The Book of Goldman

March 9, 2012

View from Goldman Sachs office, Salt Lake City.

By Katya Wachtel and Lauren Tara LaCapra

Al Crutchfield, a 56-year-old cab driver who has spent most of his life in Salt Lake City, does not understand why so many Americans are angry at Goldman Sachs.

“Everyone seems to be so mad at them all the time, but I think it’s a good thing for Salt Lake that Goldman’s expanding here,” he said. “I drive lots of Goldman Sachs employees, so it’s good for my business, and their folks are really nice.”

Across America, and elsewhere, Goldman has often been the target of populist rage against Wall Street greed. But Al Crutchfield’s sentiment is not uncommon in this mountain city, where the investment bank has built up a cadre of back-office, technology, operations and research staff. It is now the investment bank’s fourth largest global operation, as Reuters reported Friday.

In fact, when we ventured out west in January, we discovered something akin to a parallel universe to Goldman’s East Coast world, where Wall Street giant has its headquarters in Lower Manhattan.

In Salt Lake, Goldman’s fat paychecks are a talking point for politicians – not a rallying cry for protestors. Here, Goldman’s shiny new office tower, which resembles a mini-version of the firm’s Manhattan fortress on West Street, is stocked with rustic paintings and lodge-like fireplaces, not abstract murals and slick bankers. In fact, the Salt Lake office is located, quite literally, on Main Street.

In Salt Lake we were told the walk-outs and protests staged by Ivy Leaguers at Goldman recruiting sessions on the East Coast,  were unthinkable. The Occupy Wall Street movement did nothing to strain the firm’s recruiting effort in Salt Lake, university officials said. In fact, local colleges Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Utah State have worked with bank officials to mold business school syllabuses that will turn out ready-for-Goldman students, school officials told us.

At the University of Utah, some of Goldman’s highest ranking employees even teach there. The school even opened up its campus to Goldman when the bank first got to Utah and needed office space.

“Goldman wanted to be in Research Park, but up until then it had only been for research entities, so the president of the university wasn’t inclined to say yes,” said Jack Brittain, who was then dean of its business school. Brittain successfully lobbied for Goldman to be the colleges first non-research tenant.

In perhaps the most Wall Street-meets-Main Street partnership, Goldman investment bankers in New York structured a complex debt vehicle to finance construction of a charter school for foreign refugees in Utah, said Howard Headlee, the founder of American Preparatory Academy charter schools. After months of searching for an adviser, Goldman was the only investment bank that agreed to help, Headlee said, since the bond was a tough sell to investors who were worried that the group lacked taxing authority to support payments.

Two bankers in Goldman’s Urban Investment Group, James Patchett and Dan Nissenbaum, worked round-the-clock for weeks leading up to a Dec. 31, 2010 deadline to get the deal approved by the government, Headlee said. They didn’t do it for free, but Headlee said the fees were reasonable compared to what other banks had quoted, and compared to related attorneys’ fees.

“Because of Goldman’s presence in Salt Lake, it was the only entity that had the interest to do it,” said Headlee, who is also president of the Utah Bankers Association. “There’s no way our school would have ever been built without them.”

We had anticipated some obvious, outward backlash to Goldman’s big push into the world’s Mormon capital. After all, the bank received a $47.3 million tax break in exchange for hiring, investing and paying its local employees far-above-average wages. (Though UF readers should note, the average wage in Salt Lake County is just over $40K, so it’s not exactly breaking Goldman’s bonus bank.)

In speaking with scores of Utahans – from the liberal mayor to the conservative governor, from devout Mormons to local bartenders, from big-city transplants to longtime residents – we found little animosity towards a firm that in countless other cities is referred to by many as the “Vampire Squid.”

For now it seems it is Goldman’s Salt Lake staffers who are most conscious of the hostility toward their employer outside of this Rocky Mountain enclave. Employees who took part in the local “Wild Wild West” charity Bowl-A-Thon last year chose the name “We’ve Been Framed!”

To read our Special Report on the bank’s Salt Lake City build up, Goldman’s Promised Land, click here.

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