In June 2019, Julian Salisbury sat at a table inside Goldman Sachs’ headquarters. Next to him was a colleague, Sumit Rajpal, and between them, a carafe of water.
The executives, along with Andrew Wolff in London, had been chosen by CEO David Solomon to jointly lead a private-investment business that rolled up teams previously scattered around the company. They were briefing their team on what to expect in the coming months.
The men represented vastly different Goldman cultures that had coexisted for decades. Salisbury is an Englishman, fond of tailored suits and silk ties, who came up through a rough-and-tumble team known for plowing money into battered businesses like Japanese golf courses and the pizza chain Sbarro. Wolff and Rajpal had risen through the firm’s more patrician private-equity arm.
The forced marriage was one of the most disruptive corporate reshufflings in Goldman’s recent history, opposed by both sides. Many feared that there would be no escape from rampant political jockeying. And those long-simmering tensions were about to boil over.
Rajpal spoke up. “Julian drank all my water.”
Apparently, Salisbury had drained the carafe, leaving nothing for Rajpal. At first, the comment seemed like a joke, one former Goldman executive who saw the interaction said. After Rajpal repeated it several more times, it became clear that it was actually an attempt to put Salisbury in his place, according to the executive, whose colleagues shared the sentiment in text messages afterward.
“Sumit was totally self-absorbed,” the former executive said. “He kept harping on Julian drinking all of his water … He was trying to be humorous, but it was a cut.”
Salisbury, who has a penchant for being soft-spoken, held his tongue in spite of the mounting discomfort.
“Julian did what he does,” the former executive said. “He smiled and kept going.”
Representatives for Rajpal and Salisbury declined to comment on the exchange.
Maneuvering political gamesmanship and outlasting rivals is nothing new to Salisbury, who honed his craft in post-Soviet Russia and has gone on to become a power player at the iconic Wall Street bank. Solomon has now tasked him with one of the CEO’s prized initiatives: attracting hundreds of billions of dollars in outside capital to a freshly streamlined asset-management division that rivals Blackstone.
Throughout his rise, Salisbury’s developed a reputation as a talented investor — and managed to attract the adoration of a Russian billionaire who has run into trouble with the law. Those who know him best say his detachedness and control of his emotions are strengths, but detractors argue that his clinical approach hides a cold impersonality. Relatively unknown outside of tight-knit finance circles, Salisbury’s name is now mentioned in passing as a future CEO candidate.
Sumit was totally self-absorbed. He kept harping on Julian drinking all of his water … He was trying to be humorous, but it was a cut.
Within months of the water incident, Salisbury’s ability to keep his emotions in check had been rewarded. Rajpal and Wolff left Goldman under a cloud of ill will. (Wolff declined to comment.)
When Solomon pushed to combine the private-investing business with Goldman’s public mutual funds, Salisbury again got promoted, joining Eric Lane to run an asset-management division responsible for $2.5 trillion in global assets and $15 billion a year in revenue. The division is the centerpiece of a strategy to reduce an overreliance on Goldman’s traditional strengths of trading and investment banking.
It wasn’t long before Lane, too, decided his future lay elsewhere, taking a job as president of the Tiger Global hedge fund and leaving Salisbury in March 2021 to run one of Goldman’s four divisions on his own. (Lane declined to comment.)
In an interview last month with Insider, Salisbury shrugged off any talk of playing a part in Lane’s departure.
“I was as surprised as you probably were when that happened,” he said in the video interview from his office at Goldman’s headquarters at 200 West Street. “Eric and I have known each other for many years. We’d co-chaired the partnership committee. We were friends. We still communicate regularly.”
Now, along with a new cohead, Luke Sarsfield, Salisbury oversees an asset-management division that is set to swell from roughly 5,000 employees to about 6,000 when the firm’s acquisition of the Dutch asset manager NN Investment Partners closes, likely in the first quarter. That scale offers a management challenge — Salisbury oversaw just 325 employees as the head of Goldman’s special-situations group – and a prominent perch from which to launch a bid for the CEO’s chair, should Salisbury decide he wants to go for it.
