Goldman Sachs Elevator book criticizes Asia hiring at Goldman and Citi

Businessmen Waiting for Elevator

In “Straight to Hell,” John LeFevre, author of @GSElevator, tells of Wall Street corruption, but mostly about the drug-addled life of an investment banker.

Wall Street was improperly pushing the door-open button for the next generation of Asia’s rich and powerful.

That’s one of the claims made by John LeFevre, author of the notorious Wall Street-themed Twitter account GSElevator and a soon-to-be published book, Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, and Billion-Dollar Deals.

In the book, LeFevre says that Citigroup and other Wall Street firms in the mid-2000s shifted their hiring practices in Asia, increasingly filling junior ranks with children of wealthy and powerful business leaders and government officials. LeFevre says many of the hires were “dumb and undeserving,” but came with the “implicit expectation” that it would win business for the banks from the recruits’ influential families.

“We all understand and expect that Chelsea Clinton can walk into a job at McKinsey or at Marc Lasry’s hedge fund. But in Asia, it has increasingly become the rule and not the exception,” LeFevre writes in the book, which is being published by Grove Atlantic and comes out in mid-July.

The allegation that the banks handed out jobs to Asia’s young elite as bribes to win business from China’s state-run entities is not new. Regulators have been looking into the issue for more than two years. The initial investigation appeared to be focused on JPMorgan Chase, but it has since extended to all the banks, including Citi and Goldman. Some JPMorgan executives linked to the hiring probes have left the bank. Yet there have been few first-person accounts of the hiring practices, and no cases have been brought.

LeFevre points the finger at Goldman Sachs and others, but he only offers direct evidence of the hiring practices at Citi, which is one of the oddities with the book, and with LeFevre. Even though he became known for @GSElevator, which led to the book deal, LeFevre never worked at Goldman Sachs. That fact, when it came out, nearly squashed the book deal, and he was dropped by his initial publisher after that came out. He worked at Citigroup from 2001 to 2008, before joining a smaller investment firm. But I guess LeFevre, who modeled the Twitter account on a similar one about magazine company Conde Nast, thought @CitiElevator wouldn’t draw many followers.

LeFevre says when he first got to Hong Kong in 2004, the hiring protocols at Citi were about the same as they were in New York. But he says by mid-2006, many of the new analysts in his office had come from a pool of resumes sent in by people “looking for favors.” Both Citi and Goldman declined to comment for this article.

In another part of the book, LeFevre explains how he and other bankers would regularly share non-public information about upcoming deals with hedge funds. LeFevre ran a bond syndicate desk in Hong Kong. The claim echoes a central point in another recently published Wall Street book, Why I quit Goldman Sachs, by Greg Smith. But unlike Smith, LeFevre shrugs off this practice—which he was a part of—that borders on insider trading as part of doing business. LeFevre also accuses the the Wall Street firms of essentially engaging in price-fixing, promising not to undercut each other on deals. LeFevre says he attended at least one secret price fixing meeting, but he says the agreement never really held.

That’s the best of the dirt LeFevre appears to have on Wall Street, aside from pointing out the obvious fact that the financial services industry has plenty of drug-addled jerks. Unlike Smith’s indictment of Wall Street as a place that regularly takes advantage of its clients, LeFevre seems much more interested in explaining just how good of a time he had as an investment banker. One of the chapters of Straight to Hell is titled, “Because they were muppets.”

The book reads as one twenty-something’s long night out. There are relatively few pages that don’t contain the words “hooker” or “cocaine.” Many pages have both. Thirty years after we learned of the misdeeds of the Masters of the Universe, much of the shock factor is gone. As a Twitter account, @GSelevator had some freshness and originality: It gave us a glimpse into Wall Street’s secret seething disdain for the rest of us at a time when financiers knew they had to be outwardly apologetic. It seemed to be the voice of Wall Street that Wall Street didn’t want to you to hear.

LeFevre in book form comes off as someone desperate to get attention who you can’t shut up. Like any elevator conversation that continues when the person exits on your floor, what LeFevre has to say becomes less interesting the longer it goes on. Even the tweets LeFevre includes in the book don’t seem as witty as they did on social media. Elevator missives translate well for Twitter because, like elevator conversations, tweets quickly vanish. I found myself wishing, unsuccessfully, that LeFevre’s book would do the same.