In the summer of 2011, about three years after the U.S. government issued a $700 billion bailout to hundreds of banks, and two years after Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein announced he was “doing God’s work,” John LeFevre launched @GSElevator on Twitter.
“It started as a joke in a bar,” says LeFevre. He was inspired by the Twitter account @CondeElevator which chronicled supposed conversations in the Conde Nast elevator. “I thought ‘wow if people find this entertaining they would be blown away by some of the things that [bankers] say and do.’” Though he worked for Citigroup, he chose to use Goldman because he found that “Goldman Sachs' culture is an amplified version of broader Wall Street culture.” The material came directly from things LeFavre’s friends had said and overheard over their years working at banks.
The Tweets were classist, sexist and all kinds of prejudiced—and they led to 719,000 followers and a book deal.
The book, “Straight to Hell,” was released Tuesday and chronicles LeFevre’s career as a banker. He recounts tales of debauchery that include plenty of alcohol, illicit drugs, sex workers and lots of money. These are his personal stories but he sees this as a representation of Wall Street. “It’s more 'debaucherous' the further you get away from New York,” says LeFevre who was based in Hong Kong for most of his career. “I would say there is not a single bonds salesman in Asia at any bank who hasn’t bought drugs or girls for their clients.”
Matt Levine, a writer for Bloomberg View and former Goldman employee criticized the accuracy of the book, saying he never saw that level of depravity in the banking world. LeFevre’s response? “[He was probably one of the] people who was made fun of…It was always a battle between the kids who sat in the back of the class and the kids who sat in the front of the class. There is that lockerroom fraternity type culture in banking.”
LeFevre also wants to distance his book from another classic tale of extreme wealth and extreme partying, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” He calls Jordan Belfort and his co-workers “community college rejects that went out to Long Island, committed crimes and partied like rockstars. The experiences that I had in my career were about the best and brightest, the Ivy League graduates who work at Citi and Goldman Sachs.”
The book claims that the Wall Street culture encouraged bankers to give clients intentionally bad advice and collude on fees. “If our [Bloomberg terminal] chats ever came out they would ruin careers and marriages,” says LeFevre.
It’s been a few years since LeFevre has worked on Wall Street, he now lives in Houston with his wife and kids and is essentially retired. Looking back, he can see how easy it is to become wrapped up in a world that’s far removed from reality—where it makes sense to blow tens of thousands of dollars in a few nights, or keep two apartments—one for your wife and the other for your girlfriends. He can see that a lot of the things he did were “outrageous and probably wrong," he says.
But that won’t stop him from recommending his career path to another young person. “I still think it is a phenomenal place to start a career,” he’d even let his own kids follow in his footsteps if they want to.
So what’s his advice to a young banking analyst? “If you want to get promoted, do what your boss does. If your boss drinks, drink. If your boss smokes, smoke. If your boss cheats, cheat. That’s how you get promoted on Wall Street.”
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