Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon is accused of 'blatant ignorance and disrespect' by students at his alma mater

David Solomon has faced plenty of heat in his role leading Goldman Sachs this year. But an interaction with college students as part of his other chairman role is now attracting further scrutiny.

A group of seniors preparing to graduate from his alma mater, upstate New York’s Hamilton College, wrote a letter accusing the Goldman Sachs chairman and chief executive officer of “blatant ignorance and disrespect” as they spoke with him about the school’s investments in fossil fuels at a trustee networking event.

The students said Solomon, 61, claimed that he did more in a week to help climate change than they would ever do, pointing to his capital accumulation and position of power. He also guessed that the group — all non-male and mostly people of color — all benefited from financial aid, and therefore should feel indebted to endowment they were questioning, according to the letter.  

The letter, jointly written by three members of the class of 2023 and published on the school newspaper’s website in May, was reported Friday by New York Magazine as part of a story on unrest within Goldman Sachs over Solomon’s management style. Solomon serves as the chair of the board of trustees at Hamilton, a liberal arts college with about 2,000 students.

Frustrations inside Goldman have become increasingly public. They escalated through the pandemic even as the company minted record profits, and intensified in recent months during a slowdown in core business lines. Fueling the fire, the bonus pool shrank last year in part because of losses from the now-abandoned push into consumer banking.

A representative for Hamilton College declined to comment. Goldman spokesman Tony Fratto said Solomon has enormous respect for the students and “he did not and would not say things to offend them. We strongly dispute the claims that he did.” Fratto didn’t elaborate on which claims he was disputing.

“At one point, he laughed and told us he’d be dead in thirty years, so climate change would be our problem anyway,” the students wrote. They said Solomon indicated fossil-fuel divestment was a stupid movement and that if the students traveled to countries like China, India and Cambodia they could see how the world “really worked” before deciding if they wanted to live like that. Shortly after, in June, Solomon convened a Goldman Sachs board meeting in India. 

Solomon oversaw record results for Goldman Sachs in 2021, and the stock is up more than 50% since he took over almost five years ago. But he’s faced elements of revolt from the firm’s powerful cadre of partners over issues tied to the business, such as the costly consumer-banking flop, and some specific to Solomon himself — complaining about his brusque management style and his use of the corporate jet for leisure. 

A growing list of senior departures has also drawn attention, with some executives departing soon after taking new posts, and some top women exiting amid criticism about the firm’s culture. The tally includes executives Solomon has elevated, like Julian Salisbury, who left last month for Sixth Street Partners.

In recent weeks, the firm has tapped veterans of the company to return in key roles. Tom Montag, who spent more than two decades at Goldman and helped run the trading business when Solomon ran investment banking, was named to the board of directors last month. Russell Horwitz, a confidant of former CEO Lloyd Blankfein is rejoining as chief of staff, a role that has been used to build consensus in top management.

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