Lift off for John Lefevre, aka @GSElevator

Chris Wright
Published on:

John Lefevre dished the dirt on the cut-throat, unfulfilling, absurdly self-important world of investment banking through his GSElevator Twitter account. But it took a publishing house to shaft him. He is exasperated, but confident his elevator will go back up.

"Destiny, faith and karma," wrote John Lefevre recently, "are strippers in Atlanta." That might be so, but all three have had quite a role in Lefevre’s life since he was unmasked as the voice of the Goldman Sachs elevator Twitter account, @GSElevator.

Since Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times outed the former Citi bond syndicate man on February 24, Lefevre has undergone sudden global scrutiny, much of it derogatory, and has had a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster scrapped for reasons that remain opaque. "Something does not add up," an exasperated Lefevre tells Euromoney from Houston, Texas, where he now lives, having retired from investment banking well shy of his 35th birthday.

Lefevre was born in the UK, spent his childhood in Texas, was schooled on the US east coast and worked for either Citi or Salomon in New York, London and, from 2004 to 2008, Hong Kong. He revelled in the lifestyle, but had a sense that it was somewhat absurd. "I’ve always been cynical about the industry," he says. "People take themselves too seriously. They define themselves by being part of Wall Street, which I’ve found a bit pathetic."

This diversity of experience and exposure – tech-stock bubble, booming Asia, global financial crisis – provided him with many stories to tell about the money-and-testosterone-fuelled industry he worked in, which he began dutifully recording, believing they would one day warrant a book. "I have hundreds of them," he says. "In those alcohol-fuelled days in Hong Kong or London I didn’t want to forget the stories, so I wrote them down."

Then, post-Citi, he was in a bar in Hong Kong with friends in late 2011 and the subject turned to a spoof Twitter account revealing conversations supposedly heard in the lifts at the Condé Nast publishing house. "I thought: I’m going to set up a homage to that, with insights into the things that bankers say and do."

Although it took the Goldman Sachs name, it was never intended to be purely an account of that particular bank; that was just a memorable handle to get it rolling. And roll it did, attracting 652,000 followers as of March 13 (Goldman Sachs’s actual official feed, by contrast, has 139,000). It appears that the very first tweet, on August 11, really was overheard in a Goldman elevator:

Into cell phone (to real estate broker): "Goldman f&%#king Sachs, Ever heard of it?" before getting disconnected in the lift.

But beyond that, the account was meant to skewer the morality and attitudes of all investment banking through pithy and sometimes reshaped lines of conversation. "For the avoidance of any doubt," Lefevre says, "any person who actually thought my Twitter feed was literally about verbatim conversations overheard in the elevators of Goldman Sachs is an idiot."

"It went through several evolutions over time," he says. "The initial tweets were much different to those you see now. They moved away from what I do, deal-specific and inside jokes, into more general observations and commentary that reflect and embody the spirit and culture of Wall Street." In person, Lefevre speaks very fast and is strikingly articulate, uttering complete, polished sentences in a way few people usually do.

Also, constrained by Twitter’s 140-character limit, he moved into bigger pieces of writing, typically carried on Business Insider and the Huffington Post; a satirical piece called "How to be a man", written with CNBC’s John Carney, has been viewed almost 3 million times.

So who knew it was him? "There are definitely some well-known managing directors at many tier-1 investment banks in Hong Kong and in Europe that have known who I am for at least three years. Really senior people across fixed income in sales, trading, origination and syndicate."

Then came a book deal, reputedly a six-figure sum, with Simon & Schuster, and, not long later, his unmasking. "Being outed was always part of the process, for a few reasons," he says. "One, obviously it was important to lend me credibility, sharing the uniqueness of my vantage point," by which he means the range of places he worked, the circumstances of the time, and the fact that working in bond syndicate involved working both with issuers and with the sales and trading arm of the bank itself rather than just one side of the Chinese wall. "The other reason was that the Twitter feed was not about me specifically as a person; it wasn’t even a person at all. It was the aggregated embodiment of investment banking culture. But as I looked to write a book to tell stories in the first person, it is harder to be anonymous than it is on Twitter."

There had been consistent clues anyway: when he tweeted about trashing a Maserati, several friends who knew he had done precisely that (Lefevre might not have calmed down all that much since his after-hours exploits earned him the nickname The Fever in Hong Kong) realized it was him. Similarly, a suggestion the people go to Sammy, the legendarily ancient barber at Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental, narrowed the field somewhat for those who knew of Lefevre’s running joke of sending visiting colleagues to him for a razor shave.