By Lauren Tara LaCapra
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS) Vice Chairman J. Michael Evans will retire from his position at year-end, the bank said on Monday, eliminating a top rival of Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn in the race to become the next head of Wall Street's biggest investment bank.
Evans, 56, is one of the most senior executives at Goldman and has led a number of big divisions. He is global head of growth markets, and played a central role in Goldman's expansion into Asia as well as its reputational rehabilitation after the financial crisis.
Inside Goldman, his departure was seen as a sign that Cohn had solidified his position as the next likely CEO to succeed Lloyd Blankfein, sources familiar with the matter said.
Blankfein has said repeatedly that he has no immediate plans to step down, there is constant chatter about when he will retire and who will succeed him. Blankfein, 59, has been in the job since June 2006, making him the second-longest serving big-bank CEO behind JPMorgan Chase & Co's (JPM.N) Jamie Dimon.
Cohn is seen by many inside and outside the bank as a leading contender, though other names suggested by insiders include Vice Chairman Michael Sherwood, Chief Financial Officer Harvey Schwartz and David Solomon, co-head of Goldman's investment bank.
Evans started at Goldman in 1993 as an investment banker and became partner the following year.
He garnered attention for his role as co-chair of Goldman's internal Business Standards Committee, which reviewed the bank's practices leading up to the financial crisis and implemented new protocol for approving transactions.
He was awarded nearly $12 million in compensation for his work last year, and earned another $21 million through his investments in funds the bank manages, according to the investment bank's latest proxy.
Evans is expected to take some time off before pursuing another opportunity in the financial industry or elsewhere. He was on the short list of people under consideration to become the head of Canada's central bank last year, and is involved in several nonprofits.
Before heading to Wall Street, he won an Olympic gold medal on Canada's rowing team in 1984. He lives in New York with his Norwegian wife, Lise Evans. The couple has eight children among them, including six from prior marriages.
(Reporting by Lauren Tara LaCapra; Editing by Maureen Bavdek and Leslie Gevirtz)