Jewish Ping-Pong Tournament Participant / Sixth-Year Goldman Sachs Vice President Is Looking For His Next Challenge

I just. Gillian Tett has a book called "Fool's Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan and How Wall St. Greed Corrupted Its Bold Dream and Created a Financial Catastrophe." It's a pretty good book about the creation and rise to prominence of synthetic CDOs, and I'm sure the subtitle isn't her fault, but it's always bothered me, because how exactly was the "bold dream" of creating synthetic CDOs "corrupted" into ... like ... selling more synthetic CDOs? If you think synthetic CDOs are a Bad Thing, they were a Bad Thing at their creation. This is not an orphanage that was taken over by bandits and turned into a source of black-market organs. It was a financial derivative that was sold to people looking to buy financial derivatives. Similarly, Greg Smith spent twelve years flogging equity derivatives to "two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia" and is just now discovering that they're designed to make money for his employer? I imagine his contacts at these hedge funds reading his op-ed today and being like "holy shit, Goldman was trying to make money off of us?" Wait no I don't. I'm pretty sure they wanted to make money too.*
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I just.

Gillian Tett has a book called "Fool's Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan and How Wall St. Greed Corrupted Its Bold Dream and Created a Financial Catastrophe." It's a pretty good book about the creation and rise to prominence of synthetic CDOs, and I'm sure the subtitle isn't her fault, but it's always bothered me, because how exactly was the "bold dream" of creating synthetic CDOs "corrupted" into ... like ... selling more synthetic CDOs? If you think synthetic CDOs are a Bad Thing, they were a Bad Thing at their creation. This is not an orphanage that was taken over by bandits and turned into a source of black-market organs. It was a financial derivative that was sold to people looking to buy financial derivatives.

Similarly, Greg Smith spent twelve years flogging equity derivatives to "two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia" and is just now discovering that they're designed to make money for his employer? I imagine his contacts at these hedge funds reading his op-ed today and being like "holy shit, Goldman was trying to make money off of us?" Wait no I don't. I'm pretty sure they wanted to make money too.*

I actually think that the equity derivatives business - whose fields Greg and I both tilled, though in different bits of it and I don't think we ran into each other - is an interesting one to think about in the context in which Greg sort of failed to think about it. A starting point in my thinking is that it is pretty zero-sum. Whereas if I sell you a stock and take my commission and the stock goes up you are like "yay" and I am like "yay" and the issuer is like "yay" and we're all friends and go golfing with each other, if I sell you a call option and I am a dealer and am replicating it then there are basically two possibilities which are (1) I replicated it more cheaply than I sold it for or (2) not. In the case of (1) you would have - in a sense - been better off not buying it (and maybe replicating it yourself by like buying stock); in the case of (2) I would have been better off not selling it. This is not exactly right! Dealers are probably mostly better at replicating than clients are, there are legal things, portfolio effects, blah blah blah. But it's not a terrible first approximation if you want to feel bad about selling equity derivatives. I always had this nagging sense that selling a client a 60-delta call for X% edge was an X% rip-off because they could have just bought 60 deltas of stock on their own and saved X.**

But clients can figure that out too: even the "muppet" clients (Greg's word) can usually bring themselves to ask "well why don't I just buy stock instead?," and this guy was dealing with various numbers of the thingiest things on the planet - the whole wide planet! - so presumably they had even better questions. And the answer to those questions can't really be "because we enjoy having money and would like you to give us some." It needs to be a story, a story about how the derivative works for the client. So when Greg says:

I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

That just rings false. Now I'm sure not one single minute is spent asking questions like "how can we teach this client to grow as a husband and father?" or "how can we improve this client's widget-manufacturing supply chain management?" But if sales people aren't asking "how can we offer this client products that they will think offer them a good risk/reward proposition," then they are not likely to get many clients. And, in my experience, the best way to get clients to think that your products offer them a good risk/reward proposition is by offering them a good risk/reward proposition. Banking on client stupidity is not much of a long-term strategy.

That's, like, your job as a salesman: to think about how to build trades that will get your clients to do them and give you lots of money. You can talk about that in terms of "helping clients," or you can talk about it in terms of "making the most possible money off of them," but they're the same thing. The successful salespeople feel that intuitively: whatever your vague musings about zero-sum-ness, they really - and plausibly - think that their job is to find win/win solutions that help clients and make money for the firm. Those who have trouble with that quit in the New York Times.

