Kimberly Ritrievi '80, Retired managing director, Goldman Sachs
Why I chose chemical engineering
When I entered Princeton in 1976, my goal was to attend medical school after graduation. Majoring in chemical engineering seemed a natural choice since I excelled at and enjoyed high school math and science. Chemical engineering had the promise of a well-established professional career as well as basic scientific research opportunities.
My chemical engineering class was just 43 students, huge by the department's usual standards, but nevertheless a tightly knit group. We were able to form close relationships with many faculty members. Our thermodynamics professor, Dick Toner, was a minister -- quite obvious by his lecturing style and his office hours, which covered all types of problems, thermodynamics or otherwise. Professor Bob Bratzler, my freshman adviser, ultimately left academia for more entrepreneurial pursuits, and when his company was ready to go public, I was his first call. And our senior adviser, Professor Ernie Johnson, always helped with all sorts of career and graduate school advice.
Why focus on the personal characteristics of the chemical engineering faculty? Because it follows that if the faculty forged personal relationships with students, the teaching and research-related relationships had to have been enormously rich -- and they were! The department's relatively small size fostered the highest level of personal interaction between the faculty and students. There were no barriers to getting what you needed as a student, from the mundane help on a particularly tough problem set to the more complex exploration of opportunities for senior thesis research and what to do after graduation.
Prepared for any change
My interest in the research I did during my undergraduate years ultimately led me away from the prospect of medical school toward a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, which I earned at MIT, focusing on energy-related research. Once again, I changed goals while in school and decided to work in industrial research after graduation. I realized that a management degree would open more opportunities over the long term in the chemical industry, so I also earned a master's degree at the Sloan School of Management before leaving MIT in 1985.
Armed with my academic degrees, ARCO Chemical's corporate research lab was my first stop. As a specialty chemical development engineer, I designed small-scale production processes for new products that the chemists made on the lab bench. However, joining a fat and happy oil company in the dawning age of corporate raiders guaranteed change, which happened fast.
Within a year, ARCO's specialty chemical division was sold. Many of my friends from business school, now working in the financial industry, thought my combination of technical education, business school degree, and industry experience would make me a unique equity research analyst. PaineWebber hired me in 1987 as a specialty chemical analyst -- once again, a change of course. Helped by my technical background, I became the top-ranked analyst in my industry within 10 years. I absolutely loved being an analyst. Three firms and 14 years later, I was asked by my boss, the director of U.S. research at Goldman Sachs, to take over leadership of the department.
Twenty-nine years after heading to Princeton as a freshman chemical engineering major destined for medical school, I am now a retired managing director of a global investment bank planning the next phase of my life. If my academic and career story has a punch line, it is this: Don't sacrifice the present for the perceived future. Love what you do -- and for a student, that's your academic major and your research. If you don't love the present, change it. You have nothing to fear.