Bully Market by Jamie Fiore Higgins — a Goldman Sachs insider’s account
Few financial institutions capture the public’s attention like Goldman Sachs. Banker to the world’s biggest corporations, creator of global financial markets, and peddler of risky mortgages as the 2008 financial crisis approached, Goldman is synonymous with everything revered and reviled about Wall Street.
More than 150 years after its founding by Marcus Goldman and Samuel Sachs, this enduring fascination has spawned a cottage industry of books promising to thwart the mystique of impenetrable banking.
The last entry is bullying market, a worthy addition to Jamie Fiore Higgins, who worked at Goldman for 17 years until 2016 and became one of its most experienced bankers. While previous insider tales have focused on Goldman’s history, its organizational drift, or its web of conflict, Fiore Higgins’ jargon-free memoir offers a new perspective on what it was like to work as a woman at Goldman in the midst of its macho culture.
This will be an uncomfortable read for Goldman boosters. Fiore Higgins presents her nearly two decades at Goldman as a grim, if lucrative, ordeal. If the subtitle of the book — My History of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs – did not sufficiently reflect her experience, Fiore Higgins makes her feelings very clear in the introduction, describing Goldman as being a “racist, sexist and intolerant environment”.
She describes a series of incidents where she claims to have been the victim of bullying, discrimination and manipulation. All this does bullying market a notable reminder that Wall Street has been an inhospitable place for many women and minorities.
bullying market begins at the end of the author’s time at Goldman, the day in 2016 she received the bonus that gave her the financial freedom to leave the bank (she describes how she lived frugally throughout her time at Goldman , eschewing designer brands to shop at Marshalls and Payless, while tracking its progress toward release in a “freedom spreadsheet”).
We then revisit her decision to put off a career as a social worker to instead, at the behest of her parents, maximize her earning potential. This brought her to Goldman where she worked as a saleswoman in the bank’s formidable markets division. His job was to coax investors into allowing Goldman to borrow their shares, which the bank would then lend to hedge funds wishing to take short positions.
She writes that she faced and sometimes complicit in “harassment and abuse”, while enduring a “sexist and outdated culture”. In one example, Fiore Higgins, a mother of four, was told to stop talking about her children at work and someone found her “too motherly”. In another, she recounts a joke two traders made about charting the physical metrics of Goldman’s new female analysts.
The most dramatic incident comes shortly after Fiore Higgins was promoted to head of her sales office. She responded to a subordinate having an affair with one of her clients by removing him from the account. He reacted by grabbing her throat and slamming her against the wall. “If I could, I’d rip your fucking face off,” she tells him, saying.
About halfway through the book, things take a turn when Fiore Higgins details an affair with her boss that tests the foundations of her marriage. Ultimately, however, Goldman is her most problematic relationship. A friend compares the bank to an abusive boyfriend, “the guy who treats you like crap and then takes you out to a fancy dinner.”
The indictment against Goldman would have been stronger had the book attached real names to the events. In a writer’s note, Fiore Higgins says she’s changed the names and identifying details of her former colleagues, many of whom are composite characters. The book could also have done more reflection on what Fiore Higgins would have liked to do when her family pressured her to give up her true professional passion.
Goldman Sachs says it strongly disagrees with the author’s “characterization of Goldman Sachs culture and these anonymized allegations”, and that it has “a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or retaliation against employees signaling a fault”.
bullying market ends with the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, which changed the landscape to the extent that Fiore Higgins believes some of the treatment she suffered would not be tolerated today. Nonetheless, she writes that this doesn’t mean Goldman has changed, “just that people are more careful and better at keeping the dark side a secret.”
While its mystique is being stripped away, the powers that be at Goldman may not like what the world is seeing.
bullying market: My History of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs by Jamie Fiore Higgins, Simon & Schuster $28.99, 320 pages
Joshua Franklin is the FT’s US Banking Editor
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