Also, just, this. I mean, this:

My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

Maybe if he'd gotten the Rhodes, or won a gold medal for regular tennis at the goyish Olympics, he'd have made MD and would still have a job.***

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs [NYT]
Related / endorsed: Bankers versus bitching rights, a graphical representation [FTAV]
Earlier: Resignation Letter Reveals Goldman Sachs Is In The Business Of Making Money, Hires People Who Don’t Know How To Tie Their Shoes

* Also, like, not to be too much of a dick, but, the fact that this epiphany hit Greg Smith after twelve years on the job may explain why he's apparently at least a sixth-year VP, which to me suggests that he was at a dead end. And everyone's all "huge Goldman EXECUTIVE (or 'partner' or 'golden boy') and HEAD of blahbittyblahblahs resigns!!!" No. He's an "executive director," which sounds nice but which at Goldman is just the term used outside of the US for VPs. And that is quite a few rungs from "partner."

As for being the head of "the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa," one of my very favorite things about banking is that you're pretty much the head of something as soon as you walk in the door, because clients like to deal with the heads of things. I had a similarly impressive pseudo-title ("executive director and head of the North American X business for Y industry") when my "business" consisted of me and one analyst. [UPDATE: Amazingly, Greg's "business" consisted of him and zero analysts.] I never went to a first client meeting where I wasn't introduced as the head of whatever we were talking about that day. Sometimes I introduced the analyst as the head of something or other. And sometimes I'd go to meetings with senior bankers who didn't really know who I was and they'd introduce me as like "this is Matt, he runs our global capital markets business." What did it hurt?

** I consoled myself with tax structuring, which is zero-sum in a different way.

*** Random question: will he lose his undelivered RSUs? Will GS enforce a nondisparage against someone who clearly has access to the press? You can see why this might be of interest to me.

Related

Goldman Sachs Can Fix This

A week ago today, a man named Greg Smith resigned from Goldman Sachs. As a sort of exit interview, Smith explained his reasons for departing the firm in a New York Times Op-Ed entitled "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs." The equity derivatives VP wrote that Goldman had "veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say I identify with what it stands for." Smith went on to note that whereas the Goldman of today is "just about making money," the Goldman he knew as a young pup "revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients." It was a culture that made him "love working for the firm" and its absence had stripped him of "pride and belief" he once held in the place. While claiming that Goldman Sachs has become virtually unrecognizable from the institution founded by Marcus (Goldman) and Samuel (Sachs), which put clients ahead of its own interests, is hardly a new argument, there was something about Smith's words that gave readers a moment's pause. He was so deeply distraught over the differences between the Goldman of 2012 and the Goldman of 2000 (when he was hired) that suggested...more. That he'd seen things. Things that had made an imprint on his soul. Things that he couldn't forget. Things that he held up in his heart for how Goldman should be and things that made it all the more difficult to ignore when it failed to live up to that ideal. Things like this:

Why I Left Goldman Sachs, Chapter Three: "My Alleged Competition"

