CRF Blog

How an Undocumented Immigrant From Mexico Became a Star at Goldman Sachs

by Bill Hayes

In How an Undocumented Immigrant From Mexico Became a Star at Goldman Sachs, a feature story, Bloomberg Businessweek tells the unlikely story of Julissa Arce.

Sitting at her desk at Goldman Sachs, Julissa Arce is doing her best to keep it together. It’s September 2007. Her father is dying in Taxco de Alarcón, a small and hilly city in Mexico, and she has just hung up after a call from her sister with bad news. Arce stands and leaves the row where she and her colleagues create derivatives and market them to rich people. She walks down the hall, opens the bathroom door, and locks herself in a stall.

“Do not be anxious about anything,” she says under her breath, repeating Philippians 4:6. “Do not be anxious about anything.” Then she straightens, washes her face, and returns to work. Her banker colleagues can’t understand why she won’t get on a plane to see her father. Arce tells them that her family will keep her posted, and she might be leaving tomorrow. There is no crying on the private wealth management floor.

The overachievers at Goldman Sachs aren’t all the same. Some have been valedictorians, or Navy SEALs, or the sons or grandsons of the company’s bankers. Some will stop at nothing to amass a fortune; others are patient. And at least one was an undocumented immigrant. Arce, who turns 32 in March, owed her bright career on Wall Street to fake papers bought for a few hundred dollars in a stranger’s living room in Texas. Over seven years at Goldman Sachs, she rose from intern to analyst, associate, then vice president, later becoming a director at Merrill Lynch. When her father died in Taxco hours after the 2007 phone call, she didn’t leave to see her family because with her bogus papers she couldn’t have come back.

Arce was 11 when she moved to San Antonio from Mexico. Despite arriving with little English, she joined the basketball, softball, cross-country, and dance teams, the student council, a Renaissance club, and two honors societies within a few years. She’s still intense. She likes The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends & Influence People and is eager to explain, without irony, why they’re illuminating. She does CrossFit and can hold 150 pounds behind her head. “You have to have a very A-type personality,” she says about weightlifting, sipping a beer in Ulysses, a bar three blocks south of Wall Street. “This workout — it’s not going to win. I’m going to win.”

She didn’t have to adjust to Goldman Sachs’s culture of undisguised ambition because she embodied it. [more]