Goldman Trading Whale Ram Sundaram Exits After Era of Shrewd Deals
(Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is losing Ram Sundaram, the senior trading executive who for years has engineered some of the firm’s most hotly debated deals, often generating hefty gains.
His two-decade run at the firm was punctuated by billions in profits during the 2008 financial crisis and culminated with power over vast tracts of the trading division, including structured credit, commodities, currencies and emerging-market businesses. The 53-year-old is departing at a time of changing priorities within the investment bank, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Goldman is increasingly embracing the role of counselor to corporations while trying to shed its reputation for coming out on top in trades too complex -- or fraught -- for rivals. Under Chief Executive Officer David Solomon, the bank has been nudging the trading division, once known for raining riches on risk-takers, to become something more akin to a utility or market adviser. Sundaram, a veteran with a knack for novel deals, ended up straddling both eras.
“He’s the one banker that I call when I need something that’s difficult, that’s complex and requires out-of-the-box thinking,” said Marcelo Claure, the chief operating officer of SoftBank Group Corp. “He’s the person I turn to because he can execute.”
Known within Goldman for preferring to operate under the public radar, Sundaram handled some of the firm’s most famous transactions around the 2008 financial crisis and the years since.
Before the housing market collapsed, he was involved in buying protection against debt defaults, bolstering the bank’s finances as the crisis worsened, but contributing to the immense strain on insurer American International Group Inc., which took a taxpayer bailout. Several years later, he helped structure bonds for 1MDB -- the Malaysian fund deal set up by Goldman’s investment bankers. Prosecutors in the U.S. later accused the bankers -- but not Sundaram’s group -- of colluding with officials who looted the fund.
In more recent years, Sundaram got directly involved when WeWork, a Goldman client, needed a lifeline in the wake of an aborted initial public offering in 2019. And in one of the most talked-about deals on Wall Street last year, his team helped turn United Airlines’ frequent-flyer program into a much needed capital injection to weather the pandemic.
Claure, who is also WeWork’s executive chairman, said he previously teamed up with Sundaram on a novel approach to issuing debt backed by Sprint Corp.’s spectrum when Claure ran the telecom operator. In June, they also paired up to help raise $20 billion for SoftBank by offloading a stake in T-Mobile in one of the largest secondary offerings ever.
Claure also struck another deal, purchasing Sundaram’s $27 million home in a star-studded Greenwich Village block that’s counted Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick among its residents. That was 2017, near the peak of the city’s property market. “He charged me based on future prices of Manhattan -- and I believed him!” Claure joked.
In 2019, Sundaram even tried his hand at producing a movie, which featured his son in a leading role.
Sundaram got his start at UBS Group AG, where his early duties included fetching lunch for currency traders from a local Wendy’s -- and sometimes returning to the burger joint when he got their order wrong. He joined Goldman in 2001 and was one of its highest-paid employees through the financial crisis, a time when the bank’s compensation policies attracted scrutiny.
In the three years through 2009, his small team generated more than $4 billion in profits. But his group’s success in the AIG trades dragged him into the public postmortem into the causes of the 2008 turmoil. As the crises brewed, Goldman had been faster than other banks in lowering marks in swaps transactions with AIG, forcing the insurer to put up more collateral. For years, AIG insisted it was unfairly hurt by Goldman’s aggressive moves. Veterans at the bank maintain its marks simply reflected the underlying market’s decay.
Goldman declined to make Sundaram available for an interview.
Sundaram’s relatively small group was viewed by some as an elite clique, wielding outsize clout within the firm. Its members were also relentless, one executive said, recalling that he would jump on conference calls with Sundaram at 2 a.m. in New York to stay on top of market moves in Australia.
Sundaram exhorted his troops to come up with bigger, more profitable trades, using phrases like “We need to break glass” and “We can’t be middle-class in our thinking,” colleagues recalled.
But such obsessions sometimes grated on other executives who were annoyed by the way his group did business. Insiders noted Sundaram’s office featured a portrait of Alaskan wolves and questioned what it projects about his team’s culture.
But the menacing message is more accidental than intentional. An art collector, Sundaram mounted the piece by Hiroshi Sugimoto in his office after discovering the expensive splurge wouldn’t fit through the elevator doors in the building where he lived.
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