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Updated Jun 27, 2023, 1:56pm EDT
business

Moves on Goldman’s chess board

Getty Images/Craig Barritt for Tory Burch Foundation
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The News

Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, under pressure from restive senior management, is adding one of the firm’s alumni to its board.

Tom Montag, who left 16 years ago for Merrill Lynch, a few months before that firm’s emergency sale to Bank of America, will join Goldman’s board of directors, Bloomberg reported and Semafor confirms.

Solomon is taking heat from his partners, Goldman’s powerful alumni, and the press. He has retreated from a foray into consumer banking that he inherited but doubled down on, which cost the firm billions of dollars in losses and dented its credibility and prestige.

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Partners’ resentment has increasingly been aimed at Goldman’s board, which is meeting this week in India and until now has done little, at least publicly, to address missteps at what has long been Wall Street’s premiere firm.

Solomon’s pay was cut in 2022, but he still earned $25 million for a year of poor performance — a year in which employees saw their own compensation drop sharply.

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Liz’s view

If Montag’s appointment is Solomon adding an ally to a board that’s turned against him (and there’s no evidence it has), it’s a strange choice. The two weren’t particularly close at Goldman, according to senior executives who know both men. They were in different divisions — Solomon in investment banking, Montag in trading — and Montag was in Japan for much of the time that Solomon, who joined Goldman in 1999, was on the rise.

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If it’s a rebuttal to criticism that has percolated for months that Goldman’s board is weak, there are candidates who would add muscle without the baggage that Montag brings. At Bank of America, he was known as a tough boss who’s management style grated and who allowed what one lawsuit from a junior female employee called a “bro’s club” atmosphere.

Goldman, and Solomon, have battled some of that, too. The firm paid $215 million last month to settle a long-running gender-discrimination suit, and paid $12 million to settle a departing female partner’s claims of a sexist culture, a complaint that included one off-color remark by Solomon, Bloomberg reported. (I’ve confirmed the details.)

Though Solomon made diversity in the senior ranks a priority, a steady march of senior women out of the place — Katie Koch, Heather Miner, Margaret Anadu, Dina Powell, Jo Natauri — is starting to congeal into a narrative.

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And his hard-driving approach to return-to-work — one shared by Montag, who kept a spreadsheet of employees working from home versus the office — bristled underlings.

All of which makes Montag an odd choice at a time when Solomon’s style is grating on the firm’s workforce. Goldman’s 350-odd partners are as angsty as I’ve ever seen them, fuming about strategic blunders and a wrenching of Goldman’s culture from its clubby roots as a private partnership toward Solomon’s vision of a smooth-edged Fortune 500 company run by an imperial CEO.

You never know exactly what’s happening in a boardroom, but executives who’ve interacted with Goldman’s directors say they’ve gotten less pushback and engagement than in the past from this crew, which includes former CEOs like ArcelorMittal’s Lakshmi Mittal and DuPont’s Ellen Kullman, plus an ex-Navy admiral and Wellington executive.

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Room for Disagreement

Goldman is retreating to its Wall Street roots like trading, an area where Montag has experience that neither Solomon nor Waldron do. Bond trading was once Goldman’s profit engine but floundered in the 2010s and is now improving. Goldman’s secret sauce was always its risk management, and Montag adds heft there.

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Notable

  • “Friends of Tom” or “can’t be bothered”: Montag’s culture battles at Bank of America, from The New York Times.
  • Bloomberg on a secret payout over sexism claims at Goldman.
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