The story behind Goldman Sachs’ President and COO

Gary Cohn is actually much more than the various leadership positions he’s held over the years at Goldman Sachs, including his current role as President and Chief Operating Officer. As a young Ohioan he saw his father transition from an electrician to a real estate develop, and would later go on to study at Gilmour Academy and got his bachelor’s degree at American University’s Kogod School of Business. Although his early school years were complicated due to the fact that he was diagnosed with dyslexia, but at the time was simply written off as being “dumb” or a “horrible” student.

Gary Cohn, president and COO, Goldman Sachs_american businessman_patrick dwyer merrill lynch
Image courtesy of Financial Times at (left: Gary Cohn)


His professional career started off at U.S. Steel in Ohio. He was only there for a few months when he decided to give his career a twist in the New York Mercantile Exchange as an options dealer. An option is a contract that in financial terms means that give the buyer or owner the right to buy or sell, even though he or she is not obligated to do so. The seller, under this contract has the obligation to fulfill the transaction, if and when the buyer decides to make use of this option. There are a few different options like call, which stipulates a specific price or put which conveys a specific selling price to sell. These are commonly traded and this is what Cohn began to do. In 1990 he was recruited at Goldman Sachs. In 1996 he started was named head of the commodities department, which was part of the FICC, the Fixed Income, Currency and Commodities Division. He began to go up the ranks through the division, as the head in 2002, and then was named the co-head of global securities businesses in 2004. He transitioned into the head of that department as well and finally was named the President and Co-COO, and director, in June 2006. His rise through the ranks has been truly impressive.

What has gotten him to the top?

Although, behind this he has not been without his critics. Some tag him as arrogant, abrasive, aggressive and with a high-risk work style. Most complaints will root themselves in his apparent arrogance, from a trading perspective. This basically means that this kind of person will view everyone as counterparties, without distinguishing the clients and customers. Now, the other side of the coin is quite different, because his supporters actually see these qualities as advantages in this field. They say is the definition of a trader and see that tough quality as an asset. A man in his position cannot have the luxury of just being nice. They have to have a tough character to succeed, and this would explain why he has. Even his early co-workers remember him as strategic, firm and driven. All qualities, that despite your personal position on the man, has taken him to where he is now. He has worked very hard to get to where he is and has made it big at Goldman Sachs where he has been for over 25 years now.

Goldman Sachs Tower_Jersey City, New Jersey_Gary Cohn_american businessman_patrick dwyer merrill lynch
Image courtesy of Erik Drost at / Goldman Sachs Tower

Becoming 2nd in power

He was not always seen as the ideal candidate to take over Lloyd Blankfein, due to his personality and work style. But many say he has really polished up and although Blankfein is not going anywhere soon, despite announcing his illness. It was announced last year he had a curable form of lymphoma and has reassured everyone that he is not leaving anytime soon. He and Cohn have stuck together even through financial crisis and the 70-point loss in one week. They were greatly affected by the 2008 economic crisis, basically because of the subprime mortgages. They rode it out until they were rescued by the massive U.S. government bailout. Cohn has worked his way to the top, even by strategically trying to meet the right people to get into the options market back when he was younger. His plan actually worked after he found a way to share a cab with Gladwell, who was also running options for a big brokerage firm at the time, and he got a week later, after saying he knew all about the business and studied up the whole weekend before the interview. Cohn takes risks, and they have paid off and have landed him to be the second most powerful man at Goldman Sachs, al despite his unsure academic beginnings


He is also actively involved in some non-profit activities mainly in New York. His eye has always been focused on education and healthcare, serving a trustee at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and American University in Washington, DC. He is also the Chairman of the advisory board of the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York. His impact has not just been on Wall Street.

To read more about other influential business in this era, you could read about Michael Bloomberg and how his innovation has turned him into a millionaire on the Patrick Dwyer Blog.


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