It takes all sorts to make One Goldman Sachs
Some of Goldman’s top brass had an easier time of it than others at its latest investor day.
If David Solomon enjoys Goldman Sachs’ new-fangled investor days, he takes care not to let it show. Kicking off the 2023 event on February 28, he prowled a smallish part of the stage while addressing the troops in his trademark General Patton bark, rarely drifting far from the autocue.
The crowd weren’t exactly baying for blood, but even Solomon knew that he needed to give them something. And so he tossed them a few crumbs – sometimes, apparently, Goldman falls short; it won’t always get everything right. We learn and adapt.
Humility might be one of the few things Goldman doesn’t do better than anyone else. And if it did, it wouldn’t be able to say so without ruining the look. But in any case, we were soon back onto familiar territory, overdelivering and outperforming, and another reminder of the four Goldman principles – client service, partnership, excellence and integrity.
Clients apparently tell Solomon he has exceptional people. No wonder he was keen to get the most important of those together in Miami a few weeks earlier – the first time he had been able to hold a partners’ meeting since 2019, he was at pains to remind us.
Some killjoys in the market have commented that holding the Miami meeting at all was a poor look while the firm was sacking thousands of staff, but Solomon was on the front foot here. He felt “terrific” because Goldman partners left the event energized. “We all move forward together.” Not quite all, of course, more like 93.5% after the latest right-sizing, but you get the idea.
There is an art to appearing to have answered analyst questions without really doing so … Solomon prefers not to play that game
Solomon had shifted from his 2020 tone – he wasn’t suggesting that people break into open applause this time around. But he still couldn’t hide his frustration at having to deal with analysts wanting to know more than he was prepared to share.
There is an art to appearing to have answered analyst questions without really doing so – many of his rival chief executives and CFOs manage it on every quarterly earnings call. Solomon – like Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan – prefers not to play that game. These days Dimon looks to be getting away with that approach more easily.
John Waldron’s birthday wasn’t on the investor day itself, but it was the day before, so it nearly counted. You almost wondered if he might have preferred it to have clashed. In any case, at Goldman it’s not enough to simply have a birthday – Waldron told the audience he was celebrating his “birthday week” with the firm’s current and prospective shareholders.
A few people chuckled at that, although Waldron was too busy “unpacking” how far Goldman had come since January 2020 to worry about levity. A serious man, he delivers his lines as a bomb-disposal expert might instruct a civilian down the telephone – with extreme care and little room for interpretation.
By the time that Marc Nachmann had got to slide 12 of his asset and wealth management (AWM) presentation, which was by his own admission “complicated”, the audience had been well and truly softened up.
“We have an awesome footnote,” dead-panned Nachmann, by way of mitigation amid the bewildering detail on screen. A few laughs again. Tough crowd.
Nachmann is one of Goldman’s more affable and gregarious executives in private, but he looks less comfortable on stage, his voice often drifting into monotone even though he had one of the more interesting stories to tell. But with the firm’s new direction of travel, much now rests on his shoulders, and he has been entrusted with what is arguably the most important role in the bank right now.
Julian Salisbury, AWM’s chief investment officer and the first Brit of the day, was smoothness itself as he took the baton and ran with it, full of the joys of world-class collaboration and performance culture. The business that Nachmann and he are responsible for is clearly to be at the centre of how Goldman is planning to recover from its mistakes, and there is at least plenty to work with here without needing to reinvent the wheel.
At the first investor day in 2020, Stephanie Cohen had arguably the least pressured part of the agenda after the now-departed Gregg Lemkau, who had been presenting investment banking. As chief strategy officer then, Cohen had been presenting a session on innovation alongside the newly arrived Marco Argenti, recently in from Amazon.
Since last year’s reorganization, Cohen now runs Goldman’s platform solutions division, which contains those same businesses that in 2020 were freshly minted and full of promise. This time around, things were a little different, with Cohen having to be the main cheerleader for the “path to profitability” slogan that the firm will doubtless want to put behind it as soon as possible.
That was always going to be a slightly thankless task, but it was an assured performance from someone who had to convey one of the trickiest messages of the day. And some things don’t change, with Cohen again putting in a bid to clock up her 10,000 steps by getting full value from the width of the stage.
Taking the Lemkau role this time around was Dan Dees, now the co-head of the global banking and markets (GBM) division and looking like a man who knew he had an easy story to tell.
Was he even using the autocue? It was hard to believe that he would have the time. Were he a Tesla, you would swear he had pulled away in ‘Plaid’ mode (no, not ‘Insane’ – this is a performance model).
Dees’ fluency and apparent facility with all aspects of the firm was striking, particularly when addressing the linkages between the investment bank and AWM. Dees is now one of three co-heads of GBM, alongside Ashok Varadhan and Jim Esposito, but increasingly looks like someone on a trajectory to the top of the bank – should a vacancy emerge.