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The Partnership: A History of Goldman Sachs [Hardcover]

Charles D. Ellis
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Nov 2008

Goldman Sachs is without peer in the world of finance. And yet the mystery of how Goldman Sachs accomplishes record profits, year after year, remains.

As a strategy consultant to Goldman Sachs for more than thirty years, Charles D. Ellis developed close relationships with many of the firm's past and present leaders around the world and gained extraordinary access to all aspects of the business. In The Partnership, he reveals the key events and decisions that tell the colourful, character-driven story of how Goldman Sachs became what it is today. From Sidney Weinberg, a junior high school dropout with a flair for markets; to Gus Levy, who brought ferocious intensity to every minute of every working day; to John Whitehead, who wrote the core values that defined a culture of teamwork in serving clients; to the unpretentious John Weinberg, who was the quintessential relationship banker of his era, to current CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein.

Starting as a sole proprietorship dealing in commercial paper in the mid-nineteenth century, Goldman Sachs became an innovative underwriter, struggled to survive the crash and Depression, and came out of World War II to complete what was then the single most important transaction in Wall Street's history: Ford Motor Company's IPO. Goldman Sachs overcame a full set of dramatic perils: Penn Central's bankruptcy, Robert Maxwell's abusive frauds, and insider trading scandals. Ellis uncovers how the firm's core values, intensive recruiting, entrepeneurial creativity, and disciplined risk taking laid the foundations, multiplied the firm's resources and profits and magnified its power to help it become what it is today: one of the most successful business organizations in the world.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (6 Nov 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846141028
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846141027
  • Product Dimensions: 4.6 x 16 x 23.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 346,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The book is rich with insider lore as well as the closed-door dramas of partnership clashes. [Ellis's] experience graced him with a sure hand in writing about the world of traders, analysts and deal makers." -- New York Times Book Review

"An important new history shows that the American investment bank is no stranger to adversity." -- The Economist

"[An] ambitious and absorbing tale of men (no women), money, ambition and redemption." -- Time Magazine

An immense history of Goldman Sachs
-- New York Times Book Review

An important new history shows that the American investment bank is no stranger to adversity -- The Economist

Engaging history of the company -- Wall Street Journal

His publisher will probably sell as many copies as they can print. -- LA Times

Review

Engaging history of the company

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Front Cover | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In a league of its own 24 Feb 2009
Format:Hardcover
Charles D. Ellis does an excellent job in recounting the history of Goldman Sachs. Rather than following its history chronologically the author tells it through the company's partners and learning experiences such as Penn Central's bankruptcy, Robert Maxwell and Long-term Capital Management to name just three of them plus of course the things Goldman Sachs has developed and does really well. The company's decision to list or not to do so is covered quite extensively with all sides and opinions of the argument being looked at. Goldman Sachs and the ongoing financial crisis is not covered in the book but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the author decides to write an up-date once the dust from this on-going event has settled.
What makes this book rather interesting reading is not so much that the author worked as a strategy consultant for Goldman Sachs but that the firm agreed to give him full and uncensored access to everyone so that this book is a real inside story and not just a corporate history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Partnership No More 11 Nov 2011
By DigiTAL
Format:Paperback
The title of Charles Ellis's book refers to the fact that, from its 1868 inception up until the firm's IPO in 1999, Goldman Sachs was run and owned solely by the partners at the firm.

This book chronicles the story of Goldman Sachs from its early days right up to the present crisis. Two themes run throughout the pre-IPO years: an unrelenting drive to service the needs of the client, and the many synergies from expanding into new products which allowed the firm to grow to the size it is today. For example, the firm's push into research gave institutional investors added incentive to use Goldman Sachs for executing large block trades of stock, while the firm's block-trading salesforce allowed it to quickly shift new underwritings of stocks and bonds from the firm's investment banking division. The firm is well known for its "Business Principles", formerly drawn up in the late 1970s, the first of which states: "Our clients' interests always come first".

These two themes reversed with the firm's IPO in 1999, and to me this is a great example of the problems with modern finance. Due to lower brokerage costs and commissions, financial firms are forced by the search for profits to expand themselves into risk-taking investments themselves, instead of acting as a disinterested intermediary between firms and investors. This means that what were once synergies between different departments now become conflicts-of-interest, as information derived in investment banking becomes of enormous value to the firm's traders.
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10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short, has that rare gift: to make investment banking interesting. In reality, Investment Banking is not interesting, it is in fact very dull. Just a bunch of greedy smart people robbing the funds of hard working people's pension funds and picking the pockets of those foolish enough to trust them. The seductive aspect of this business is the excess and extreme behaviour. This appeals to us poor people because it is a fairy tale world of easy living.
Charles Ellis does not have this rare gift. He appears to be a financial historian with an almost unbelievable knowledge of events. I cannot imagine how he knows what Weinberg (Goldman Sachs's boss in the 1920's) was saying in 1928 or details of all his practical 'jokes'. Jokes is a misnomer. This is not a humorous book. It is very very dry.
I confess that I am only at page 100 of the 700 pages and so far every page is the same. This book appears to be thoroughly researched and must have taken Ellis many years to write. I suspect it will be used as a reference book at Yale, Harvard and every other business school. It's certainly not a novel.
I hope that as I get to the more modern sections it will become more interesting. So far it reads like a dull history book.
All I have learned so far is that Goldman Sachs and Lehmans were owned by very rich jewish families, lent money to expanding businesses and sold bonds and shares. Not exactly an epiphany.
I will attempt to finish this weighty tome and update this review later.
JP.
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3 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Second hand review 24 Mar 2010
Format:Paperback
This was purchased as a present and sent directly to the recipient who thanked me and said it was a most interesting book. He would not have said otherwise, so I fear my review is not very useful.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  29 reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, poorly edited 6 July 2009
By I hate Amazon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Fascinating book, but the fact that it weighs in at nearly 700 pages shows that the editor was absent or lax. There's incredible repetition. For example, in one long paragraph, we learn that Goldman Sachs believed that "recruiting was the most important thing we could ever do." Moreover, "Recruiting people of exceptional talent...is vital to the success of any professional firm." We get the point, and don't need it belabored for eight sentences in the same paragraph. Examples like that abound.

