Friday / September 21.
HomeFT SelectGoldman’s untraditional choice for its next CFO

Goldman’s untraditional choice for its next CFO

By all accounts, the June charity gala at Skylight, a Beaux-Arts building in midtown New York, was a very glitzy affair. Whoopi Goldberg served as master of ceremonies, while Naomi Campbell and Leonardo DiCaprio were among the A-list guests.

The hosts for the evening were Martin Chavez, named this week as the next chief financial officer of Goldman Sachs, and his husband, Adam Norbury.

In many respects Mr Chavez is an unusual figure to climb so high at the well-connected Wall Street bank. His elevation came amid a broad reshuffle triggered this week by the decision of its president, Gary Cohn, to join Donald Trump’s incoming administration.

For much of its 147-year history, Goldman has handed its top jobs to white, straight, Jewish males. Mr Chavez, 52, is a gay Latino from Albuquerque and father to two surrogate-born toddlers. He has tattooed arms and talks publicly of how he went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the late 1990s. He even left the bank at one point (not many people do that, and are allowed back).

Still, he has some classically Goldman traits, such as his habit of keeping a basketball on a shelf in his office. He never plays, and knows that visitors know he never plays. “The key is always to mess with people a little,” says one former vice-president.

The oldest of five children, Mr Chavez was born to a court stenographer and a graphic illustrator at a research lab run by the government. He had never been east of New Mexico before heading off to Harvard University, where he studied biochemistry. He then went Stanford, where he did a doctorate in medical informational sciences.

Recruited by Goldman, he started at the bank’s J Aron commodities trading arm, working in a 50ft circle with Lloyd Blankfein, now chairman and chief executive, Mr Cohn and other emerging stars such as Pablo Salame and Isabelle Ealet, now co-heads of global securities. He took part in some of the company’s flagship projects such as building SecDB, a huge database to track and price securities.

His promotion to chief information officer in 2013 ― after a stint at Credit Suisse and Kiodex, an energy trading software company ― meant that he sat atop Goldman’s biggest division, accounting for about one-third of global headcount.

A big part of that job has been bringing down the amount the bank spends on maintaining old systems, which consume about one-third of Goldman’s annual $3bn tech budgets, according to estimates by Credit Suisse analysts.

He has also taken a page out of Google and Facebook’s playbook and started giving away some of the bank’s trading technology to clients via open-source software, inviting them to use it and improve it.

What sets Mr Chavez apart is “his ability to take decisive action based on what the world will look like in five to 10 years”, says Tom Farley, president of the New York Stock Exchange, who worked with him at Kiodex. “Other people may have a view of the future but they’re afraid to act on it.”

In an address to Goldman interns this summer, Mr Chavez told them that as a new graduate, he wanted to “get busy and do a bunch of things”. When he landed on Wall Street, he learnt that people called that attitude “optionality”.

“You don’t know that these options are going to be worth something, but if you do the work, pay the premium, own a whole bunch of these options on a lot of different outcomes and you’re diversified enough, probably something will work out,” he said.

Via FT