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Aug 8, 2023, 9:33am EDT
business

Goldman’s man behind the curtain plans exit

Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
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The News

For a quarter-century, John Rogers has been the man behind the curtain at Goldman Sachs — consigliere to four CEOs, whisperer to the board, and wielder of a quiet power inside the firm.

He’s now laying the groundwork for an exit.

Rogers has recruited a former protégé to return to Goldman with an eye toward succeeding him. Russell Horwitz spent 16 years at the firm as a mini Rogers, prepping former CEO Lloyd Blankfein for congressional hearings and tending to Goldman’s powerful management committee.

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Frustrated by Rogers’ reluctance to retire, he left in 2020, briefly teamed up with Blankfein on an informal consulting gig, and then joined Citadel as its head of global affairs, where he helped Ken Griffin weather the GameStop drama.

Now he’s coming back to Goldman as chief of staff. Rogers’ eventual exit could still be months off, and he may remain secretary of the board — a post that’s been key to his relevance and longevity.

DealBook first reported the move.

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Know More

Rogers is, in short, Goldman’s unseen power player, a self-styled keeper of its corporate flame with an earnest sense of nostalgia that has, at times, seemed out of step as the firm changed around him.

He personally designed — and trademarked — a Goldman Sachs-branded garment bag to commemorate the firm’s 150th anniversary in 2019. He commissioned a documentary from filmmaker Ken Burns’ brother, Ric, to mark the occasion, and hired the Smithsonian jazz band for a traveling roadshow to Goldman’s global offices. (He’s on the board of the museum, to which he donated a piece of the Berlin Wall that he chiseled out during a 1990 visit.)

“He’s the ultimate institutionalist,” says Jack Martin, the former CEO of public-relations consultancy Hill+Knowlton, who worked closely with Rogers during the 2000s. “He loves large, complex organizations — putting them together, tinkering with the levers.”

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For a while, he collected antique Jeep Wagoneers. He supervised the restoration of the Jefferson Bible. He was offered a job running George Washington’s historic home, Mount Vernon, a few years ago.

As an undergraduate at George Washington University, he took the public tour at the Capitol so often that the guides eventually let him lead one, a friend from the time said. He landed a White House internship, and at 25 was named special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, with oversight for management and administration.

He doled out coveted parking spots, policed use of the White House tennis courts, and, after careful consideration, allowed the presidential seal on souvenir golf balls. It was at his suggestion that the White House, in 1981, began selling Christmas ornaments, remembered Fred Ryan, a fellow staffer and later, the publisher of The Washington Post.

He joined Goldman in 1994 with zero Wall Street experience as assistant to Jon Corzine, the first of four chief executives he’d serve — usually from neighboring offices. He recruited board members ahead of its IPO, built up a lobbying presence so weak its main office had once been in Albany, and eventually oversaw communications, human resources, government affairs, and marketing.

Robert Grady, an old friend from the Reagan White House, said: “John is ‘the man to see,’” he said, referencing the biography by the same name of Edward Bennett Williams, the legendary Washington lawyer.

Rogers declined an offer to become chief of staff to Donald Trump, people familiar with the matter said (though he has been an occasional spin-class partner of Ivanka.)

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Liz’s view

Rogers’ power is as consigliere, door-opener, and trouble-shooter. He introduced former Goldman CEO Hank Paulson to Angela Merkel well before she became chancellor of Germany, telling him that the young politician was worth getting to know. In the days after 9/11, he arranged for an Air Force escort to bring Paulson back from a visit to China. Later, he helped secure Solomon’s membership in the Alfalfa Club, the elite Washington society.

But he’s had less influence with Solomon, who shrugged off his warnings against buying a pair of corporate jets and kept DJ-ing long after Rogers suggested — rightly, as it turned out — that it was a PR problem waiting to happen. Solomon trimmed Rogers’ internal empire, shifting oversight of marketing and external communications to President John Waldron.

Those frustrated by Solomon, and the board’s lack of public action, may blame Rogers, who prepares board materials and personally recruited most of its members over the years.

I once joked to Rogers, after the smooth transition from Blankfein to Solomon in 2018, that his tombstone would read “Ran a good process,” which seemed to please him. But he’s been less successful orchestrating his own succession, waiting out a series of potential replacements including Horwitz, former comms chief Jake Siewert, and Dina Powell, all of whom have left since 2020. Bringing Horwitz back is a chance to rewrite the ending.

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Room for Disagreement

It might not matter who’s in that seat, which has become less obviously needed. After 2008, a strong hand in Washington helped as Goldman and other Wall Street firms rehabilitated themselves. Other D.C. heavyweights, like Morgan Stanley’s Tom Nides, have left without being replaced.

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Notable

  • An “affable man of boundless self-confidence” — New York Times, 1983
  • “One Goldman partner, who asked not to be named because he fears damaging his relationship with Rogers, describes him as Colossus bestriding the globe” — Bloomberg, 2011
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