It has become increasingly difficult to look back on the last 25 years of financial history, isolate a moment that turned out to be important, inspect that moment more closely, and not find Steve Mnuchin mouthbreathing in the corner, his eyes shrouded behind lenses just dark enough to be somehow timelessly unfashionable.
And now we have another example of modern finance's Forrest Gump having an accidental direct impact on history by simply being his gormless self.
As part of David Solomon's coronation day celebrations at Goldman Sachs, Vanity Fair has published an in-depth profile of the new Head Bald in Charge at 200 West Street. William Cohan's piece is an excellent piece of reporting that manages to give us a sense of DJ D-Sol as a person while also conveying his role within the macro structure of the new Goldman and by extension its role in the macro structure of quietly ruling the world. We learn how Solomon came from hardscrabble Hamilton College in the bowels of the lowly NESCAC, and overcame Goldman's early rejection to forge a career in the hinterlands of finance (BNY Mellon, Drexel, *gag* Bear Stearns) before working his way into Goldman as a partner and beginning his decades-long ascension to the throne.
But it's how Solomon made the exceedingly rare leap from competitor to Goldman Sachs partner that caught our eye. Solomon is clearly a talented and intelligent banker, but we can count on zero fingers the other examples of people that entered the DeathStar as a senior officer. What strange alchemy of genius and timing allowed for this to happen, and what are we not seeing?
Oh, of fucking course. It was Stevie Mnooks that made the miracle happen.
Ironically, Solomon’s new position at Bear Stearns inadvertently paved his way to Goldman. In 1997, Bear and Goldman were the lead underwriters for the Venetian casino and resort in Las Vegas, which was being developed by business magnate Sheldon Adelson. Solomon co-headed the Bear team, while Jon Winkelried, now the president of TPG Capital, led the Goldman team, along with Steven Mnuchin, currently serving as Treasury secretary.
So there's Winkelried, trying to close a huge deal with the notoriously easy-to-deal-with Sheldon Adelson while also saddled with the fact that Hank Paulson had made it his turn to babysit Bob Mnuchin's kid. The stress on Winkelried must have been intense as he tried to nail down specifics on half a billion dollars in bonds on a $1.5 billion casino, fending off the gothically nightmarish challenges of doing business in Las Vegas [*coughs* Steve Wynn *coughs*], and constantly wondering if the whole thing was going to fall apart because everyone involved was getting visibly creeped out by Mnuchin just sitting there in a suit saying nothing and doing that bizarre reptilian thing he does with his mouth.
But then, like a comparative angel descending from the heavens of relative normalcy, came DJ D-Sol himself. A raconteur and bon vivant who people aren't weirded out by...and who also knows a thing or two about bidness. Winkelried must have been enamored. Wait! He definitely was...
Winkelried quickly came to admire Solomon’s judgment, his command of the facts, and his willingness to be a team player. “He was very collaborative,” Winkelried says.
And most importantly, he wasn't Steve Mnuchin, which apparently made Winkelried as thirsty as a Supreme Court nominee at a house party...
In January 1999, after an elaborate closing dinner for the deal at a resort in Cancun, Solomon and Winkelried flew back together to New York on the same flight. “You should really come to Goldman Sachs,” Winkelried urged. Solomon, by then one of the top executives at Bear Stearns, demurred. “I really don’t think I would do that,” he said. But Winkelried persisted, repeatedly inviting Solomon to dinner and making the case for moving to Goldman. Winkelried even offered Solomon a partnership—one of the few times Goldman had bestowed the coveted position upon an outsider.
And there it is, the mystery solved. David Solomon worked hard, made smart professional decisions, learned how to manage people and create value for his employers. But the real reason, the hidden alpha in what led to David Solomon becoming CEO of the most powerful financial services firm in the world this morning: He was once compared to Steve Mnuchin.