Female CEOs and Goldman Sachs' 'Trump Bump'

Published: Jan 25, 2017

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Is the world ready for a woman to be the CEO of a giant global bank? The short answer is no. The long answer is noooooooooooooo. I kid. In fact, the long answer is a three-part answer from Megan Butler, the supervisor of the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority, a financial regulator in the U.K. which aims "aim to make financial markets work well so that consumers get a fair deal." Earlier this week, in London, Butler spoke at something called the City & Financial Global’s Women in Finance Summit.

Here's part one of her answer, which focuses on Butler's experience working with finance firms.

"It’s extremely rare that in my professional life I have a conversation with a head of desk at an investment bank or a global head of business that is anything other than a white male … I’ve increasingly come to find that a little bit difficult to take."

And here's part two, about how Butler feels about gender quotas.

"For 20 years I was completely resistant to the idea of having targets on gender. I found it patronizing and insulting and I didn’t want there to be any taint on any achievement I ever had … But I look back and there hasn’t been significant change quickly enough."

And here's part three, about when she thinks the U.K. will be ready for a woman to top the org chart at a big global bank.

"I’m going to say five years, which is an awfully long time ... I find that quite depressing as I say that."

Butler also said that, like others have pointed out in the past, the lack of women in supervisory roles at large financial institutions "can lead to 'group think,' which was one of the problems that caused the 2008 financial crisis." In other words, it makes good business sense to put more women in charge of our big banks. So maybe we should do it sooner than later?

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Speaking of white men and banking, one of President Trump's many cabinet picks with Goldman Sachs experience on their resumes just came into some money. A lot of money. Money that might explain why it might've been a rather easy decision for this banker-turned-public servant to make the switch from finance to government.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said Gary Cohn will receive more than $100 million of stock and cash that would otherwise have been locked up for years as he leaves the Wall Street firm for a role in the Trump administration.
Goldman said in a filing Tuesday that it had made available immediately Cohn’s outstanding stock awards and long-term bonuses accumulated over his 25 years at the bank, many of which he spent as the heir apparent to Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein.
Cohn received $65 million in cash to cover his potential future bonuses at the bank, according to the filing. Those payouts would otherwise have been determined by how Goldman fared over the next several years.
He also received $45 million worth of stock that was locked up or remained subject to clawback. He must now sell those shares to comply with government ethics rules.

In other words, although in the past we might have felt bad for Cohn, a self-made man with blue collar beginnings who'd been waiting for years and years for Blankfein to step aside so he could run the Goldman Sachs ship, we should probably not feel so bad for him now. In any case, it looks like Cohn decided he wasn't going to wait for Lloyd any longer, and he jumped ship just at the right time, after Goldman Sachs' stock had soared, taking the Dow Jones Industrial Average along with it.

Indeed, despite serving as Donald Trump's punching bag during his presidential campaign, the bank has been one of the early winners post-election. Goldman's stock has been the primary engine behind the Dow's run toward and beyond the 20,000 mark, rising more on a percentage basis than any other bank in recent months.

As for the reasons behind Goldman's share price rise in the wake of the election, most analysts point to the prospect of less financial regulation and antitrust policing and a cut in the corporate tax rate under a Trump administration, as well as higher long-term interest rates. There are other fancy and famous analysts, though, that warn against the bump being able to continue, saying that the admininstration's new anti-trade policies might turn out to be not so great for Goldman and other banks.

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Finally, here's some interesting advice if, like Gary Cohn, you decide to switch careers from the private sector (the world of business) to the public sector (the world of diplomacy). It comes from Boston Globe journalist Stephen Kinzer, whose recent book, True Flag, "explains how the Spanish-American War launched an ongoing debate about America's role in the world." Kinzer has also written a fair share about the new President of the United States.

Here's Kinzer on a recent NPR "Fresh Air" podcast, answering a question about the differences between making deals with other companies and making deals with other countries.

In diplomacy you're looking for something very different from what you're looking for in a legal or a business negotiation, which are the kinds in which Trump has been involved. In a business or a legal negotiation, you want to get the most you can. You want the other guy to get as little as possible. If you come out of the room with 80 percent and he leaves with 20, you won, and if you can get 90, you won even more, but diplomacy is not like that. Diplomatic agreements only succeed when everybody goes away from the table feeling that they got something. That means that nobody can go away thinking they got everything.
I hope we're able to make this transition. I hope Trump is able to make this transition in his own mind. Winning may be your goal in a business negotiation, but to win in diplomacy you have to be sure that the others around the table also win. You don't have to do that if you want to win in a business or legal negotiation. So I fear that some fundamental principles of diplomacy are in conflict with some of the business practices that Trump has used. That's fine as long as he can make the transition. I'm still waiting for the first indication that he can.

I'm no CEO, but doesn't Kinzer's definition of diplomatic deal success sound like it makes good legal and business deal sense, too?

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