Inside the topsy turvy world of Goldman Sachs

August 5th, 2010

I just found Antonio Garcia-Martinez’s blog which, perhaps better than anything else I’ve read, enscapsulates the corrosive internal culture at  New York-based investment bank Goldman Sachs.

In 2005 Garcia-Martinez was studying for a physics PhD at the University of California, Berkley when he was tempted to Wall Street by the prospect of filthy lucre. He accepted a job as a “quant” at the investment bank Goldman Sachs. However it wasn’t long before he recognised the hollowness of the role he had been assigned and became seriously disenchanted with Wall Street’s money-centric culture.

As the Huffington Post says, the title of Garcia-Martinez’s blog post — “Why founding a three-person startup with zero revenue is better than working for Goldman Sachs” — pretty much says it all.

In one passage Garcia-Martinez describes how the bank subtly enslaves its employees:-

Wall Street is even simpler than religion. Your entire worth as a human is defined by one number: the compensation number your boss tells you at the end of the year. See, pay on Wall Street works as follows: your base salary is actually quite modest, but your ‘bonus’ is where the real money is. That bonus is completely discretionary, and can vary anywhere from zero to a manifold multiple of your base salary.

So, come mid-December, everyone on the desk lines up outside the partner’s office, like the communion line at Christmas Mass, and awaits their little crumb off the big Wall Street table. An entire year’s worth of blood, sweat, and tears comes down to that one moment. And the entire New York economy marches to the beat of that bonus drum.

Without that number though, your privileged place in the New York hierarchy goes away. Gone is the house in the Hamptons. Gone is the $2mm duplex on the Upper West Side. Gone is your kid’s $25K/year pre-school.

And that’s why Wall Street has that roach motel property: people check in, but rarely check out. By the time you’ve been through a couple of bonus cycles and seen that wad of cash hit your bank account in mid-January, you can’t imagine a life without it. And that’s exactly how the senior management at the Wall Street banks like it.

If Wall Street investment bankers were dogs, they would flaunt their expensive collars and leashes as marks of status, not realizing their true purpose.

Garcia-Martinez also describes some of the bizarre goings-on of a Wall Street trading floor:-

Once, after a particularly competitive round of Friday afternoon push-ups and id bingo, a memo went out to the entire floor about office decorum. It basically boiled down to a reminder about how betting was prohibited on the trading floor.

It reminded me of that classic scene in Dr. Strangelove when George C. Scott gets into a wrestling match with the Russian ambassador inside the control room at the Pentagon, and is sternly told, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room!”


Short URL: http://www.ianfraser.org/?p=1520

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