A former Goldman exec who wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to work out explains why it isn’t a struggle

Marc Spilker.

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Marc Spilker.
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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • Some people are just wired to wake up early in the morning, according to Marc Spilker, a former partner at Goldman Sachs who’s now chairman at Chiron Investment Management.
  • Spilker insists that it was always easy to get up early and that even in college, he was one of the first to leave the party so that he could wake up early to study.
  • Spilker says he usually goes to the gym in the wee hours and catches up on email, which he dispatches in a style that also smacks of brutal efficiency.

Many corporate executives and successful leaders wake up before sunrise to get a jump on the day. Many, like Bill Clinton, tell of how they had to train themselves early in their careers to function on less sleep. All suggest the practice is worth the difficulty for the promise of success.

Not Marc Spilker. The former Goldman Sachs partner and now chairman of a fast-growing asset manager says he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. most mornings simply because he’s wired that way. His routine is not the result of grueling training or copious cups of coffee, but learning his biorhythms early on and knowing enough to play to his strength.

“I can’t explain it,” Spilker said in a recent interview with Business Insider. “Everyone is always asking me, ‘What are you doing up in the morning?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m relaxed. My brain is clear. It’s functioning.’ I hate getting to the office with a mountain of work to do. So instinctually, it always felt good to me. It felt productive.”

Spilker has 30 years of Wall Street success to back up his claims. After a few years spent in Chicago, Spilker joined Goldman Sachs. Over 20 years there, he rose to be co-head of its asset-management arm with a position on the firm’s management committee. In 2010, he left Goldman for Apollo Management, where as president he helped the private-equity firm sells share to public. And in 2015, Spilker started Chiron Investment Management with two ex-Goldman colleagues. It now manages roughly $2.7 billion.

Spilker said even in college at the University of Pennsylvania he knew he was a morning person.

“You have to listen to what your body and mind are saying to you,” Spilker said. “If I had to study for a test, and it was ten o’clock at night, I struggled. But if it were eight o’clock in the morning, it was like, ‘Oh, this is easy.’ So instinctually it was like, I’ve got to go with that because that’s what works for me.”

Read more: Here’s the morning routine of a CEO who wakes up at 4:45 a.m.

He carried that thinking into his first job in finance, at a Chicago derivatives trading house known as O’Connor. As a young trader, Spilker would volunteer for the London trading shift, which meant getting into the office at midnight and working through the morning. He’d also work the Japan shift, which meant coming into the office at 6 p.m. and working through the night. He found that harder, he said.

These days, Spilker says he uses his early mornings to work out at the gym or process email before heading home to have breakfast with his family. He brings a similarly no-nonsense process to email, too, deciding with each one whether to delete it, process it, or save it for later.

He’ll then wait for that last bucket to fill up so that he can deal with the saved emails all at once. But if they hang around for too many days, Spilker says it gnaws at the edges of his consciousness.

“Sometimes it takes me a couple days to get to, but that will bug me,” he said. “And then one morning at four o’clock, I’ll get up, and my brain will be on fire, and then I’ll just wipe it all out and be done with it.”