Financial news

Roy Smith, former Goldman Sachs partner, 1938-2019

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Via Financial Times

Roy Smith, who pushed Goldman Sachs to become a financial force in London before quitting the partnership for a career as one of the investment industry’s foremost academic chroniclers, has died at the age of 81.

For almost three decades, Smith served to crack the firm’s code for an inquisitive public, his name appearing alongside that of Goldman Sachs seemingly whenever it appeared in print, in outlets as diverse as the New York Post, the Intercept and the Financial Times.

A veteran of the pre-flotation Goldman, he was a partner in an era when that title carried a near-life-long commitment, bringing lavish rewards but also a share of the firm’s potential liabilities. Smith marvelled as a new Wall Street took shape, blocks from his professorial perch at New York University.

Smith embarked on a career in finance after a chance encounter with two investment bankers at the upstate New York home of his then-boss at the Corning glass company.

It was not an obvious decision. “Didn’t you say [Wall Street] was too greedy and pushy,” objected his wife Marianne, who survives him, along with their three children and 10 grandchildren. 

She wondered whether the bankers had influenced him so much as two attractive young women who accompanied them and could be seen sunning themselves, topless, by the pool.

Undeterred, Smith joined Goldman in 1966 after graduating from Harvard Business School, where he studied alongside Michael Bloomberg, the entrepreneur and potential presidential contender.

By the early 1980s he was running Goldman’s international outpost in a market that was rapidly deregulating and exploding with the possibilities of Margaret Thatcher’s “big bang”.

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His half-decade in charge saw Goldman Sachs International triple its complement of London-based bankers and play a major role in reshaping such British corporate giants as Barclays Bank, the ICI chemicals conglomerate, and auction house Sotheby’s.

Although enlisted as the public face of Goldman before he left the firm in 1988, his later career as an academic left a deeper impression on the public’s understanding of the financial industry.

“He became a real resource for faculty,” said Ingo Walter, a frequent academic collaborator who helped recruit Smith to NYU. “[They] wanted to know how things really worked, whether their models reflected the reality.”

His academic work, which encompassed at least half a dozen books and countless media appearances, gradually distanced him from the financial industry. By 2011, he was calling for Goldman and other big banks to be broken up. 

“Goldman changed in a major way, both good and bad,” said Mr Walter. “He had to jump over some of his loyalty to retain an objective view.”

Mark Vandevelde is the FT’s US private capital correspondent

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