Goldman Sachs’ unsung hero, South African Mr Fix-It Russell Horwitz, bows out

By Sridhar Natarajan

(Bloomberg) –If Goldman Sachs offered the executive title of fixer, it would probably go to Russell Horwitz. A key adviser to the investment bank’s top leaders, Horwitz was once described by former Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein as the most important person at the firm whose role nobody knows.

The 49-year-old is making his way to the exit after 16 years helping grapple with crises big and small — from recriminations after the 2008 meltdown to the multibillion-dollar scandal at Malaysia’s 1MDB investment fund. “You really don’t want to go through either of those again,” Horwitz said in an interview.

“In dog years, it’s a lifetime in terms of experiences.” This year, Horwitz helped forge a deal with Malaysia’s government to resolve the 1MDB probe, logging a dozen trips to Asia and becoming well acquainted with the cigar bar at the Mandarin Oriental in Kuala Lumpur.

The agreement was a critical step toward a global settlement just weeks before the US election. While the bank ultimately forked over $5 billion and admitted breaking the law, it avoided US conviction. Horwitz started out in the Clinton White House and then worked for US Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt and for Bloomberg LP.“I got hired to write speeches for Hank Paulson,” he said of his move to Goldman.

Initially uncertain, he made the jump after asking himself one obvious question: “What else is Goldman Sachs going to hire me to do?” Once inside, he soon found other assignments. After the financial crisis claimed Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers Holdings, the public’s attention began turning to Goldman, which seemed to be faring too well — an era of singular focus that Horwitz describes as dangerous.

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‘Foxhole’ FriendHe soon emerged as a key figure inside Goldman’s corridors of power as the company struggled to deflect scrutiny and eventually withering criticism. “In these firms and in this business, things sometimes go wrong,” he said. “And also with Goldman, which inspires a lot of emotions from people.”

He became a close associate of Blankfein, first as a travel companion and then as a sounding board. Horwitz was by the boss’s side as they entered the Capitol in April 2010, where Blankfein took question after question from angry senators, a scene now etched in Wall Street history.

“I’ve been in a foxhole with Russell a few times,” Blankfein said in an interview. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t value his partnership and appreciate his friendship.”

On the drive back to New York City, they pulled into a rest stop in Maryland around midnight for a slice of pizza. After the glare of Washington’s spotlight, they were suddenly anonymous again. Nobody gave the duo a second glance, Horwitz said. “The world is a lot bigger than you think it is. That gives you some perspective.”

Blankfein recalls it a little differently, quipping: “The pizza looked like it had been rotating for six weeks. But at that point, I didn’t really care if I survived or not.”

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