Psychoanalyzing Goldman Sachs

If Goldman Sachs is a star in your investment universe, or even a remote planet you aspire to add to your universe, you ought to read the fascinating company profile (“I’m doing ‘God’s work’. Meet Goldman Sachs”) in The Sunday Times of Nov. 8.

The newspaper’s piece is heavy on pop psychology and a bit overawed by Goldman (in the mode of “Gee, these guys really have a lot of money and aren’t they smart!”). It delves into the bailout controversy and those evil bonuses. But it’s also full of anecdotes and insights into how Goldman works – and gets ahead. A few tidbits:

There’s no name plate on the building, no sign on the front desk and the armed policeman stationed outside isn’t saying who works there. There’s a good reason for the secrecy. Number 85 Broad Street, New York, NY 10004, is where the money is. All of it.

… “I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer,” [Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein] says. But then, he slowly begins to argue the case for modern banking. “We’re very important,” he says, abandoning self-flagellation. “We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It’s a virtuous cycle.” To drive home his point, he makes a remarkably bold claim. “We have a social purpose.”

… the bosses work hard to foster a “we’re in this together”, family-style approach. Others say it feels more like a cult, but they mean it as a compliment.

… Goldman staffers are also trained to “brain pick” contacts and clients harder than the other guy. “You ask what’s their best trade. How do they see the market,” says one. “You offer something in return, but you always come back with something. Then you feed it to colleagues …”

… with Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns off the street, Merrill Lynch a crippled shadow of its former self, and neither Citigroup nor UBS the forces of old, Goldman has a bigger slice of a growing pie. “We didn’t f*** up like the other guys. We’ve still got a balance sheet. So, now we’ve got a bigger and richer pot to piss in,” is how one Goldman banker puts it. Small wonder the bank is on course to set aside over $20 billion for salaries and bonuses.

Even the firm’s IRO comes into the story, commenting on the sublimation of individual egos to the corporate ethos:

Dane Holmes, 39, Goldman’s head of investor relations, is a 6ft 8in tall, 260lb former college basketball player. He looks like he could run straight through opponents — hell, through brick walls! — if he wanted to. But, he says: “That’s not the way Goldman works. You can have a great career in banking as an individual, but it won’t be here. The system weeds out those who can’t play nicely with others.”

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