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Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World Paperback – January 10, 2012
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“[The] definitive account of the most profitable and influential investment bank of the modern era.” —The New York Times Book Review
“The best analysis yet of Goldman’s increasingly tangled web of conflicts. . . . The writing is crisp and the research meticulous.” —The Economist
“[A] revelatory account of the rise and rise of Goldman Sachs. . . . A vast trove of material.” —Financial Times
“Well done and absorbing. Cohan’s grasp of the . . . recent inside politics of the firm is sure and convincing.” —The Washington Post
“The frankest, most detailed, most human assessment of the bank to date. Cohan portrays a firm that has grown so large and hungry that it's no longer long-term greedy but short-term vicious. And that’s the wonder—and horror—of Goldman Sachs.” —BusinessWeek
“Brings the bank’s sometimes ‘schizophrenic’ behavior to vivid life. . . . Cohan evinces an eye for telling images and an ear for deadpan quotations. . . . [and] puts his skepticism to good use.” —Bloomberg News
“[Cohan is] one of our most able financial journalists.” —Los Angeles Times
“A former Wall Street man and a talented writer, [Cohan] has the rare gift not only of understanding the fiendishly complicated goings-on, but also of being able to explain them in terms the lay reader can grasp.” —The Observer (London)
“Cohan writes with an insider’s knowledge of the workings of Wall Street, a reporter’s investigative instincts and a natural storyteller’s narrative command.” —The New York Times
About the Author
William D. Cohan is the author of the New York Times bestsellers House of Cards and The Last Tycoons, which won the 2007 FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, has a weekly opinion column in Bloomberg View, and writes frequently for Fortune, The Atlantic, Art News, BloombergBusinessWeek, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Irish Times and The Washington Post, among other publications. He also is a contributing editor on Bloomberg Television and a frequent on-air contributor to MSNBC, CNN and CNBC. A former investment banker, Cohan is a graduate of Duke University, Columbia University School of Journalism and the Columbia University Graduate School of Business.
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It is not really a Goldman "bashing" book but there is plenty of hard reporting that lead one to wonder how Goldman can get away with proclaiming itself to be a temple of team play and a firm where customer interests always come first. Team playing culture? Cohan gives you details about the unusually sharp knives that came out frequently in succession struggles from earlier days - Gus Levy clashing with Sid Weinberg - to more recent events - Hank Paulson ousting Jon Corzine - and paint a picture quite at variance with Goldman PR.
Customer comes first? Cohan reveals that way back in the sixties Goldman was sued for "...fraud, deception, concealment, suppression and false pretense..." in connection with the Penn Central fiasco. Creditors claimed that Goldman "...made promises and representations as to the future (of the company) which were beyond reasonable expectations and unwarranted by existing circumstances." You make up your mind about whether this was a disgruntled customer trying to splash mud or a depiction of Goldman's approach. It certainly was a harbinger of later developments such as the firms disingenuous statement that it was not "betting against its customers" during the sub-prime crisis but merely and prudently managing its risk profile. If you believe that may I interest you in a solid gold brick I found on Fifth Avenue the other day? I will let you have it real cheap because I like you.
Whether you like it or not Goldman executives - past and present - play larger than life roles on a global stage. Cohan gives you engaging details about the real person behind the persona. Did you know that Robert Rubin dropped out of Harvard Law to bum around Europe and persuaded the dean of the school to hold his admission for a year by getting a psychiatrist to testify that he was making a "reasonable" decision?
Cohan does a splendid job of describing how Goldman grew from a small but influential investment bank - and a partnership where the partners were liable to the full extent of their personal net worth - to the titan that it is today with the ability to shake the central banks of major nations and tentacles into the inner political circles of many countries and where Croesus may envy the amount of moolah the senior guys rake in with limited liability.
It is possible, indeed likely, that Goldman is actually the "good guy" in the field in which it plays and that its competitors are far worse in morality and tactics. And that, my friend, is the really scary story.
My only objection is the almost lavish praise the author places on former Goldman head and US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. He says almost nothing negative about Mr. Paulson and depicts him as a reluctant, country boy, with no ambition, who was brought to the head of Goldman by happenstance. He even depicts Mr. Paulson as reticent and benevolent in wresting control of Goldman from John Corzine. Its a little hard to believe that Mr. Paulson rose through the ranks of the most competitive, testosterone laden, killer investment bank in the world, just by chance, with no ambition. You can make your own judgment.
You can't read this book without ending up with at least a grudging admiration for Goldman Sachs. Having worked in several large bureaucracies, what was most impressive is that despite its size, and resultant bureaucracy, Goldman has managed not to become risk averse and to maintain its edge. Much of this appears to be its ability to hire the best and to compensate them accordingly.
Time and again, when other investment banks were zigging, Goldman was zagging. At no time was this more evident than the recent 2007-2008 financial crisis, which Mr. Cohan describes in fantastic detail. Mr. Cohan also points out the many conflicts of interest, and very interestingly, how over time Goldman has moved away from being client focused to being profit focused.
All in all, an excellent read, that you will find interesting and informative if you are interested in Wall Street and investing.