Just a day after Goldman COO Gary Cohn unexpectedly met with Donald Trump, he is now said to be “weighing a future outside the firm” the WSJ reports. According to Dow Jones, the bank’s “Number 2”, who met with Trump on Tursday, has had conversations in recent months about leaving the bank.
As reported yesterday, Cohn, who has been CEO Blankfein’s top deputy for a decade, met with Donald Trump Tuesday. It isn’t clear whether the president-elect is considering Mr. Cohn for a position; Politico reported Wednesday that Mr. Cohn could be a contender to head the Office of Management and Budget. A possible position in the Trump administration comes at a time when Mr. Cohn’s role at Goldman has already been in question. The 56-year-old president and chief operating officer has had conversations in recent months about leaving the bank, according to people familiar with the matter.
As second-in-command, Mr. Cohn oversees Goldman’s daily operations. He joined Goldman in 1990 and became a partner in 1994—a class that also included Mr. Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin.
Mr. Cohn’s background reflects the sort of Midwestern voters who helped power Mr. Trump to a surprise victory. Born in Ohio the son of an electrician, Mr. Cohn’s first job was selling window frames and aluminum siding in Cleveland, and he later sold silver on Wall Street.
In recent years, he has taken on a more public-facing role and struck clients and colleagues as more polished. He has cultivated relationships in Silicon Valley, where Mr. Blankfein is less at ease, and is close to executives such as Uber Technologies Inc.’s Travis Kalanick and Tesla Motors Inc.’s Elon Musk.
A departure by the bank’s president would scrap Goldman’s most-obvious succession plan, and in the process elevate a new crop of executives eyeing Blankfein’s job the WSJ notes. It would also signal that Mr. Blankfein, who weathered the financial crisis, survived a bout with cancer and has settled into a role as a senior industry statesman, isn’t going anywhere.
The paper adds that Blankfein’s stay has become more accepted within Goldman’s executive ranks in recent months. Michael Sherwood, who ran Goldman’s international business from London and had once been seen as a potential successor, said as much last week when he announced his retirement. “Some people want [the CEO job] passionately; I just didn’t,” Mr. Sherwood said in an interview. “One of those people, by the way, is named Lloyd and he’s not going anywhere. He doesn’t say ‘one more year;’ he says ‘five more years.”
Blankfein has been CEO since 2006, and his inner circle of confidants has seen little turnover, leaving few opportunities for promotion lower down the ranks. That has meant that there is little room for Cohn and created what some executives describe as a talent bottleneck. Further, some executives describe growing frustration with the stasis, even while acknowledging that steady leadership likely helped Goldman weather the crisis and rally support for strategic changes.
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Should Mr. Cohn opt to seek opportunities outside the firm, his role as chief operating officer and president would likely be split between among two executives, people familiar with the matter have said. Goldman has a history of co-executives, and Mr. Cohn split the No. 2 job for several years with Jon Winkelried, who left the firm in 2009.
The likeliest candidates to replace Mr. Cohn, according to people familiar with the matter, are Chief Financial Officer Harvey Schwartz and investment-banking co-chief David Solomon. Outside candidates include R. Martin Chavez, Goldman’s chief technologist, and Stephen Scherr, the strategist who was recently put in charge of Goldman’s push into consumer banking.
Who is tapped will say much about how dramatically the regulatory changes pushed through since the crisis have reshaped Goldman’s priorities and power centers.
As to where Cohn heads next, should he indeed depart Goldman, it is unclear, although considering his recent visit to Trump Tower, a position in the new administration is likely in the cards. Considering another former Goldman Partner is set to advise Trump, that would no longer be all that shocking.
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