For a man who has worked with some of the most demanding characters in the tech industry, Gregg Lemkau maintains a Zen-like demeanour. This partly explains how the Goldman Sachs executive has, over the past three decades, built a reputation as the adviser who can deal with the bad boys of Silicon Valley.
When Tesla’s Elon Musk was facing a backlash for his now infamous “funding secured” tweet, he turned to Mr Lemkau to help untangle a potentially career-ending mess. Uber’s board also sought the investment banker’s advice when the transportation company had to negotiate the exit of co-founder and former chief executive Travis Kalanick after a series of scandals.
For almost 30 years the Boston-born banker, whose childhood dream was to become a baseball player for the Red Sox, has navigated some of the most high-profile corporate deals and dramas. His own involvement has played out largely behind the scenes, as a consigliere to some of the world’s biggest corporate titans.
Now Mr Lemkau plans to step out of the shadows of the chief executives he has advised — to become one himself.
This week Goldman announced that the 51-year-old, who co-heads its investment banking unit and had been seen as a potential chief executive, had resigned. He was lured away by an offer from his long-term client and friend Michael Dell to run MSD Partners, an investment firm set up by the Texan computing tycoon.
Although the decision was made over the summer, many of Mr Lemkau’s colleagues only found out about his departure on Monday in a memo from Goldman chief executive David Solomon.
John Waldron, Goldman’s chief operating officer, was one of many to express surprise about the decision, though he recognised the appeal.
“I understand it is a great opportunity for him, and sometimes it is unnatural to spend your whole career in one place,” said Mr Waldron.
A former goalkeeper on the soccer team at Dartmouth College, Mr Lemkau briefly worked as a paralegal at Skadden Arps after university before joining Goldman in 1992 as an analyst. After three decades, he was not actively looking for an out, but friends said he had been getting itchy feet.
“I knew that Gregg was restless, it was clearly time for him to leave,” said Marc Benioff, the chief executive of cloud software company Salesforce. “He had exhausted all of his possibilities. There is a phenomenal new CEO at Goldman, David Solomon, but that really cut off the oxygen for Greg going to the top.”
Mr Lemkau’s departure comes as Goldman undergoes a transition. Last week it broadened the make-up of the partnership to reflect the bank’s diversification into areas such as digital banking. Investment bankers such as Mr Lemkau are no longer the undisputed masters of the Goldman universe.
However, Twitter’s chief financial officer Ned Segal, himself a former Goldman banker, said that Mr Lemkau had not demanded the limelight. “Gregg never made it the Gregg show,” he said. “It was always the Goldman show.”
Greg Maffei, chief executive of Liberty Media, said that shifting to a smaller, more private equity-oriented business had a lot of perks: “He’ll have much more control of his life . . . he’ll probably have more financial upside and he’ll be able to leverage all of the contacts and industry knowledge that he has developed.
Mr Lemkau, who was named to Goldman’s lucrative partnership in 2002, spent his career between New York, London and San Francisco, specialising in sectors that included healthcare and tech. Along the way, Mr Lemkau also earned a reputation for the best hair on Wall Street.
While spending lockdown this spring at his holiday home in Hawaii — close to the sprawling estate owned by Mr Dell — Mr Lemkau posted a photograph of his improvised office, complete with a view of a sun-kissed Hawaiian dune. In response, his sister Holly offered to send candles and launched the hashtag #helpBrotherGregg. Her brother took the Twitter jabs on the chin.
Mr Lemkau helped Mr Dell take his eponymous computer company from public to private in 2013 and float it again five years later in a complex $22bn stock deal that involved private equity firm Silver Lake.
Egon Durban, co-chief executive of Silver Lake, suggested the work at Goldman may have become too dry for Mr Lemkau.
“At some point, when you think about being in a big bank, the job can be more like being an HR director,” Mr Durban said. “You are like a soccer or American football coach. You get everybody excited and fired up, and try to make sure you have the right people in the right spots on the field, and then sit and assess strategic plans. That’s an incredibly intense, difficult job, but it’s less entrepreneurial and creative.”