Some of the more than three dozen people interviewed for this story figure it’s a long shot. Salisbury’s reign atop the asset-management division has already been beset by delayed decision-making, personnel departures, and shifting alliances, people with knowledge of the division said. And no asset-management leader, let alone a Brit, has ever captained the 150-year-old institution. But others caution against underestimating his drive and ambition.
One former executive put it succinctly: “He just seems to win.”
Salisbury’s drive to win became apparent at Loughborough University, a publicly funded school in the north of England that turns out engineers and Olympic athletes. There, he won a British university championship in canoe slalom, a sport that requires kayaking between slalom sticks set up in icy rivers.
After college, having picked up the sport around the age of 14, he faced a choice: stick with it and see if he could ride it out to the Olympics, or leave it behind.
“Once I got to 21, 22, it was time to get a job, and my choice was spend the next three to five years living out of the back of a transit van next to the rivers in Wales and Scotland and the Alps and maybe making it to the British team and maybe getting into the Olympics,” Salisbury said. “One of the guys I used to race with — he was a year below me — he ended up getting a silver a couple of years later at the Olympics. And I decided I had great fun, but it was time to get a real job at that point.”
Salisbury chose a career in finance, spending three years as an accountant at KPMG in Manchester before joining Goldman Sachs in London.
“I find people who’ve done competitive sports, whatever the sport is, are really interesting people,” Salisbury said. “They’re often quite motivated. They’re quite organized, disciplined. They know what it takes to win, which is pushing yourself hard every single day.”
Salisbury said he regularly talks in sports metaphors. He ran the 2011 London Marathon in 3 1/2 hours and cycled the Trois Etapes, a pro-am charity event that traverses some of the same mountains as the Tour de France. Younger employees whisper about his ability to crush a New York spin class.
The focus on athletics underscores a quiet determination that has marked Salisbury’s career. He joined Goldman Sachs in the middle office, matching signatures on paper trading slips. Having picked up some coding skills earlier in his career, he put them to work automating some of his tasks, reducing a day’s work down to 30 minutes, a former colleague who has heard Salisbury tell the story recalled.
The creativity earned him a promotion in 2000 to the front office, as a research analyst covering media and telecom companies on Goldman’s high-yield bond desk. When the industry took a beating around the time of the 9/11 attacks, Salisbury followed the portfolio over to Goldman’s distressed desk.
The transfer grafted Salisbury onto one of Goldman’s most storied trading desks, the precursor to the special-situations group. A team that traded bank loans and controlled 50% of the market in some years gave rise to the careers of such Wall Street titans as Kevin Ulrich, who founded the $30 billion hedge fund Anchorage Capital, and Alan Waxman, the founder and CEO of Sixth Street Partners. Denis Coleman, now Goldman’s chief financial officer, also came up through that desk.
Salisbury dug through paperwork in British courthouses and visited pubs — including the legendary journalist hangout Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese — to develop relationships with advisors and lawyers, unearthing nonpublic information required to truly understand the plight of distressed companies, a former colleague said.
It also earned him time with Goldman’s leaders. Salisbury had impressed Waxman on a position they shared in CableCom, a Swiss provider of television and internet services, and was invited to join Waxman and Jody LaNasa, then the coheads of Goldman’s Americas special-situations group, when they went on a monthlong trip to China in 2005 to scout possible investments.
It wasn’t Salisbury’s last experience with an emerging market.
Though Salisbury briefly considered moving to Asia, he settled on Moscow. He moved there in 2007 to set up a special-situations team focused on the former Soviet republics, which, a decade after the fall of the USSR, were still a Wild West of financial markets.
For Salisbury, whose wife is Belarusian, it was something of a career gamble — in hindsight, it wasn’t clear when the next step, like a chance to return to London, might come along.
“We hadn’t really done much east of Berlin,” he said of the special-situations group’s European activities until that point. “It was the sixth-largest economy in the world at that time, but not a lot of capital to compete with, and some pretty interesting emerging companies. It was a bit of a leap of faith.”
