EUROZONE: Nice guy comes in first

Goldman Sachs took an historic decision last month. For the first time since it created the Whitehall fund series and Real Estate Principal Investment Area (REPIA) in 1991, Goldman has entrusted sole charge of its global operations to a London-based executive.

One could argue, somewhat unkindly, that Edward Siskind was the last man standing. At the end of 2008, Stuart Rothenberg decided to retire at the age of 45, leaving Siskind and fellow co-head Todd Williams in charge. Last month though, it was revealed Williams was also retiring, while former co-head Brahm Cramer and managing director Jonathan Langer were leaving REPIA to pursue other opportunities.

Siskind, though, is more than just the default position for Goldman.

Ten years ago, it was Siskind the bank turned to when it needed someone to run REPIA’s European business. Richard Georgi had left the platform to invest on behalf of George Soros, with Goldman plucking Siskind from its New York office.

If you are looking for clues as to how Siskind has made it to the top, you could do worse than listen to comparisons with Georgi.

Former Whitehall foot soldiers describe Georgi as the hungry “eat-what-you-kill” deal guy, unconventional in his approach and an innovator. Siskind is the more approachable, corporate nice guy whose face fits at Goldman Sachs. 

There are more anecdotes about Georgi in any one of his five years running REPIA in Europe than there are in the 10 years that Siskind has spent doing the same job. That, say former Whitehall people, is all you need to know.

“When it comes to the corridors of power, Siskind is a better fit,” said one former Whitehall professional. “He is very good at running a business. He’s more approachable and less abrasive than Georgi.”

Siskind operates in a low profile way too. Shortly after he moved to London, sources said he chose not to throw some elaborate party, but invited several REPIA people to his home to shoot some pool in an attic room. He is also not visibly apparent on the conference circuit either. “You don’t really see him at all,” remarks a rival.

What Goldman Sachs has in Siskind is loyalty, a thorough knowledge of the moving parts of the Goldman machine, management capability and experience of investing through the RTC.

Siskind, after all, is a Goldman Sachs’ lifer. He joined the firm in 1988 and, like Rothenberg, was around at the start of REPIA and the Whitehall opportunity funds. As a result of recent management changes, only one person left has been at REPIA as long – Jean de Pourtales, who joined the same day as Siskind and who is relocating to London from Singapore to lead investing in Europe with James Garman.

Privately, Siskind would say he grew up in the business a deal guy, arguing that no-one can manage an organisation without understanding the fundamentals of transactions. In 2005, he was elevated to head of Goldman Sachs’ overall real estate activities in Europe. Then, last year, he became co-head of the global REPIA business when Rothenberg retired after 21 years of service.

Despite having served just as long, Siskind is not about to retire.

He privately jokes that looking after his two young children full-time would be more stressful than running a business. No doubt he faces many challenges. Details have leaked out of late about how challenged the Whitehall portfolio has become, with its high-net-worth investors suffering along the way. 

Siskind doesn’t readily admit to anything that might reflect badly on Whitehall. I can personally attest to that. But crucially, he remains motivated and hungry to make money from real estate in this new distressed era. With all the Goldman levers at his disposal, he should enjoy doing so.