Goldman Sachs' Abby Joseph Cohen Subject Of Intensely Awkward Times Interview

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Over the weekend, the NYT magazine ran a Q&A with Abby Joseph Cohen, president of the Global Markets group and senior investment strategist at Goldman Sachs. In the last two years, Goldman brass has been subject to more than its fair-share of grilling by the press. Some of the interviews have been reasonable- for instance, it's not entirely out of bounds to ask for a high-ranking bank executive's thoughts on the 2008 crisis- others the stuff of misinformed hacks who see it as their duty to wage a vendetta for the bloodthirsty public who want to blame everything on the financial community without taking any blame themselves. None have been as uncomfortable, hostile or delightfully awkward as Deborah Solomon's "Questions" with AJC. From Solomon's typically antagonistic and I don't want to call them kind of bitchy but okay, kind of bitchy questions to Cohen seemingly, amazingly, being entirely caught off-guard by the fact that someone from the NYT would ask her, a GS employee, about the crisis, and her almost complete inability to adapt to a more adversarial line of questioning than she was expecting despite having unquestionably been through some media training, this thing was so delightfully car-wreck you can't look away from-esque that few things could top it, except maybe seeing Lloyd Blankfein and his wife having a drawn out argument in front of Williams Sonoma about whether or not he's allowed to go to his nephew's bachelor party.

Everything starts off fine, with business about a lack of women in the senior ranks on Wall Street. JoCo answers the question as anyone probably would, by not really answering it at all because having a vagina does not necessarily make you an authority on why it's harder for women to obtain/maintain senior roles, or mean you know how to solve the problem, or mean you even care because some people don't. Remembering what she was there for- detonating a bomb that explodes not once but multiple times- and probably realizing she had a limited amount of time, Solomon gets right into the good stuff.

Do you have a Facebook page?
No, I don’t. I don’t think we should talk about this. No one here is supposed to be talking about Facebook.

Do you mean the fact that Goldman Sachs basically committed securities fraud, Solomon wonders?

You’re referring to the fact that Goldman Sachs just withdrew its offer to American clients to sell shares of Facebook, which could violate all kinds of rules.
I can’t comment.

Fair enough, Solomon figures, and moves onto a new topic on which she has not yet formed an opinion-- is it unethical and likely even criminal that your boss makes millions and if yes how do you justify his paycheck when he provides little to nothing to society?

Do you think it’s ethically justifiable that certain bankers earn $50 million or $60 million a year at a time when unemployment is nearly 10 percent and income inequality is widening in this country?
The income inequality that you refer to is apparent in many different places. You see it in athletics; you see it in entertainment; you see it in your industry as well. You take a look at the compensation of C.E.O.’s of major corporations, recognizing that those corporations have become much larger —they do business in many different parts around the world — and it’s very difficult to know how to properly benchmark the compensation.

You could say that entertainers at least provide entertainment, as opposed to a C.E.O. What is a C.E.O. contributing to society?
What about the C.E.O. of the New York Times Company?

What about her? She’s contributing a newspaper to society, which presumably keeps the American public better informed. It has been widely observed that the financial-services industry is not creating a product in the tangible sense.
It’s unfortunate that — I think that there is not a good understanding as to the role of financial intermediaries. For example, without banks it’s hard to see how businesses would get the money they need to grow and to hire new workers. Let’s not lose track of the fact that most people need to borrow in order to buy a home, and if you don’t have banks, that’s not going to happen.

A natural segue from here, practically anyone would agree, would be to ask the subject how it felt to get demoted. What it's like to take orders from someone younger and more nimble. If it feels as though he/she is being slowly phased out.

In 2008, David Kostin replaced you as Goldman’s chief forecaster. Did you see that as a demotion?
Certainly not. It was a generational thing. I hired David several years earlier, and the idea was that David would move into the position.

Finally, let's talk about the 2008 crisis. You may not have caused the entire thing with your own two hands, working late at night on it when everyone else had gone home but you didn't personally do anything to stop it, is that right? And if yes, does that weigh on your conscience? And finally, how do you sleep at night?

Do you feel any responsibility for the economic meltdown of 2008, which you failed to foresee?
That’s an odd question to be asking me.

I did not think that was part of what we were going to be talking about.

We’re talking about your life; there was a big meltdown in 2008. I’m wondering, how do you deal with that emotionally?
I would say that the causes of the meltdown were multiple, and it is a mistake to point a finger at any one entity. And that these problems took place not just in the United States. This was a very unfortunate confluence, bad decisions made by many different entities.

The only thing that could have made this better is if it were a video interview and the questions were posed by Jiminy Glick.

Questions For Abby Joseph Cohen [NYT]