On Monday morning, the news broke that Goldman Sachs would be elevating David Solomon to become the sole president of the nearly 150-year old investment bank, paving his way to succeed Lloyd Blankfein as C.E.O., (at some point) and concluding a horse race that has consumed Wall Street for more than year. First, in January 2017, Gary Cohndecided to leave his longtime perch as Blankfein’s wingman to become Donald Trump’s director of the National Economic Council; then Goldman promoted both Solomon and Harvey Schwartz as co-presidents to succeed Cohn; then, last week, The Wall Street Journal published a story revealing Blankfein’s forthcoming departure mere days after Cohn announced his own resignation from the White House. The bake-off between Solomon and Schwartz has concluded, and Schwartz is retiring from the company. Cohn, it seemed, was left to writhe in agony over what could have been.
There’s been much made on social media in recent days about whether Blankfein was trying to use the announcement to troll his onetime heir apparent, but the truth is more straightforward. Back when Blankfein was suffering from cancer (he has since recovered), Cohn canvassed members of the Goldman Sachs board (where he had also been a board member) to see if there was support for him to follow his boss in the big chair. It wasn’t there. And by the time late last year that Trump began mulling his pick for the N.E.C. job, as I have previously reported, Cohn had already been informed by the Goldman board that he would not succeed Blankfein. He had played the role of Prince Charles only to be thwarted in the end; that’s not the kind of decision that a board of directors often reverses, even if it knew that Cohn would be leaving Washington. And it’s also unlikely that Blankfein was trying to twist the knife with the timing of his announcement. According to one Goldman executive familiar with the process, the board had convened to select Solomon as Blankfein’s successor before Cohn’s own departure announcement from the White House.