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Lloyd Blankfein has held out the prospect of being replaced by co-chief executives at Goldman Sachs, suggesting that the Wall Street bank is contemplating a break from the structure in place for the past 18 years.
The contest to succeed Mr Blankfein, who has held the top spot at Goldman for over a decade, is one of the most keenly watched in finance. Last December the bank made clear its favoured candidates, appointing two senior executives from the banking and trading businesses to replace Washington-bound Gary Cohn, who had been seen as Mr Blankfein’s heir apparent.
During an interview with Bloomberg TV on Thursday, Mr Blankfein said that the bank would not necessarily name only one person to succeed him when he steps down. That could open the door to a double act of Harvey Schwartz and David Solomon, the co-presidents and co-chief operating officers, in a return to the structure Goldman had before it went public in 1999.
“Goldman Sachs as a firm has a long tradition of co-CEOs,” Mr Blankfein said, responding to a question on succession. “That can work if it works and people get along, but it doesn’t necessarily have to work. So I would say that it’s not a guarantee.”
In the past, Mr Blankfein, 63, has dodged or laughed off questions over his future. In 2012, he noted that five of his six predecessors left the bank to accept jobs with the US government, and six died while still running the firm. “I’d say the government probably isn’t going to call me,” he said then. “So that leaves staying forever and dying at my desk.”
More recently, Mr Blankfein — who also serves as chairman — has told underlings that he will be ready to stand aside once he has restored the bank’s return on equity to the mid-teens, according to people familiar with his plans.
But talk of succession has become more urgent as Goldman’s returns have fallen well short of that mark, and as the bank has talked more openly about measures to pep up under-performing business lines such as fixed-income trading. There was a flurry of speculation over Mr Blankfein’s fitness for the job in 2015, too, when he underwent treatment for cancer.
Other contenders include Stephen Scherr, head of Goldman’s fast-growing consumer banking arm, and Marty Chavez, the chief financial officer.
Goldman’s last co-CEOs were Jon Corzine and Hank Paulson. Mr Corzine abruptly stood aside in early 1999, shortly before the 148-year-old firm abandoned its partnership structure to sell shares to the public. Mr Paulson, the sole chief executive until 2006, then served as America’s 74th Treasury secretary through the financial crisis.
Reverting to a co-CEO structure could be a smart move, said Dick Bove, analyst at Vertical Group, for an “insular” bank which has struggled to replace revenues lost in recent years to structural shifts in trading and big shifts in regulation.
It would be even better if Goldman brought in “new blood” from outside, he said. “The current management team is not doing the job.”