John Weinberg, 81; Banker Built a Moral Culture

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The New York Sun

With the death Monday of John Weinberg, who led Goldman Sachs from 1976, the city lost a living link to the early days of the storied partnership that became the most profitable securities firm in the world.

John Weinberg was credited by friends and colleagues with representing the moral and cultural core of the company while navigating in difficult times, from the doldrums of the late 1970s through the mergers and acquisitions crazes of the 1980s, when he refused to let Goldman Sachs become involved with hostile takeovers, in part because it might alienate future clients.

“He was a great leader,” a managing partner at Goldman for much of Weinberg’s tenure, George Doty, said.”If you needed a friend in a tough place, he’d be there.”


Weinberg became senior partner in 1976 in a most unusual arrangement, as an equal partner to John Whitehead. Together, the two managed the firm until 1984, when Mr. Whitehead left Goldman to become deputy secretary of state.

“Whitehead was a superb organizer, and Weinberg was a leader of men,” Mr. Doty said.

The pair, who had been rising stars together at Goldman since making partner on the same day in 1956, would lead on an egalitarian basis that set the precedent for later co-chairmen arrangements, which fostered the team-oriented approach that Goldman favored.


A senior director at Goldman, Robert Downey, recalled a favorite Weinberg jibe: “Every time Whitehead said we were going to be a global leader in investment banking, I ended up flying to Singapore.”

Weinberg was known for straight talk, an attribute perhaps born in part of his years in the Marines; he served in the Pacific theater in World War II, and later, while working at Goldman in the early 1950s, re-enlisted, served in Korea, and left the military a captain.

He was once described as “a block of a man with the battered, square-jawed appearance of an ex-boxer.”


“He did not pretend to intellectual arrogance,” Mr. Doty said, “but he was very astute in ascertaining other people’s intentions and motivations.”

Most important to Weinberg was an old-fashioned concept, client relationships, and he cultivated quite a few, including Sears; the Bronfman family and Seagram Co.; General Electric, which he wooed through a young executive named Jack Welch, and Ford, a company his father took public at Goldman in 1956.

John Weinberg’s father, Sidney Weinberg, was a former assistant porter at Goldman who led it for 40 years, starting at the depths of the Depression. He was senior partner from 1930 to 1969 and defined the modern business culture of the firm. Taking over seven years after his father’s death, Weinberg represented a vital link to the firm’s heritage. He used this unique relationship to rally the troops during difficult times.

“Wall Street has changed a lot in the last 20 years, but he didn’t change at all,” the president of ESL Investments who worked at Goldman in the mid-1980s, Edward Lampert, said. “He was always the north star. He would do the right thing.”

In the world of high finance, big egos are often part of the culture, but several people who knew Weinberg noted that he was expert at puncturing or at least suppressing them. “When I used to introduce him to gatherings, I’d say, ‘How’s a guy who went to Princeton and Harvard Business School and the Marines end up with no ego?” Mr. Downey said.

Daniel Neidich, a managing partner at Goldman who joined the firm in 1978 and became head of the real estate department in 1990, said: “The culture was very much about fighting arrogance. Arrogance gets firms into trouble.”

Among the initiatives the firm undertook under Weinberg was the acquisition of J. Aron & Co., in 1981, and the initial consideration of going public to raise capital, a discussion that was ended for more than a decade by an infusion of a half-billion dollars from Sumitomo Bank in 1986. But more than the particular deals, it was Weinberg’s sheer persona that friends and colleagues most found salient.

“This was a great guy, and sometimes that can seem unimportant,” Mr. Neidich said. “But having someone in Wall Street who is the kind of person you want other people to aspire to, that was what leadership was about.”

The New York Sun

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