Thursday, July 30, 2009

Heidi Moore's refreshing take on Goldman Sachs

here. Some excerpts to wet your whistle:

The basic rule of Goldman culture is that the company manages its people exactly the opposite of how every other Wall Street firm does. It's not that Goldman doesn't have its egos—it surely does—but as a matter of management, the firm also has several safeguards in place to keep rampant egos from destroying decision-making. Another thing that makes Goldman different from other firms is not that all Goldman bankers agree but that they are free—and, in fact, encouraged—to disagree.


The difference is that Goldman Sachs bankers can disagree only before decisions are made; once all opinions are solicited, consensus is reached, and decisions are made, the decision is one made by the firm, on behalf of everyone, and it's final. Mostly, other Wall Street firms—from partnerships to giant investment banks—are hotbeds of infighting, and you need only talk to a few bankers before you find evidence that they undermine management decisions, subvert prominent colleagues, or openly ignore one another. Even worse, at many firms, bankers or traders will attempt to hide information about bad deals or trades until they can "fix" them and preserve year-end bonuses, as Brian Hunter was alleged to have done at Amaranth. At Goldman, management is like the Godfather: They want the bad news first. And daily. On a Wall Street where bankers are known to be terrible managers, Goldman also starts training its bankers to be managers early. Every Goldman banker has to do at least a year as chief of staff for one group or another. The firm usually shifts successful people among several areas to make sure they get a well-rounded view of the firm's businesses. At one point, Henry Paulson ran not only investment banking but also corporate and real estate banking.


The key to the Goldman culture, its acolytes say, seems to be reciprocity. That's unusual in an industry in which power, or "hand," can sometimes be defined by the ability to take advantage of as many people—colleagues and clients—for as long as possible without getting caught. At many other Wall Street firms, bankers often perceive themselves to be at war with their firms; every bonus season brings negotiations about whether profitability comes from the banker's own work or "the platform," meaning the brand name of the bank. "Ripping someone's face off," or screwing them on a trade, is a common phenomenon on Wall Street. But Goldman, these people say, is refreshingly simple: "If you take care of us, we'll take care of you." And then they deliver. It may sound like the mafia, but you can see why many would rather buy into that idea than risk having their work taken advantage of. It's amazing, these Goldmanites say, what a little incentive can do.

So you can see why Goldman alums sometimes don't do very impressively once they leave Goldman. They find themselves in positions where no one questions their premises and it's hard to get good feedback and pushback. (This is why Paulson employed telephone banks of analysts to call Wall Street to solicit opinions.) Outside of the Goldman womb of debate and ideas, bankers and traders lack perspective. You might say that no Goldman is an island.

The blog is peppered with my prevailing theory on Goldman. (Hint: It's about the smartest Goldman employee ever, who is no longer with the firm).

No comments:

Post a Comment