The Mysteries of the Goldman Sachs Partnering Process, Revealed

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Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd./Paramout/The Kobal Collection, Patrick McMullan

Like an emotionally distant lover, the less Goldman Sachs gives us, the more we want. In today's New York Times, a Goldman spokesman declined to comment on the process by which the firm annually selects its partners, leading the Times to describe the process as "secretive" and driving us wild with curiosity. What kinds of sick things do they make potential partners do, for the firm to decline to speak about it entirely? What secrets lurk in the hearts of the hordes streaming in and out of the building on West Street? We asked a former Goldman Sachs partner to describe how this mysterious ritual works.

All right. Let's do this. How does the super-secret selection process work? Don't worry about shocking me, I have a strong stomach.
You basically have to get nominated by the head of your division and then they go through some vetting process, in which they look at your reviews and solicit other partner's opinions and input.

So it's like going through rush at a fraternity, a little.
I guess so. I've never done that.

Is there a hazing component? Is it, like, the head of your division drives you to a nursing home and goes, "Sell this worthless financial product to everyone inside or else I'll strip you naked and tie you to the top of the Empire State Building"?
No, you don't have to perform any feats. It's more like, how effective are you? Do you contribute a lot to the P&L? Do you have the support of the people who run your area and your division?

Intense. So then what happens? How do you find out you've made partner? Do they wheel a giant cake into your office, made entirely out of $100 bills, with a hooker inside?
Actually, um, you get a call from the head of the firm that morning telling you that you’ve been elected partner of the firm. That’s the notification. Then they put out a list an hour or so later.

Do they give you anything to seal the deal? A briefcase full of cash? A couple of gold bars? Naming rights to the junior associates' first-born?
When I was made partner it was before they went public, so the financial rewards were quite significant. You literally owned a piece of the firm. And when it went public it was very lucrative, of course. It's less so now, because they have to give the shareholders some return on their investment.

The Times says "investment opportunities not offered to other employees” and reservations at “fashionable tables at New York restaurants." So basically it's like having a Discover card...?
It’s still very meaningful financially. They basically give you some percentage of the firm.

So is there some kind of ceremony to mark this occasion? Like you have to perform a ritual killing of a puppy, or drink the blood of an innocent from a golden chalice?
You know, no, there isn’t a big ceremony to initiate the partners. There's like a meeting of all of the partners, that takes you through how it all works. And then later in the month there’s a partners dinner and stuff.

Like one of those super-secret dinners where they only serve endangered species?
I think I had salmon.

That is fucked up. So what is it that bonds you all together for life, if not shame, self-loathing, and fear of retribution?
I don't know that we are bonded together for life. It's more like, once you become partner, you get on various committees and things, and you get to know and trust the people you work with. And Goldman partners tend to be a pretty high-quality group of people — when people leave the firm, as you know, they tend to go to quite varied and prestigious institutions. And it's a relatively small group of people, so even if they don’t know you that well, they think, "He must be a good guy if he was a partner." That’s the common bond. It’s no different than, like, college.

Oh. Well. I suppose you want me to keep your identity secret. You wouldn't want this getting back to you.
You don't really have to. It's not that big a deal.

No, I think we'd better. For your own protection.
Okay.