In the ping pong game of life, even your most trusted blade can't swat away an opponent with super-sized balls.---Unknown On Monday morning, Grand Central Publishing will release Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story, a memoir penned by former Goldman employee Greg Smith, based on his op-ed for the New York Times entitled, "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs." When Smith's piece came out last March, few if any senior executives inside the bank were pleased, in part because it came as a total shock. No one at Goldman had known Smith was planning to have his resignation letter printed in the paper. No one had known he had issues with the firm's supposedly new and singular focus on making money at all costs. No one, at least at the top, even knew who Greg was. Obviously all this left the bank at a competitive disadvantage in terms of fighting back and for the time being, Smith appeared to be handing Goldman its ass. Getting cocky, even. Perhaps thinking to himself, "When all of this is over, I could be named the new CEO of Goldman Sachs."  As anyone who has ever won a bronze medal in ping-pong at the Maccabiah Games will tell you, however, winners are determined by best of threes. And that anyone going to to the table with Goldman Sachs should be prepared for things to get ugly. Which is why it should not have come as a surprise that after getting hydrated, regrouping, and coming up with a plan of attack, Goldman kicked off round two with a delightfully bitchy, exceptionally underminery comment to the press re: Smith's tale being no more interesting than that of a disgruntled first-year analyst who thinks he's got a story to tell and then followed it up with a leak of Greg's less than flattering performance reviews to the Financial Times. What probably did come as a surprise, however, was today's breathtakingly aggressive Bloomberg piece re: Mr. Smith wherein: * He's described as a petulant child with unrealistic expectations for his career advancement * It's suggested, by saying outright, that his op-ed complaints about the firm were nothing more than him having "an axe to grind" on account of not advancing beyond vice-president, as demonstrated by the fact that as of 2010, he was happy with the firm, wanted to become a managing director and had no intention of leaving * People are left to connect the dots re: Smith and lady bosses ("Goldman Sachs put a different managing director in charge of Smith as it considered giving him a sales job. The report says he 'found the transition difficult and considered the female MD who ran the desk a peer at not his boss") Relatedly, as we head into the final game of the set with a tie score, the following is a tremendous anecdote from Chapter 3 of Why I Left Goldman Sachs involving an actual game of ping-pong, John Whitehead's Business Principles, and the lessons one learns as a first-year at GS about allowing a client to enjoy the sweet taste of victory despite knowing full-well you could wipe the floor with him or her and bring home the gold, if you so chose. After hearing of my past sports success, Rudy immediately fired off an e-mail to Ted Simpson, saying "Springbok will be representing the New York desk at the Ping-Pong tournament." Simpson wrote back: "Who's Springbok?" In response, Rudy e-mailed him a photograph of a springbok, the actual animal. You had to be there, but I thought it was hilarious. So I flew to Boston on Goldman's tab-- the justification being that while there, I could meet with Prakash and talk Israeli tech stocks-- and met Ted Simpson. […] The backstory of the annual Goldman Sachs Ping-Pong Tournament, Ted told me, was that the same guy, an Indian portfolio manager from Putnam, had won it five years in a row, and that winning the tournament was the highlight of the guy's year. But from the moment I walked into Jillian's- a pleasure palace replete with free-flowing alcohol, spicy chicken wings, bowling alleys, plasma TVs, and dozens of Foosball, pool and table tennis tables-- and saw my alleged competition practicing, I knew he didn't have a chance against me. I'm not trying to brag. But competitive table tennis, like every sport, has its levels. Any number of internationally ranked players could have (and had) made mincemeat out of me, yet simply put, the Putnam portfolio manager (let's call him PPM) and I were not in the same league. I was confident he wouldn't be able to return my serve, and if it came to a rally, he wouldn't be prepared for the kind of sever spins I could put on the ball. I could see he was a very good basement player, nothing more. I could have beaten him in my sleep. The tournament draw was posted. Thirty-two people, and PPM was seeded number one. Since the organizers knew I was good, I was the number two seed. Play began. I was rusty-- I'd been working such long hours since joining Goldman that I'd barely picked up a paddle-- but soon I remembered my form. And nobody gave me a serious challenge. PPM and I plowed through our halves of the draw, heading toward an inevitable confrontation. I watched a couple of his matches. PPM's opponents were easy pickings: recreational players dressed in jeans and polo shirts. And PPM, looking very professional in his special sneakers and running shorts, T-shirt, and headband, was mopping them up. Of course he'd brought his own paddle-- a serious player would never show up without his own stick. And of course I'd brought along my trusty Donic Appelgren blade, red on one side, black on the other. Ted Simpson and I were looking on as PPM took down another player. "So what are we thinking here?" I asked Ted. "I"m going to meet this guy in the final, and if play properly, I'm going to beat him twenty-one to two. What' the right course of action?" Ted looked thoughtful. "Well," he said after a moment, "this guy is one of our biggest clients; he takes this stuff really seriously." At that moment, PPM whaled away at a forehand that just clipped the table edge and skipped off, unreturnable; he raised his arms in victory. "We need to make it a close game," Ted said. "Get some good rallies going." I told Ted I had been thinking along the same lines. That I should beat PPM, because it was obvious I could beat him, but that I should keep it close. Not embarrass him. I knew how to do that, I said. You just make a few unforced errors here and there. "Hmm," Ted said. "You have a different idea?" I asked. "Well, the guy is one of our biggest clients," he repeated, givingme a significant look. "You're suggesting--?" "Maybe," he said. And then: "Watch for my signal." I gave Ted a look-- he was smiling-- and took my Donic out of its case. The match began. A crowd had gathered to watch us play. Everybody was having fun-- except for my opponent, who was taking the match very seriously. When I won a few points in the early going, I could see him getting upset. So I eased up. I could have really turned on the heat, hit some crazy shots past him that would have whizzed by his ear-- but I didn't. My whole plan was to keep the ball in play. To give the crowd a good show, instead of slicing the ball back when PPM smashed it at me, I would lob it up for him so he could smash it again. Smash, lob. Smash, lob. Oohs and has from the onlookers. After three or four exchanges like this, I'd either hit it into the net or give PPM such an easy pop-up that he could make a legitimate put-away on me. I was letting him show off for his fellow clients a little bit. He loved it. The matches were best two out of three, and my plan was to squeak out a win in the second game, then maybe win by just a little more in the third. But when I was ahead 15 to 12 in the second, Ted Simpson caught my eye. He gave a little shake of the head, and then, using his left hand as a shield, gave me a quick thumbs-down with his right. I'm quite sure nobody but Ted and I knew what was going on. I nodded. After all, wasn't putting the client first number one of John Whitehead's 14 Business Principles? The Putnam portfolio manger was very magnanimous in victory-- as i was in defeat. Greg Smith Quit Goldman Sachs After 'Unrealistic' Pitch For $1M [Bloomberg] Earlier: Greg Smith: Goldman Sachs Interns Taught Harsh But Important Lessons By Demanding But Affable Managing Directors; What Else Does Goldman Sachs Have In Store For Greg Smith?; Goldman Sachs Unimpressed By Sophomoric Writing Efforts Of Former Employee; Resignation Letter Reveals Goldman Sachs Is In The Business Of Making Money, Hires People Who Don’t Know How To Tie Their Shoes; Jewish Ping-Pong Tournament Participant / Sixth-Year Goldman Sachs Vice President Is Looking For His Next Challenge; Goldman Sachs Accuser Greg Smith (Might Have) Lied About That Which He Holds Most Sacred

Which Goldman Sachs CEO "Was Known To Challenge Subordinates To Impromptu Wrestling Matches"?

