time's up

figuring out who should buy your business

Taking the Bull by the Horns

“I felt like I was part of a family,” writes Jamie Fiore Higgins in her brand-new memoir. And as you were undoubtedly reminded over Thanksgiving, that isn’t always such a great condition to find oneself in. The book’s called Bully Market and the abusive (her term) family in question is the New York office of Goldman Sachs, where the author toiled for the first 18 years of her career. These 300 pages read like a horror movie with the audience peeking between their fingers, yelling at the screen: do not go in there, turn back, danger ahead. The investment bank has a nasty, toxic culture populated by hyper-masculine assholes. Yet what makes this story remarkable is how Fiore Higgins owns her role in the tango as she became drunk on the wins, the next promotion, and especially the money. And a ton of that did she make. “I was addicted to all the money I made, the prestige of my title, the way I’d made my family proud,” she admits. In an environment where you’re max 12 months away from the next enormous bonus, you clock a lot of “just one more year” time on the desk.

According to the author, “The halls of Goldman really weren’t that different from the halls of high school.” In the cast of characters, we’ve got the nerds with their noses forever in spreadsheets, preppie bankers fluent in empty corporate jargon, and of course the sales guys & traders who, some only a few years removed from stuffing mathletes into lockers, embody what’s broken about such banks. Fiore Higgins was a terrific analyst – smart, scrappy, resourceful, driven – and more than earned her keep and eventual promotions. But she was treated by male colleagues as a mere beneficiary of diversity efforts, a token woman handed management responsibilities at the expense of a buddy to whom nearly everyone chose to remain loyal. Despite efforts to sabotage her success, the profitability on her desk – built most notably through clever short-selling strategies with clients who loved her – was undeniable, resulting in an eventual elevation to Managing Director, a rare feat for a woman at the firm. And in a careful-what-you-wish-for twist, things will take an even uglier turn.

To this point, the reader is exposed to stark accounts of misogyny, racism, verbal abuse, and even the author being physically attacked by her boss. But still she remained. “I needed to stay,” we learn. “Those large bonuses year after year distorted my view of what a lot of money was and what I was willing to put up with to earn it.” The dysfunction peaks with Fiore Higgins getting railroaded on her first MD performance appraisal through which two traders – men who mocked her as a matter of course – sabotaged her 360-degree review at the direction of the department head. Sick stuff, all of it. It’s a relief when she finally quits (about a dozen chapters later than she should have because, as Bud Fox once asked, how many yachts can you water ski behind?). She’s skilled at baring her soul and admitting fault in several unflattering ways and even more so in the epilogue at challenging Wall Street firms to change. Here’s hoping Goldman execs read this one cover to cover (if even initially for salacious reasons) because in doing so they’d be taken to task by one of their own to diversify the ranks, bridge divides, and create cultures of accountability. As noted, “workplaces that are inclusive and supportive… are good for everyone.” Even the meatheads.

If you have anything to say about this, kindly post it below (rather than emailing me). Thank you!

8 comments for “Taking the Bull by the Horns

  1. Hi Chris,
    Very interesting, but not surprising, summary! Happy Holidays to you and yours. Kindly, Roberta

    • Yes, Roberta – agreed. As the saying goes, shocking yet not surprising. Fun to see your letter recently in the Boston Globe Magazine. Good on ya!

  2. Not surprised at the story, unfortunately. Inspired me to look up my old boss from an internship at Salomon Brothers in 1986, who left the following year for Goldman and spent 16 years there. My internship taught me more about what I didn’t want in a job than what I did want, but it was my springboard toward a career in research. I escaped unscathed!

    • Well played and said, Evelyn! If you haven’t already, check out “Industry” on HBO. It’ll, uh, remind you of why you “pivoted.” 🙂

  3. Chris,
    Nice summary! Now I have to go get this book. She hung around for 18 years??? Amazing what you’ll put up with for the “big big bucks.”
    Have a wonderful holiday!

    • I hope you do get it, David and see how much she confesses and rationalizes. It’s a “warts and all” approach and it’s really compelling stuff. Thanks and Happy Holidays to you as well!

  4. Hey Chris,

    Thanks for another excellent book review. If you want another look at this culture I would suggest checking out the show “Industry” on HBO Max.


    Scott Loring

    • Yes, Scott! I ate Season 2 whole recently. Great twists & turns by bad people doing awful things. Juicy stuff. Thank you for pointing that out here!

Comments are closed.