The lousy editing is also seen when Ellis introduces characters in passing, without giving a sense of where they come from, or what their titles are. It would have been nice to have had a simple list of the senior partners or managing partners throughout the years.

It also would have been nice to have a glossary. Ellis is good at explaining that obscure financial instruments are complex--yet apparently they're so complex that even he doesn't understand them, because he sure doesn't explain them.

All of which leads to a question: Did any editor actually read the manuscript?
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For FInancial Professionals Only 14 Sep 2009
By Seth Hettena - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I picked up The Partnership to try to understand what Charles Ellis rightly calls the "global juggernaut" that is Goldman Sachs. Goldman operates "with almost no external constraints in any financial market it chooses, on the terms it chooses, on the scale it chooses, when it chooses, and with the partners it chooses," Ellis writes in his dry study of the world's most powerful financial firm.

Ellis has been granted extraordinary access to Goldman's partners, including two former Treasury secretaries, a former undersecretary of State and a former chairman of the New York Federal Reserve. Ellis is the highly regarded founder of Greenwich Associates, a consulting firm that advises large institutional investors (and employs several Goldman alums). Opening up to an insider like Ellis was a smart move on Goldman's part, perhaps, but not for the poor reader who shells out $40 for this tome. It's as though Tiger Woods had commissioned his caddy to tell the story of his life.

As a result, despite the personalities behind Goldman, The Partnership is remarkably lacking in personality. Readers hoping to learn about the firm's modern reach and influence -- as I was -- have to slog through years of corporate history. Ellis doesn't have the narrative flair of William D. Cohan or Michael Lewis, and Goldman itself seems like a soulless place, where ambitious men sacrifice marriages and children in the hopes of someday joining the ranks of making partner and earning a fortune.

The view from competitors might have helped here by providing some much needed drama from those who have the scars from their battles with Goldman over the years. But there's no sense of fun or drama in The Partnership, only cold relentless striving, and the book reads like an official corporate history. Even the scandal involving British publisher Robert Maxwell whom Goldman helped embezzle money from pensioners, becomes an example of how Goldman skillfully used its influence to make problems go away.

Following the Great Panic of 2008, Goldman's power and influence gained it much attention, not all of it from admirers like Ellis. Goldman has emerged as the preeminent investment bank and it used its position and the weakened state of its competitors to grow even stronger. For a firm that has such influence at the top reaches of our government, this raises a troubling question of whether Goldman is too powerful, too entwined with policymakers that some cynically refer to it as Government Sachs.

Bottom line: For finance professionals or managers and business consultants, The Partnership might offer up some interesting insights into what makes a successful organization and how it deals with inevitable failures, conflicts and mistakes. But this isn't the book for the general reader who wants to understand why the world wouldn't be any better off without Goldman in it.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A History Of A Survivor 11 Oct 2008
By C. Hutton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In his massive history of Goldman Sachs (over 700+ pages), Mr. Ellis gives a glowing and comprehensive history of the the investment bank. He writes as the insider he is (a former consultant to the firm) and is not as critical of Goldman Sachs as he could be. Founded nearly 150 years ago, he traces the firm's roots and growth, its downturns (the Depressions and the 1970's) and it re-intervention of itself repeatedly. The financial carnage of the past month is not covered obviously, but Goldman Sachs new survival has its origin in its 2007 decision to get out of the mortage business before the current crisis.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Extremely poorly written: 23 Feb 2010
By Trevor B. Mccann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Please note, I do not attempt to review the full substance of this book, yet.

Only twenty-three pages into this book, it is readily apparent that Mr. Ellis is a terrible writer. Mr. Ellis begins the book with the story of the original Goldman Sachs partnership and its familial underpinnings. So poorly written, I was force to read, and reread, passages to understand relationships as simple as father-son, that Mr. Ellis could have easily made clear.

The very same mistakes were made during the introduction of Lehman Brothers. And again when discussing the split between the two firms.

I will forge on because I am interested in the story. And I will post a proper review when/if I am able to finish.

But be warned - Mr. Ellis is a TERRIBLE writer. And Penguin Publishing, please hire a capable editor.

Also, please note that The Economist (my main reason for buying the book), Business Week, Time, NY Times Book Review, Financial Times, Boston Globe, and Bloomberg all gave very good to great reviews. I now wonder if these people read the book. I am disappointed in each of them.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The right focus and discipline 16 Oct 2008
By Allan S. Roth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Why does Goldman Sachs still have a $40 billion market capitalization while Lehman and Bear Stearns have become extinct? Charles Ellis answers that question and more in his latest book, The Partnership, as well as giving the reader an insider's view of what gave Goldman Sachs such an advantage. Like McKinsey & Company in consulting, Goldman Sachs walks the talk in hiring the right people and creating a culture that rewards long-term success.

This book takes an honest look at some of Goldman Sachs' missteps along the way, such as Long Term Capital Management, but also the considerable focus and discipline demonstrated in avoiding the easy short-term buck that seems to consistently blow up in our faces. Need I say more than AAA rated insured sub-prime derivative instruments?

It remains to be seen what the impact of the current financial crisis will be on Goldman Sachs. Regardless, this book shows why the death of investment banking may be a bit premature.

Charlie Ellis writes in his usual substantive yet engaging style. If you're looking for a great read with some very useful takeaways, I highly recommend reading this book.
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