The role put him in contact with Oleg Tinkov, a Russian businessman seeking investment for his fledgling internet bank. Within months of their meeting in February 2007, Salisbury had signed off on a deal to buy a 15% stake for $15 million, according to Tinkov’s 2010 memoir, “I’m Just Like Anyone Else.” Later that year, at the dawn of the global financial meltdown, Salisbury signed off on another $20 million as part of a larger syndicated loan.
The depth of Salisbury’s support was captured in a December 2007 letter he wrote to Tinkov, who has kept it as a memento. “We’re giving you more money,” Salisbury wrote. “We believe in you, but it’s quite possible that this is the last money the bank will be able to attract. A serious crisis is coming.”
In 2013, Goldman Sachs led the IPO of Tinkov’s bank, making the Russian businessman one of the world’s wealthiest people. In an interview that year, the Russian billionaire expressed his gratitude and said the Goldman investor had been an instrumental force in burnishing both his business prospects and his self-esteem.
“I would like to say thank you very much to him because he was the one who believed, he was the one who saw the opportunity, found the diamond in the garbage,” Tinkov said of Salisbury, according to a transcript of the conversation with David Nangle, then head of research at the Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital. Salisbury “invested in one bank because he believes in me, he believes in the strategy,” Tinkov added. “It was a big seal of approval for our model, it was even good for me mentally and I started to believe in myself more.”
When asked about Tinkov’s comments in February, Salisbury said he wasn’t aware of them. He then scrambled to find the bank’s up-to-the-minute market capitalization, before repeating a recent figure from memory. Fifteen years later, Salisbury showed that he still kept tabs on the signature investment.
In October, Tinkov pleaded guilty to US charges of tax fraud and agreed to pay more than $500 million in taxes, interest, and penalties in a deal with the Justice Department. When Tinkov recently approached Goldman to endorse one of his ventures, the investment bank got squeamish, one executive said. A Goldman representative declined to comment on Tinkov’s tax fraud or any recent interactions the bank has had with him. Tinkov did not respond to a request for comment.
The financial crisis provided another opportunity for Salisbury when his London colleagues’ losses contributed to the global special-situations business losing more than $2.5 billion in 2008, a former partner said. Salisbury relocated to London to lead the European special-situations group.
A series of well-timed bets on investments including nonperforming real-estate loans that Goldman bought from struggling banks in Ireland and other European nations set Salisbury up to take over the global group five years later when its leader, Jason Brown, left to start a hedge fund.
Pablo Salame, then a cohead of Goldman’s securities division, considered pairing Salisbury with a partner based in New York, before ultimately deciding that Salisbury should run it alone from New York. Though Goldman’s London office housed thousands of employees, it was an open secret that the nucleus of the firm’s political capital was firmly in New York City.
In New York, Salisbury worked closely with Salame to reposition the business in the wake of proprietary-trading restrictions imposed by the 2010 Dodd Frank Act. He continued growing the special-situations group’s portfolio, made up of Goldman’s own money, from a crisis-era low of $8 billion or so into a $30 billion portfolio a decade later.
As the group’s portfolio expanded, Salisbury began to enjoy the trappings of wealth that his position conferred. Gossip circulating inside Goldman suggests Salisbury is one of the best-compensated executives at the bank. Salisbury makes more than Solomon, who pulled in $35 million last year, people briefed on his compensation said. Goldman partners earning more than their CEO isn’t unheard of, but it underscores their importance to the company.
Salisbury is active in Manhattan’s private-school community, serving on the board of trustees at St. Bernard’s and Nightingale-Bamford. Both are among New York’s most exclusive and expensive private schools, charging more than $50,000 a year.
Like many financiers, he also uses his wealth in the service of his career. He joined a wine-and-dinner club with some of the private credit industry’s most successful managers, including Blue Torch Capital’s Kevin Genda, Stuart Aronson at H.I.G. Capital, and Sixth Street’s Joshua Easterly. And he took to hosting fellow partners and members of his management team at the Nexus Club, an exclusive members-only establishment close to Goldman’s headquarters.
