Goldman Names a New Chief. Don’t Expect Big Changes.
Posted July 17, 2018 6:57 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK — During his weekly staff meeting at Goldman Sachs’ Manhattan headquarters on Tuesday morning, the firm’s head of digital finance noted that its president, David M. Solomon, had just been anointed the next chief executive.
“This is a seminal moment,” the digital-finance executive, Harit Talwar, told his team of hundreds of employees. “I’m sure you have lots of questions.”
There were not any. So he turned the floor over to a colleague who discussed the benefits of operating customer call centers for additional hours on Sundays.
For a company that has had just nine chief executives in its 149-year history, the announcement that Solomon would succeed Lloyd C. Blankfein in the top job on Oct. 1 marked an important milestone for the firm. Yet inside and outside the bank, it was anticlimactic — a reflection of the fact that the succession plan has been on public display for months and the expectation that the bank’s strategy will not change radically under Solomon.
“There’s not going to be a revolution, there’s going to be evolution at Goldman Sachs,” Solomon told The New York Times. “We’re in a good place. Our business works, we’re doing well.”
Solomon’s priorities are already clear, after he helped craft a plan last year to rev things up at Goldman. Along with his co-president at the time, Harvey M. Schwartz, Solomon moved to expand Marcus — the consumer-lending platform that Talwar runs — as well as broaden investment-banking services into new markets in the United States and offer additional services to corporations, including managing their cash.
Goldman has gone through waves of tumult in recent decades. A closely held partnership that specialized in providing discreet financial advice to powerful institutions, the bank morphed into a publicly traded, risk-taking powerhouse whose traders were known for pushing the envelope. Since the financial crisis, the pendulum has been swinging in the other direction. As its securities-trading business became less profitable, Goldman returned to its client-focused roots.
That is the world that Solomon, a longtime investment banker known for his ability to charm both employees and clients, comes from.
The need to refocus on clients has been clear from Goldman’s recent financial results. The combination of post-crisis regulations and new technologies has gutted the trading business and blunted Goldman’s competitive edge. Investment banking, while Goldman dominated in market share, has never been the engine of its profits. And its investment management business, despite substantial growth, is still catching up to its competitors.
So Goldman has emphasized the opportunities created by new technology and jumped into consumer lending and deposit-gathering by starting Marcus.
The initiative would have been unimaginable at the start of Blankfein’s reign in 2006, when Goldman prided itself on being a hard-nosed Wall Street aggressor. But since then, the bank has embraced the consumer business. It believes its brand and blank slate give it an advantage in figuring out how to tailor — and make money from — loans and other financial services to people who previously would not have been Goldman clients.
“I would say that the consumer business has moved to us,” Blankfein said. “It’s become mathy, algorithmic, platform, distribution, digital, all the things we’ve been historically good at.”
When Solomon takes over, the biggest changes will most likely be attitudinal. For example, Goldman executives say that Solomon — who moonlights as a dance-music DJ — wants to improve the bank’s financial transparency to help analysts, investors and the news media better understand how the bank makes money. He may hold the firm’s first-ever “investor day” in 2019. He also has vowed to dramatically increase the number of women the bank hires and promotes.
Inside Goldman on Tuesday, there were a few modest signs that a power change was afoot.
The firm held its quarterly meeting of managing directors first thing in the morning, and Solomon choked up when he thanked Blankfein for the promotion, according to people who were there. In front of a standing-room-only crowd, the two men, who more often make sarcastic jokes about their baldness and dissimilar heights, hugged.
Elsewhere in the skyscraper, executives gathered to field analyst and investor questions about the leadership change and the bank’s second-quarter results. It was not until 40 minutes into the conference call that someone asked about what will be different under Solomon.
Marty Chavez, the bank’s chief financial officer, brushed aside such questions, describing the announcement as nothing more than “another step in the unfolding of the board’s plan.” He added that “Lloyd and David and all of us have worked together for years and decades.”
On Wednesday morning, it will be back to normal for Solomon, who remains the No. 2 executive for another few months. First on his to-do list: speaking to Goldman’s summer interns.