Name and title: Gregory K. Palm, executive vice president and general counsel
Global banker: Founded in 1869 by Marcus Goldman to assist businesses borrowing money through extremely short-term loans, The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has grown to be a leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm. It is ranked No. 59 on the Fortune 500 list. Based in New York, with offices in major financial centers including London, Frankfurt, Germany, Tokyo and Hong Kong, it employs 21,928 individuals and reported 2004 revenues exceeding $29.8 billion. It also has several worldwide affiliates and subsidiaries. The firm has a highly developed proprietary trading function — executing trades for its own profit using its own funds — and also distinguished itself from its peers by advising clients on how to avoid hostile takeovers.
Highly regulated business: The financial services field is strictly regulated, and Goldman Sachs is under the auspices of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the primary overseer in the United States. It also receives the oversight of the New York Stock Exchange and National Association of Securities Dealers. The SEC has equivalents in multiple foreign jurisdictions, and Palm has met (in some cases, periodically) with senior regulators from Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as officials from the financial services authorities in Japan and the United Kingdom.
Ground zero HQ: Palm was “tangentially involved,” along with a senior real estate lawyer, and a team led by a chief administrative officer, in Goldman Sachs’ recent landmark deal to establish a 43-story, “environmentally responsible” office tower in New York City’s Battery Park City, across from the destroyed World Trade Center. The agreement reached with New York Governor George E. Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, includes controversial “giveaways” such as partial funding of up to $1.65 billion in Liberty Bonds provided by the federal government, but its proponents assert that it will provide jobs and a much-needed economic infusion to revitalize the decimated area.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were obviously a “huge event” for downtown Manhattan and firms like Goldman Sachs. As for the present catastrophe in Louisiana and Mississippi, Palm said that economists are split as to whether it will affect business, although the consensus appears to point to a one-half to one percentage point drop in GDP caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Typical tasks: Palm confronts the gamut of issues that come to him, but much of his work actually consists of overseeing his large staff of attorneys. As a member of the firm’s management committee, he advises executive officers, and he also liaises with the board. He works with the corporate governance committee, and the head of the board’s audit committee reports to him concerning provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Although there is an increased level of compliance activity with the advent of Sarbanes-Oxley, it is not a “sea change,” according to Palm, as the firm already spent a lot of time on it.
Goldman Sachs went public in 1999, with various minor “ramifications, consequences and changes” compared to when it was a partnership at the beginning of Palm’s career. He also pointed out that the business has grown in scale and is more global, particularly in China and Europe, than when he started at the investment bank. He stays current in his field by being a voracious reader of the memos that “come over his transom” from law firms.
Legal team and outside counsel: Goldman Sachs’ legal department has a staff of more than 400, including more than 200 attorneys. Various general counsel and managing directors, representing divisions such as international, investment banking, fixed income, equity and asset management, report to Palm who, in turn, answers to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Henry M. Paulson Jr. Palm said he participates in the hiring of external counsel, adding that due to the nature of the business, “lots” of outside lawyers are engaged by “lots” of different people. Some firms used by the company include New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell for a variety of general corporate, litigation, mergers and securities matters, and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in the fixed income category. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr gets the call for certain litigation and regulatory needs, and New York’s Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz receives work on the corporate side underwriting mergers. Palm has something like 90 lawyers at his disposal in offices outside of the United States, around 50 in London alone, and he “leverages their expertise” in dealing with foreign banking laws.
Route to the top: Palm graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970, following it up with joint degrees from Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School in 1974. In a career highlight, he clerked for Judge Henry J. Friendly of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — “a brilliant man and pre-eminent jurist of his time,” and later, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell.
Next, he joined Sullivan & Cromwell in New York as a corporate associate, making partner in 1982. He moved in-house to Goldman Sachs in 1992, initially as a partner and co-general counsel. Five years ago, his co-GC retired, making him general counsel, and he became executive vice president in 1999.
Personal: Palm and his wife Susan are the parents of four: Jennifer, 31, Katherine, 26, and twins Eleanor and James, 4 months old. He was born in Chenango Bridge, N.Y.
Last book and movie: “Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II,” by Robert Kurson, and “War of the Worlds.”