Was it: a) Lloyd Blankfein b) Hank Paulson c) Jon Corzine d) Stephen Friedman e) Gus Levy f) John Whitehead g) John Weinberg h) Sidney Weinberg i) Marcus Goldman j) other Hopefully you answered D, Stephen Friedman, as that was the answer we were looking for, per a New York Observer piece on financial services employees who feel more comfortable in a onesie than a suit. “I wrestled as well as I could wrestle, and if I lost, that was my own fault,” KKR’s Henry Kravis once told an interviewer about what he learned from wrestling. “I had nobody to blame but myself.” Apollo Global Management co-founder Josh Harris wrestled at the University of Pennsylvania before deciding that making his 118-pound weight class didn’t allow either the time or calories for the old “college experience.” Former Goldman Sachs chief executive officer Stephen Friedman, an AAU champion who wrestled at Cornell, was known to challenge subordinates to impromptu matches. Former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain was a college wrestler, though Mr. Novogratz pointed out that Mr. Thain, now CIT Group CEO, wrestled at the Division III level. Fortress Chieftain Mike Novogratz Wrestles with Olympians, Youth…and Wall Street [NYO]

Goldman Sachs Unimpressed By Sophomoric Writing Efforts Of Former Employee

Back in March, a young man named Greg Smith published an Op-Ed in the Times called "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs." Greg wrote that despite joining a firm that, in the beginning, cared about "teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by clients" and not "just about making money," he'd ultimately come to be sickened by a place that, twelve years later, he couldn't even recognize. A place that, on Lloyd Blankfein and Gary Cohn's watch, had lost its way. A place that, he'd come to see, was devoid of any sort of morals, whatsoever. A place that needed to take a long hard look at what it had become. A place that, he predicted, was not long for this earth. Because unlike Smith, whose proudest moments in life-- "being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist and winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics," respectively-- involved hard work and no short cuts, "Goldman Sachs today," Smith wrote, is all "about the shortcuts and not enough about achievements." Goldman Sachs 2.o, one might say, hasn't worked an honest day in its life and that didn't feel right to Smith anymore. The piece, which was said to come as shock to Goldman, did not please many people on the inside, nor did the $1.5 million deal Smith scored shortly thereafter to write Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story, out October 22. Here's how Greg's publisher describes WILGS: From the shenanigans of his summer internship during the technology bubble to Las Vegas hot tubs and the excesses of the real estate boom; from the career lifeline he received from an NFL Hall of Famer during the bear market to the day Warren Buffett came to save Goldman Sachs from extinction-Smith will take the reader on his personal journey through the firm, and bring us inside the world's most powerful bank. And while higher-ups at GS may have been initially worried about the potentially damaging revelations that would appear in the book, apparently time, a slap in the face and an order to 'get it together you pustulant milquetoasts' by the ghost of Lucas van Praag has resulted in this delightfully bitchy, exceptionally underminery comment from 200 West: “Every day, some young professional, after a decade in a post-collegiate job, reassesses his or her career and decides to move on and do something else,” David Wells, a Goldman Sachs spokesman said Dealbook in an e-mailed statement. “Others can better judge whether Mr. Smith’s particular career transition is of unique interest.” Regardless of whether or not Goldman is correct in its assessment that Greg's sounds like the story dozens of analyst finishing their first year would tell of the "epic" stuff they witnessed during their 12 months of banking (+previous summer internship, during which things got pretty crazy) or if his particular career transition is indeed of unique interest, Dealbreaker will be hosting an evening of dramatic readings of select chapters, with yet-to-be secured GS alum/raconteur/boulevardier Lucas van Praag standing in for the part of Mr. Smith. Venue and ticket pricing to follow. Former Banker Promises A Peek At Goldman Sachs [Dealbook] Earlier: Resignation Letter Reveals Goldman Sachs Is In The Business Of Making Money, Hires People Who Don’t Know How To Tie Their Shoes; Jewish Ping-Pong Tournament Participant / Sixth-Year Goldman Sachs Vice President Is Looking For His Next Challenge; Goldman Sachs Accuser Greg Smith (Might Have) Lied About That Which He Holds Most Sacred