In 2017, Salisbury purchased an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for $13.4 million. As he settled into American life, Salisbury’s accent began to sound to some of his countrymen like an amalgamation of the worlds he straddled.
“I have heard his accent drift a bit mid-Atlantic,” a former Goldman executive said, referring to the half-British, half-American accent taught in affluent East Coast schools in the first half of the 20th century. “I suspect it helps him.”
By mid-2019, speculation about the forthcoming combination of the special-situations group and the merchant bank was fueling the rumor mill at Goldman. But nothing had been made official.
Executives were caught off guard when, on June 16, 2019, The Wall Street Journal broke the news, throwing the bank’s plans for the announcement into disarray. Salisbury, Rajpal, and Wolff had to mobilize, summoning their respective teams to Goldman’s ground-floor auditorium to brief them on the strategy.
Neither Salisbury nor Rajpal looked happy to be there, two people in the audience that day said. When one executive spoke, the other stood off to the side with his arms crossed, looking sour, one of the people said.
As the two men went through a PowerPoint deck, the hastiness of the meeting became clear. The deck included slides that were obviously placeholders, with some proposed language in brackets to indicate it wasn’t finalized, the two people said.
Over the following months, Salisbury’s working relationship with his two coheads grew increasingly frosty.
At first, it wasn’t clear that Salisbury would survive. Of the three coheads of the combined group, two came from merchant banking, which was a larger business. Rajpal and Wolff had made the firm a lot of money.
So the sudden departure of his two rivals and a promotion to lead asset management cast Salisbury into the spotlight — and left many inside and outside Goldman Sachs wondering how he had done it.
“If you had asked anyone in the summer of 2019, they would have thought his days at Goldman were numbered, and maybe he thought so too,” a former colleague said. “I am not sure how he emerged victorious.”
A friend of Salisbury’s, who asked for anonymity so that he could speak openly, said Salisbury’s influence comes from 15 years of making savvy investments that fattened Goldman’s bottom line. While Salisbury is ambitious, this person said, he isn’t overtly political — but he’s also not unaware. “It’s hard to be a great investor and be politically savvy,” this person said. “But there are people who are good investors and aren’t politically naive, and that’s how I would describe Julian.”
That comes through in an understated approach that contrasts with many on Wall Street who use their power to browbeat their subordinates. Salisbury isn’t prone to yelling. He welcomes the involvement of compliance and legal professionals in investment decisions. And during investment committee meetings, when emotions can run hot, Salisbury takes command of the room by asking questions quietly, forcing everyone to stop talking in order to hear him, a former colleague said.
During the merger of the special-situations group with the merchant bank, he put many of his personal favorites into leadership roles. Greg Olafson, Nishi Somaiya, Milt Millman, Tavis Cannell, Gaurav Seth, and others began to fill out the senior positions in the combined merchant bank. The real-estate business particularly witnessed a lot of turnover. To those who ended up leaving, it felt more like a takeover.
Nonetheless, Salisbury is also judicious in using his political capital and more willing than some would like to cede personnel decisions to his superiors. In the months after Lane exited, Salisbury successfully resisted the appointment of a cohead atop the asset-management division, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The internal debate delayed the choice of a cohead by several months, and when one was finally chosen, it was Sarsfield, an investment banker by training who is said to be close to Goldman’s president, John Waldron. Sarsfield was not Salisbury’s preferred choice, two of the people said.
“The only person I really spoke to about this was David and John, so if anybody else is offering opinions as to how I felt about it or didn’t feel about it that is not one of those two people, then I don’t know where they are getting that information,” Salisbury said. “I’m a pretty discreet person. I’m not somebody who goes around sharing my views broadly with other people.”
Salisbury and Sarsfield have known each other for more than a decade, sharing a leadership trip to India roughly five years ago, though their exposure to one another has been limited by careers largely confined to different branches of the bank.
