It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since I interviewed at Goldman Sachs in NYC. But there’s one incident from my interview time at One New York Plaza that I remember clearly above all others: my GS elevator moment.
For those of you who haven’t been following the funny story on Twitter, for years, @GSElevator Gossip has been posting tweets about what many assumed to be overheard gossip exchanged by GS employees from around the world. The tweets range from cringeworthy to poignant in nature. The goal was to stereotype the ridiculousness of Wall Street culture, while inciting outrage from every non-Wall Street person imaginable. With 650,000 Twitter followers and a potential book deal, I think it succeeded.
Here are two examples of @GSElevator Gossip tweets:
Goldman Sachs is an easy target on Wall Street because it consistently ranks at the top of the league tables in terms of deal flow and profits. Furthermore, GS alumni permeate the ranks of senior government officials, including folks such as former US Treasury Secretaries Bob Rubin and Hank Paulson. The GS Mafia is out there, and conspiracy theories abound. When you’re the top dog, many want to hunt you down. (This is why it’s important to practice Stealth Wealth if you get too far up the food chain in any field.)
It turns out the person behind @GSElevator was not a Goldman Sachs employee after all, but an outsider named John who worked at Citibank and “left” in 2008. I love Citibank as a commercial bank, but on Wall Street, Citibank isn’t considered to be in the same league as a Goldman. Citibank has always been seen as “the backup bank” if you got rejected from Goldman or Morgan, much as Columbia would be a backup to Harvard – both are excellent schools, they’re just not quite the same. Such are the petty attitudes of type-A recent college graduates. Coming from a non-target, public school myself, I would have been happy to get any job on Wall Street, let alone one at GS.
I give props to John from Citibank for creating @GSElevator because he was able to “fake it until he made it“. Here’s a guy who never worked a day at Goldman, made up a bunch of attention-grabbing tweets, and yet was able to create a brand based on Goldman culture that is followed by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide on Twitter. If his book is published, it should net him at least six figures in compensation. John’s example demonstrates yet again that it doesn’t matter whether you fully know your stuff or come from the organization in which you represent; as long as you can manipulate the system, money and attention will follow.
MY GS ELEVATOR EXPERIENCE
It was around March 1999 when I found myself back at One New York Plaza for the fifth time. I had gone through the Super Day screen almost six months earlier, and since that time had interviewed roughly 40 people in different departments trying to find myself a home. Clearly I was an underperformer; my fellow interviewees from Super Day had all landed desks by Christmas 1998, but nobody wanted me–not the derivatives desk and not the prime brokerage desks.
It was 7:30am as I rode up a packed elevator to the 50th floor where all the most senior Managing Directors in equities lived. First up was a US Trading MD, and I was nervous. We were packed like blue fin tuna in the elevator and I was standing in the very front, next to the door. When the elevator blinged open at the 50th floor, I immediately got out in order to let everyone else get out as quickly as possible.
The receptionist told me to wait in the lobby and after 15 minutes she brought me into an empty partner’s office. There I sat for another 30 minutes, hands sweating, while reviewing my resume over and over again to make sure nothing was amiss. Finally, a 50-something year old man with an athletic frame stepped into the office. He neither said “hello,” nor shook my hand.
The partner shuffled some papers on his desk and then looked at me sternly. He said, “Never, EVER, get out of the elevator before a lady again!” The partner then stormed out of his office to who knows where.
I was completely shaken by this encounter. The only reason I got out of the elevator first was because we were jammed in there so tight I thought the right thing to do was to go out first. I was in the front of the elevator and there was no way I could move back and then to my right to let a woman behind me out. I didn’t even know there were any women behind me, as there was no room to turn around! All I noticed was a man standing to my left.
Had I just screwed myself after five rounds and 41 interviews, simply because I wasn’t the absolute perfect gentleman? Clearly what just happened was a joke, right? Hopefully he was just waiting to see how I dealt with pressure, and he’d come back in to pat me on the back and say, “Just kidding, son!” But he never returned and I was left to go through the rest of the day like a zombie.
EXPERIENCES SHAPE US FOREVER
After meeting another six people that traumatic day, I was asked to fly up to NYC for a sixth and (thankfully) final round of interviews. All told, I had one-on-one interviews with over 55 employees and brief discussions with probably 100 more before I finally landed my job on the international equities sales desk on the 49th floor.
Aside from the obvious prize of landing a plum job on Wall Street, my interview experience yielded one other valuable dividend: Not once since that day in 1999 have I ever walked into or out of an elevator before a woman again. Perhaps this is all the lesson any man needs to become a gentleman – one good dose of “tough love” administered by a rich and powerful person who possesses the power to threaten your entire future. I was just so thankful to land a job, I’d have done anything to make amends; including jamming people even tighter into an elevator just to make way for a lady.
Two years later I left Manhattan to come out to San Francisco with a new firm. A couple months afterward, a fella by the name of Greg Smith out of Stanford took my spot on the Emerging Markets desk in NYC. You may remember Greg; he’s the man who blew up the media in March 2012 with a scathing op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled, “Why I’m Leaving Goldman Sachs“, and then proceeded to write a book with a million dollar advanced entitled, “Why I Left Goldman Sachs.” I read ’em both. Not bad, albeit a little boring.
Funny how small the world is, no? Let’s see if John LeFevre of @GSElevator can do a better job than Greg Smith in publishing his book, entitled “Straight To Hell: True Tales Of Deviance And Excess In The World Of Investment Banking.” Sounds much more interesting and potentially way more lucrative to me!
Too bad the word is that publisher Simon & Schuster have reportedly dropped John’s deal for faking it too much. In a stroke of brilliance, @GoldmanSachs responded to the news with the following Tweet:
Readers, any funny experiences that have shaped you to be who you are today? Do you think John from @GSElevator will successfully make his millions even though he faked his entire way through? Does it even matter that he never worked at Goldman since his tweets were entertaining? Shouldn’t this scenario just garner John more publicity and therefore increase his chances for a new book deal and TV appearances? Any areas where you’re thinking about faking it to get rich? If you want to read more posts about what goes on, on Wall Street, let me know.