I’ve been around. I’ve spent fifteen years working in a middle office job in investment banks and I’ve seen a few. I’ve worked for several of the big U.S. investment banks (you know the ones I mean) and I’ve worked some of the Europeans. Now, I’ve just joined Goldman Sachs and it’s true: this place is different.
How so? Well, Goldman is all about consensus. Unlike the banks I worked for before, no one here makes decisions alone. This is a partner-led place and rather than having a bunch of managing directors running their own shows, you have partners who are really invested across the whole business. This makes for a very different kind of environment. It’s an environment where everyone’s in it together and everyone has each other’s back.
To give you an example, I’m working on a large and complex project across multiple divisions. For the moment, things are just about going right – but there are also some serious niggles and places where things could go badly wrong. In the other banks I’ve worked for, there was always an element of throwing people under the bus during times of crisis. – When things didn’t work out, there was a culture of pointing fingers and blaming each other. At Goldman it’s very different. As the project progresses I’m noticing that there’s more and more engagement from partners and managing directors. There’s no blame culture here: it’s just about everyone working together to solve problems.
Of course, a super-consensual culture has its downsides. While MDs at other firms rush to make unilateral decisions, making decisions by consensus takes time. It’s not easy to hear everyone and to pull things together and sometimes the pace of decision-making can be frustrating. But when a decision is made it’s very well-anchored and very well thought through.
Another big difference about Goldman – particularly if you work in tech here – is that a lot of Goldman’s tech solutions are developed in-house whereas a lot of other banks have a history of buying things in from vendors. This also makes thing slow, and is quite an old-fashioned way of going about things, but it means that Goldman’s solutions tend to be the best: they’re designed for the job and are overseen by partners who really know the business.
Compared to the other banks I’ve worked for, Goldman is also a beacon of stability. Whereas banks like Citi, J.P. Morgan and Bank of America Merrill Lynch have been through big acquisition processes in the past decade, Goldman has grown organically. There are none of the myriad of different technologies and valuation systems other banks have had to contend with, and there’s none of the friction that comes with competing cultures. Goldman is Goldman – this gives the place a certain serenity.
Finally, Fabulous Fab and the Abacus deal aside, Goldman has managed to avoid legal issues. While European banks like UBS and Deutsche have notched up fines for bad behaviour, Goldman has been far less penalized by the regulators and seems pretty rock-solid and bullet-proof by comparison. The standards here seem better, the better people here seem better, and the culture here seems better. Maybe this is just rose-tinted thinking from a new joiner, but I don’t think so.
Brian Smith is the pseudonym of a recent senior hire in the middle office of Goldman Sachs.