Stephanie Cohen is turbocharging the idea pipeline at Goldman Sachs

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If you ask Stephanie Cohen how she got to Goldman Sachs, one of the first things she will tell you is that she was a competitive figure skater when she was young.

Jumps, spins, footwork — Cohen could do it all. She hit the ice before school, at 5:45 a.m., and then again after school. Like many young figure skaters, she had dreams of someday performing in the Olympics.

Cohen advanced far enough in her sport that, in order to compete at a higher level, she would have to move away from home in suburban Chicago. She was in high school at the time and decided against it, opting instead to be a “normal kid” and go to college.

But more than 20 years later, there are still lessons from skating that Cohen — chief strategy officer at Goldman and one of the company’s rising stars — draws on in her daily life.

“Standing in the middle of the ice with the judges behind you and the audience in front of you, I think there are few things in life that feel like that,” Cohen said.

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Cohen has once again stepped into the spotlight, though in a much different way. In July, she was appointed to Goldman’s management committee, making her the youngest executive in the 33-person group and one of only seven women.

Her appointment, which made waves in the industry, reflects the importance of the chief strategy officer role within Goldman. For instance, Cohen’s predecessor, Stephen Scherr, was tasked with getting Marcus, the company’s online consumer bank, up and running. (Scherr went on to become head of consumer and commercial banking, and took over as chief financial officer on Oct. 1.)

Cohen’s charge, by contrast, is to build a division that evaluates M&A opportunities for Goldman and also helps different business lines — such as wealth management and consumer banking — work more closely together. The division will support the company’s previously stated goal of adding $5 billion in revenue over the next three years.

When David Solomon and Harvey Schwartz, the company’s former co-presidents, gave her the job, they made it clear that she would have the freedom to figure out the details on her own. It was announced in July that Solomon would become CEO, effective Oct. 1; Schwartz left the company in March.

“When I got this role, I got a blank sheet of paper,” said Cohen, who debuts on our Most Powerful Women in Finance this year. “They said, ‘Go figure it out.’”

After officially taking the helm in January, one of Cohen’s first moves was to go on what she called a “listening tour.” She spoke with Goldman employees about new ideas, and also sought advice from strategy executives outside the company.

In March, Cohen also launched GS Accelerate, an internal incubator for new business ideas. All of the company’s 40,000 employees were invited to submit ideas, which included from new ways to generate revenue and to collaborate with other departments. Her team received roughly 1,000 submissions and is in the process of deciding which ideas to fund.

The Accelerate initiative, in many ways, illustrates the fresh approach to leadership that Cohen is bringing to Goldman’s highest ranks.

“I don’t spend all of my time just talking to the division heads or the senior people at the firm,” Cohen said. “I really try to build relationships around the entire firm, with people who are close to clients, and really see where the world is headed.”

This year the women in the rankings were asked to select a mentee who they believe could be one of the Most Powerful Women of the future. Read about one of Cohen's mentees, Samantha Spilkin, here.

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