Multiple computer screens aside the fiftieth floor at

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Multiple computer screens aside, the fiftieth floor at One New York Plaza was not the kind of gleaming, sterile environment you might see in the Hollywood version of a trading floor. In fact, Goldman’s trading floor was, in the early 2000s, borderline shabby: people’s desks were piled with crumpled paper, takeout containers, and empty soda bottles; the gray carpet was threadbare and
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stained. Sterility was not on the program. The five or six hundred people on the floor were packed in like sardines, cheek by jowl, desk by desk. You were right on top of other people’s family photos, sports memorabilia, private phone conversations, and lunch smells. You had no privacy, so you had better get to like the person who sat next to you. The Futures desk was smack in the middle of a rectilinear array of twenty-eight derivatives salespeople. Corey and I sat next to each other at the end of one row, positioned centrally to make it easy for the salespeople around us to yell out trades for us to execute. Two rows of seven salespeople extended lengthwise in front of us, and two additional rows of salespeople sat directly behind us, only positioned crosswise, so they were looking directly at the backs of our heads. The best thing about the chaotic layout was that the men’s restroom was about ten steps from my desk. I loved having the easy access. Each row contained a different derivatives sales pod, and the pods were classified according to the types of clients they covered. There were teams that covered macro hedge funds, long/short hedge funds, asset managers, mutual funds, pension funds, insurance companies, and Canadian-based clients. Every team had different intricacies and personalities, and Corey and I handled the futures business for all of them. That first day, a Tuesday, the very first thing Corey did was call up Goldman’s guys on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Patrick Hannigan and Bob Johnson, and say, “I want to introduce you guys to Greg Smith; he’s going to be my right-hand man. Please treat him well as he gets up the curve.” Chicago, as a city, has a prominent place in Goldman Sachs lore. Some of the firm’s most successful leaders—a disproportionate number—have come up through the Chicago office. Just to name a few: Hank Paulson, former Goldman CEO and U.S. treasury secretary; Bob Steel, former Goldman vice chairman and then CEO of Wachovia; and Byron Trott, who became known as “Warren Buffett’s favorite banker.” John Thain was born near Chicago, and Jon Corzine studied there. For info on these last two guys, Google “$68,000 antique credenza” and “MF Global debacle,” respectively. My connection to Chicago? Most of my family now lives there, and I think it’s a great town. In the early 2000s, before electronic trading of futures became more mainstream, most of our client futures business was executed in the pits of the Merc (as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange was familiarly known), so we relied on Patrick and Bob’s accuracy, knowledge of the markets, and ability to execute quickly and seamlessly, all of which made us look good in front of our clients. These two
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