Former Goldman exec Marty Chavez discusses getting sober more than two decades ago, and why he feared it would be a 'disaster' for his Wall Street career
- Marty Chavez, the former CIO and CFO of Goldman, helped create the company's internal risk analytics system and led the development of the firm's high-profile trading and risk offering Marquee.
- In an interview with The Business of Business, he explored his road to sobriety and the problems with Wall Street's hard-drinking culture.
- "I would put 'You've got to drink to succeed,' in exactly the same category as 'You've got to play golf to succeed on Wall Street,'" he said. "I've never played golf. I've never held a golf club."
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A former high-profile Wall Street executive opened up about his struggles with alcohol and his decision to get sober more than two decades ago.
Marty Chavez, who rose the ranks at Goldman Sachs and held a variety of senior roles at the bank, including chief information officer and chief financial officer, before departing in 2019, said he was initially worried about how his career would be impacted from no longer drinking.
Chavez, who stopped drinking in 1997, was in the oil business at the time. He had served as a senior energy strategist at Goldman as well as a director of global energy derivatives at Credit Suisse.
Drinking was a big part of the culture of the industry — whether it be going out with traders after work or drinking at dinner with clients — and Chavez said one of his great fears was getting sober would be a "catastrophe."
"I was going to Houston all the time and there I was in the middle of the oil and gas patch, an awful lot of drinking. I thought this was going to be a disaster for my career," Chavez told Thinknum cofounder Gregory Ugwi last week as part of an interview series for The Business of Business.
"And then I realized that's not real, none of that is real, that's just the liquor talking. It's just giving me reasons to take a drink," Chavez added.
Read more: Marty Chavez is retiring from Goldman Sachs. We chatted with him about the bank's tech transformation, why now is the right time for him to step down, and what he's planning next.
Years later, he said he's been approached "a hundred times" at industry events by colleagues and clients about his decision to get sober and how they could get help.
Chavez said the stigma around not drinking, whether with coworkers or clients, is similar to that seen around anyone with a diverse set of interests outside the ones typical of Wall Street.
But that shouldn't prevent someone from being successful in the industry.
"I would put 'You've got to drink to succeed,' in exactly the same category as 'You've got to play golf to succeed on Wall Street,'" he said. "I've never played golf. I've never held a golf club."
Path to sobriety
Arriving at Goldman in 1993 with a PhD from Stanford and a background in engineering, Chavez was tasked with helping create the company's internal risk analytics platform, known as SecDB.
He left the bank in 1997, spending three years at Credit Suisse and launched his own company, commodities-trading risk management system Kiodex.
But in 2005 he returned at the behest of Gary Cohn, then global co-head of the firm's securities business. During his second stint at the firm, he championed Marquee, the firm's high-profile trading and risk management offering that made much of SecDB available for use by clients.
Chavez was known during his tenure at Goldman for breaking the mold of the typical Wall Street executive — he's openly gay, Latino, and sober. A 2016 New York Times profile called him a "departure from the button-down partners of Goldman lore," and his transparency about the problems of a Wall Street culture that prioritized drinking and trips to the golf course.
See more: Inside a massive transformation at powerhouse Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs
Chavez showed some of that same transparency in his recent interview with Ugwi, exploring his decision to go sober and why he thinks others shouldn't hesitate to take the same route.
"I will say for a long time, I didn't talk about sobriety at all. It was, of the many parts of myself, probably the last one that I started talking about, especially publicly," Chavez said.
He said "good fortune" and the intervention of friends set him "walking down a different path," toward sobriety.
"First the man takes the drink, then the drink takes the drink, then the drink takes the man," said Chavez, reciting an old proverb. "I was well within the middle phase and headed fast into the third phase."
Chavez also noted that colleagues and clients alike have been supportive, even telling him that they feel they have a similar experience with drinking and they're encouraged by his vocal support of going sober. Ultimately, he said, it's a matter of thinking for yourself and not worrying about the opinions of others.
"Most of our fears about what people will say or what people will think are just a projection of our minds. Most people are too busy worrying about their own problems to actually spend much time thinking about what we're doing."
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