In an interview with Insider, Sarsfield brushed off the suggestion that Salisbury may have opposed his appointment. He conceded that there are times when leading solo can offer greater “ease and efficiency” than having a partner. “I don’t think, for somebody who’s been both, that it would be entirely unusual that they might have that perspective,” Sarsfield said. “I don’t know if that’s the case or if it isn’t, but I would tell you …he has not evinced that to me, either in word or in deed.”
It’s hard to be a great investor and be politically savvy. But there are people who are good investors and aren’t politically naive, and that’s how I would describe Julian.
At Goldman Sachs, splitting departmental control among several strong figures is de rigueur. The bank’s three other divisions — investment banking, markets, and consumer and wealth management — have had multiple heads since they were formed in the firm’s organizational reshuffle in 2020.
Since Sarsfield stepped into his role in late January, he and Salisbury have already pushed one another on their opinions. “If we disagree, we’ll sort of disagree between the two of us,” Sarsfield said, “and then we’ll come to a resolution on what the right path is, and we’ll present the collective and unified approach.”
Salisbury has “been incredibly open, welcoming, and embracing of my views,” he added.
Now that the various asset-management mergers are complete inside Goldman, the firm’s executives have set their sights on attracting outside money. New funds focused on mezzanine lending and taking minority stakes in private-equity funds, as well as entirely new strategies, are in development.
They’ve already found some success. A new West Street Strategic Solutions strategy patterned on the type of investing Salisbury’s team in the special-situations group did raised $14 billion in six months last year. And in February, Solomon raised Goldman’s fundraising projections, telling an investor conference that the firm aimed to raise $225 billion for its various alternatives businesses by 2024, up from a goal of $150 billion.
“Fundraising in private equity is very competitive, and you’re up against these firms that have been at this business and developing relationships with these pensions and endowments for decades,” Brennan Hawken, a UBS analyst, said in an interview. “I was apprehensive about their ability to hit these fundraising targets … They hit it in half the time. They’ve been massively successful.”
Nonetheless, it won’t be easy for Goldman to go head-to-head with the likes of Blackstone and other private-equity giants for new business, a due-diligence analyst at a boutique management-consulting firm said.
“They don’t have the type of scale where they are deeply competitive,” the person said. “Goldman Sachs is more in the camp of using their existing book of investors, and the Blackstones of the world are more accommodating to finding new investors.”
Salisbury will have to hit a fundraising circuit, a task he hasn’t had much experience with on account of his years investing Goldman’s own money.
He won’t have the name recognition of private equity’s most successful fundraisers, like Carlyle’s David Rubenstein or Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman, or the bandwidth to travel the world like those men raising money while other executives handle the day-to-day management responsibilities. Salisbury will have to do both, leaning on Solomon, Waldron, and Goldman’s sales force to fill in the gaps. The CEO has already flown to Austin to meet with pension managers at the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
Salisbury’s future at Goldman will depend on convincing larger endowments, public pension funds, and even sovereign wealth funds to move their multimillion-dollar mandates to Goldman from its competitors. Luck might help too. Stephanie Cohen, another executive mentioned as a CEO candidate, has moved to Dallas to run the consumer and wealth management division. That limits her facetime with Goldman’s top brass.
To be clear, Solomon has shown no intention of retiring anytime soon.
Some Goldman insiders who know Salisbury say they wouldn’t be surprised to see him one day claim the CEO title. When asked about the chatter, Salisbury demurred, calling speculation that he could one day run one of Wall Street’s most prestigious banks “very flattering” but insisting he’s firmly focused on his current job.
“I’ve got to focus on doing what I’m doing now and doing that as well as possible,” he said, adding that it was the same advice he offered to young bankers. “We have a huge task ahead of us to continue to make the most of what is already an incredibly powerful asset-management platform, to make it an even stronger and bigger and better asset-management platform. I’ve been in the job for a little over a year. I’ve got a very clear set of things to get done over the next five to 10 years. And then we’ll see what happens. But I have plenty to do right now, rather than worrying about what’s the next job.”
A former managing director wasn’t as circumspect. Assuming Salisbury doesn’t leave for a more lucrative job elsewhere, this person said, “I presume he will probably be top dog.”