going up?

Is the @GSElevator Mystery Really Solved?

Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., poses for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 44th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the five day event runs from Jan. 22-25.
Well, it’s (probably) not Lloyd. Photo: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Last night, Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times made waves by exposing the identity of @GSElevator, the anonymous Twitter scribe (and now, book author in the making) who purported to relay conversations from inside the elevators at Goldman Sachs. According to Sorkin, @GSElevator is really John Lefevre, a 34-year-old ex-bond trader who lives in Texas, and who has never worked at Goldman Sachs. (Though, from contemporaneous evidence, he does appear to have been offered a job at Goldman in 2010.)

Sorkin has more than enough evidence to link Lefevre to @GSElevator – including a conversation he had with the Texan in which Lefevre admitted to being behind the account. I’ve since spoken with Lefevre, too, and have gotten the same confession. But – at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist – I’m not sure that Lefevre is telling the whole story.

Admittedly, I come to this conversation with a long and weird history of involvement in the @GSElevator saga. In 2011, I was the first writer to interview the creator of the then-new account. My interview – headlined “Meet the Goldman Sachs Banker Behind @GSElevator” – contained no names, but had this bit of confirmation that the writer of the account had, in fact, worked at Goldman:

Q. Are you really a Goldman employee?

A. Yes. However, I cannot really elaborate on this in terms of team or location, other than to say that I am a career banker. And to preemptively clarify, I am in a front-office, revenue-producing, client-facing role. Apologies for the aggressive clarification, but it is quite pathetic to see back/middle office employees telling people (women in bars) that they are “investment bankers.” If people are at all skeptical about my employment status, it doesn’t bother me. I am doing this for my own amusement.

If Sorkin’s column is correct, and Lefevre is the sole author of the @GSElevator account, then obviously that answer from 2011 was false, and I was lied to. But I’m not sure that’s all that’s happening here.

In the three years since that interview – while breaking the news of @GSElevator’s book proposal, among other things – I’ve learned a bit more about who is behind @GSElevator. I’ve come to suspect that the account is a group effort, the product of at least two individuals working collaboratively, one or more of whom may work at Goldman or may have worked there in the past. Part of this is a simple smell test – the sharp, concise writing contained in @GSElevator’s tweets has always read like the work of a different author than the loose, elementary prose in the book proposal and the writing contained in some of the account’s articles on sites like Business Insider.

But I’ve also seen credible proof of multiple authorship. Several months ago, I was contacted by a person who works in finance and is not named John Lefevre, who showed me convincing evidence that he had access to at least one of the accounts affiliated with @GSElevator.

(Weirdly, I’ve also been suspected of being in on the ruse. Several weeks ago, when I posted @GSElevator’s book proposal, a source told me that an anonymous caller placed a call to the official Goldman switchboard, ID’ing me as the account’s author and then hanging up. For the record, I am not.)

Last night, after Sorkin’s column ran, @GSElevator emailed me from the address we’d used to correspond several times before – including once when I’d reported on his book proposal, and again last week, when he wrote a review of my new book that was published on Business Insider. In his email, he apologized for “having had to be misleading / vague / or at all disingenuous with you in the past,” and said:

I don’t really care so much about being outed.  I always said it was never about Goldman, it was about illuminating Wall Street culture.  GSElevator is not an anonymous person.  It’s not a person at all.  It’s the embodiment or aggregation of “every banker”, a concentrated reflection of a Wall Street culture and mentality.  Getting focused on me the person, to a large extent, misses the point. But I welcomed being outed because it frees me up to speak more clearly and freely about my experiences and the uniqueness of my vantage point.

That would be a reasonable, if frustratingly evasive, way to wrap the @GSElevator saga up in a tidy, Roland Barthes-approved bow. However, several minutes later, I got the same paragraph – word for word – sent to me by the other person I’d thought was in league with Lefevre, who had shown me proof of his involvement.

Subsequently, around midnight, I received a call from Lefevre himself, who appeared somewhat shaken by the night’s events. While he said he hadn’t read Sorkin’s column, he did know he’d been named as @GSElevator’s author. He confirmed that he had been the participant in our 2011 Q&A. And he went on the record denying my multiple-authorship theory.

I am the only person who has ever tweeted from @GSElevator,” he said.

Lefevre almost certainly bears responsibility for much, if not all, of @GSElevator’s creative output. Both his book agent and editor told Sorkin that they were aware of his identity before he was unmasked. Much of the information that is publicly available about Lefevre – that he worked for Salomon Brothers, spent some time in Asia, and was offered a job at Goldman – meshes with what’s in his book proposal.

But last night, Lefevre didn’t sound like a man who had nothing left to hide. So here’s my educated guess: I think there are several people responsible for the updating the @GSElevator account, as well as related accounts on Facebook and Instagram. I believe that @GSElevator was either multiple people from the start, or that in the three years since the account was opened, it has morphed into a kind of cross-platform performance-art project, with multiple people creating content under the @GSElevator aegis.

Some of this may be happening independently of Lefevre. For example, this Instagram photo taken last night outside the Goldman Sachs building in lower Manhattan, posted to the @GoldmanSachsElevator account (follower count: 15,000), would seem to indicate that Lefevre, who is in Texas, isn’t the only one posting on the persona’s behalf. But there’s no provable link between @GSElevator on Twitter and @GoldmanSachsElevator on Instagram – the two may belong to the same individual(s), or it may be one poseur seizing on a popular Twitter handle and porting it to another platform.

Who cares?” you might be asking. And you’re right – this mystery matters to a handful of reporters in New York, and perhaps some tiny fraction of @GSElevator’s 625,000 Twitter followers. But as someone who has spent the better part of three years corresponding with @GSElevator, reading @GSElevator tweets, and reviewing a book proposal and several other pieces of @GSElevator output, I’m invested (albeit extremely reluctantly, since – reminder – this is a parody Twitter account!) in the outcome.

For now, I don’t have any other names to share, or a second-poster theory credible enough to print. But, if I were a betting man, I’d bet that we’re still not hearing the full story of who’s behind @GSElevator. Some of the tweets may have come from inside the building after all.