team."
Viniar first learned about Union College from a neighbor whose son had gone there.
"I was interested in math but also wanted to attend a strong liberal arts school," he says. "Union was geographically close enough so I could go home when I wanted to, but far enough away so that my parents couldn't show up unannounced."
At Union, the big-city boy who'd graduated from the Bronx High School of Science savored the small size, academic excellence, bucolic campus and close personal relationships, all of which he still appreciates every time he visits.
He majored in economics (he still keeps in touch with Professor Jim Kenney), volunteered with Big Brothers and was a member of Omnicron Delta Epsilon. A self-described "very slow" forward, he was on the team when the Dutchmen captured the ECAC's Upstate New York championship during the 1974-75 season.
"We were 20 and 4 both my sophomore and junior years," he recalls. "The old Memorial Field House would be packed for every game."
Giving back: David Viniar and Head Women's Basketball Coach Mary Ellen Burt gather courtside with a student.
After Union, Viniar headed to Harvard Business School. In 1980, the newly minted M.B.A. grad joined Goldman Sachs as an investment banker and began his steady rise there: he became a partner in 1992, a managing director in 1996, executive vice president and CFO in 1999.
In February 2004, when he was 48, Institutional Investor magazine named him among the "best CFOs in America," one of many accolades he's received that have praised his lack of pretense, geniality and straight-shooting communications style.
When asked about these various honors, he quickly rebounds with praise for others.
"There are many people I work with who are just as respected, and I am lucky to work with them. I understand that completely," he says.
"I deal with the smartest, best group of people I could have in one place. I've been here for 25 years, and if I could replay my career, I wouldn't change a thing. Goldman Sachs is recognized worldwide for its teamwork. The whole culture entails working together with other people. You do what's best for the team. I can't think of better training for that than Union basketball."
A Union Trustee since 1999, David Viniar says one lesson in economics that has really hit home lately is the rising cost of academia: "Colleges cost money. As expensive as tuition is, you can't run a school on tuition alone," he says. "If you want to be one of the finest institutions, it's critical to have dedicated alumni who give back. The more they give, the better off the school will be. This gets more and more true all the time."
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