Goldman Sachs’ David Solomon: Taking a “Very Closed, Very Private” Company into the Modern World
Goldman’s top executive riffs on his backstory, priorities, and musical moonlighting as DJ D-Sol.
In a recent View From The Top interview, David Solomon talks about turning Goldman Sachs from a private, secretive culture to “a magnet for talent in a different world.” | Kiefer Hickman
Some know him as a top Wall Street executive. Others know him as DJ D-Sol, who mixes tracks at East Village clubs and other global venues.
Both are David Solomon, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. Solomon was the guest at a recent Stanford Graduate School of Business View From The Top event, interviewed by student Mike Lewis.
Solomon joined Goldman in 1999 and served in roles that included global head of the financing group, president, and COO. He succeeded longtime chief Lloyd Blankfein as CEO in 2018.
He shared insights from his decades in banking, including his efforts to change Goldman’s workplace culture.
Stumbling into Finance
Early on, Solomon had envisioned a different career.
In the early 1980s, he says, “the profession for a nice Jewish boy who grew up in Westchester County was medicine. When it was clear I would go through four years of college without a physical-science class, that meant considering the back-up profession: law school. I majored in economics and stumbled into finance.”
He applied to Goldman’s analyst program but didn’t get the job, instead taking a position at commercial bank Irving Trust.
Analysts like Solomon were expected to work for two years then attend business school. His path diverged. He met a headhunter who introduced him to a contact at Drexel Burnham Lambert, a now-defunct investment bank focused on the junk-bond market. “The junk-bond business was peaking,” Solomon recalls. “They were hiring liberal arts majors with credit backgrounds, so I got hired.”
In 1990, Drexel Burnham went out of business after senior executive Michael Milken was jailed for illegal junk-bond activities. Solomon eventually landed at Bear Stearns, where he thrived. By the mid-’90s, he was part of the 10-person management committee. He was ultimately recruited by Goldman Sachs, based in part on his work financing Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian Hotel project.
“I like big organizations,” Solomon says of joining Goldman. “If you’re going to be in this industry, career-wise, you might as well play for the Yankees.”
The CEO’s Agenda
In 2018, Solomon became CEO of Goldman Sachs in what he attributed, in part, to “dumb luck.”
“If Lloyd had decided to retire after the financial crisis,” he says, “I wouldn’t be CEO. When Lloyd and the board were ready, I happened to be one of the people left to compete for it. When Lloyd told me, I went back to my office and thought, ‘Wow, did I just catch the bus by the tailpipe?’”
Solomon says he’s evolving the firm, not turning it upside down. After the financial crisis and the unwinding of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment and retail banking, many investment banks became retail banks. Goldman was among them. “We’re still heavily in investment banking,” he says. “But it’s not growing. If you’re a public company, you need to grow. That’s my number-one priority.”
He’s also ensuring Goldman continues to attract high-quality — and more diverse — talent. “The ‘secret sauce’ of our organization is the quality of the people we attract. To protect that, the firm has to be different. It was very closed, very private, very secretive. I want us to be a more modern organization that can be a magnet for talent in a different world.”
Solomon’s unlikely alter ego is that of DJ D-Sol, who has played music worldwide, including at a 2020 Sports Illustrated Superbowl party.
“I’ve always loved music,” he says. “In 2008 when I was working on financing buildings in Vegas, I went to a club at the Wynn to understand the model and loved the house and electronic music there.”
Eager for more, Solomon networked his way to longtime British DJ Paul Oakenfold, who has created remixes for artists including U2 and Madonna. Oakenfold offered to teach Solomon to deejay, he says, and later introduced him to Todd Wilkinson — Liquid Todd — who also became a mentor.
Several years later, Oakenfold invited Solomon to deejay at New York club Marquee. “I was hooked,” Solomon says. He began deejaying more regularly at East Village clubs. No one knew his dual life — until a New York Times reporter “outed” him in 2017.
“I was horrified,” Solomon says, “but Lloyd tweeted, ‘Sometimes David really needs to let down his hair.’ It was his way of saying it’s OK.” Solomon deepened his deejay work, producing music and donating the proceeds to charity.
The moonlighting role makes him more accessible at Goldman: “Seventy-four percent of the people who work there are millennial or Gen Z. Before, when I walked around the building, they wouldn’t talk to me. Now everyone wants to! DJ’ing has humanized me — and the firm.”
Evolution and Appreciation
As part of his focus on evolution, Solomon addressed Goldman’s work-hard culture: “In business today, everyone expects 24/7 responses. We came up with the idea of creating boundaries.” The firm estimated its young workers were putting in extreme hours and decided a more reasonable workweek would average around 65 hours. As a test, the firm tracked workers and found investment bankers were actually putting in around 60, with outliers. To moderate the extremes, several years ago, under Solomon’s guidance, the firm closed the office from Friday evening to Sunday evening, with exceptions by permission only.
He applied a similar approach to the dress code: “Before, everybody wore suits and looked the same. But walking around the firm as CEO, I saw most everyone dressed casually. I asked to see the dress code and was given a 35-page document that no longer fit. So I wrote a new code that said, ‘Dress in a way that’s appropriate for your day, for your clients, for your work. Be appropriate.’ It codified something we’d naturally evolved to.”
Advice: Enjoy the Moment
Recently a young Goldman employee sought Solomon’s career advice. “She’d been at the firm three years,” he recalled, “and asked, ‘Where should I go next?’”
When Solomon asked how she liked the work, her boss, and colleagues, she said she loved it.
“My advice?” he said. “Go back to work. Why does there have to be a ‘something next?’ Enjoy it because it’s not always going to be this way.”
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