Is Bear's Alan Schwartz headed to Goldman Sachs?

Schwartz, the last CEO of Bear Stearns, is poised to become Goldman's next big dealmaker.

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By William D. Cohan, contributor
Alan Schwartz became CEO of Bear Stearns two months before it collapsed.
Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein, above, wooed Schwartz.

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- One of the few remaining mysteries from the fall of Bear Stearns is where's Alan Schwartz? Schwartz, as you may remember, was the affable M&A banker who had the misfortune of becoming Bear Stearns CEO in January 2008, two months before the 85-year-old firm collapsed.

That mystery may soon be solved: Alan Schwartz appears to be headed to Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), the premier Wall Street investment bank turned bank holding company. According to a source familiar with the negotiations going on between Goldman and Schwartz, the chances are about "50-50" that Schwartz will soon be a partner-level Managing Director at Goldman (of which there are now about 400, out of 27,898 employees worldwide.)

His potential role at Goldman

In his new post, Schwartz's responsibilities will include cooking up deals in the media, telecom and healthcare sectors and being an all-around senior banker and executive. If Schwartz ends up at Goldman, he will join the firm's other senior M&A luminaries, Jack Levy and Gene Sykes, in covering the media and telecom industries. Schwartz, 58, would also help fill the banking holes left by the recent departures of Bryan Trott, Warren Buffett's favorite banker, and Jon Winkelried, who had been a co-president at the firm along with Gary Cohn.

Despite having been a CEO of a smaller Wall Street firm, Schwartz is not expected to disrupt the carefully constructed pas-de-deux that is the Goldman succession plan: Although current Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, 54, is not expected to retire anytime soon, sole president and chief operating officer Gary Cohn, 48, is the leading candidate to succeed Blankfein when the time comes, especially given Winkelried's departure.

Indeed Schwartz is not expected to have any management role at Goldman as management never had much appeal to him, not even when he was at Bear Stearns, where he served as head of investment banking and as a member of the firm's five-member executive committee before becoming CEO. Schwartz and his second wife, Nancy Seaman - the chairman of Houlihan Lawrence Realty Corporation - live in Greenwich, Connecticut. A spokesman for Goldman Sachs declined to comment. Schwartz did not respond to an e-mail.

Courted by several firms

Since JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) closed its $10-a-share deal to buy Bear Stearns on May 29, there has been much speculation among investment bankers about where Schwartz would end up. Other members of Bear's executive committee have either retired (like 75-year-old former CEO Jimmy Cayne), been hired by JPMorgan Chase (like 80-year-old former CEO Ace Greenberg) or are undecided what to do next (like former co-president Warren Spector and former CFO Sam Molinaro). While Schwartz owned around two million shares of Bear Stearns stock, according to the firm's 2007 proxy statement, he had less than Cayne (seven million shares), but more than Spector (1.1 million shares), who had been selling shares following Cayne's decision to unwind the firm's capital appreciation plan.

For much of the past year, Schwartz has been hanging his shingle, so-to-speak, in a modest suite of offices that are part of Rothschild North America, at 1251 Avenue of the Americas. While using those offices, Schwartz has kept a very-low profile and stayed in touch with his clients, including Jeff Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner (TWX, Fortune 500) (Fortune's parent company). While at Bear, Schwartz also worked closely with Time Warner's then CEO Richard Parsons when he was fending off Carl Icahn's ill-fated hostile takeover in and around February 2006.

In addition to Goldman and Rothschild, the other firms Schwartz has reportedly spoken to about employment are JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) and KKR. One person familiar with Schwartz' conversations with Goldman said he has "enjoyed being wooed" by Goldman's CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Others speculated that winning a position at Goldman would be the capstone to Schwartz's investment-banking career and go far to remove any tarnish on his reputation as a result of his stewardship of Bear Stearns in its final months.

Although the discussions could fall apart at the last minute - just like any rumored M&A deal - hiring Schwartz would be a major coup for Goldman. There would also be the irony of Schwartz's decision to work at Goldman despite the view of many conspiracy theorists - including Jimmy Cayne - that Goldman helped bring down Bear Stearns - a notion that Goldman's Cohn has dismissed as "preposterous and absurd."

Despite Schwartz' bad luck to be selected as Bear's CEO during the firm's final months, he is generally credited with grace under pressure when he was forced by then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to find a buyer for the firm or face a bankruptcy filing. On the evening of March 16, 2008, JPMorgan announced it was buying Bear for $2-a-share plus the assumption of the firm's debt obligations. Schwartz successfully renegotiated the sale price of his firm upward to $10-a-share, which in hindsight looks like a major coup given the fates suffered by Lehman Brothers, AIG, Wachovia, Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) and Merrill Lynch (MER), among others.

Nicknamed "Allan & Company"

Schwartz joined Bear Stearns, in Dallas, in 1976, as an institutional salesman. As a senior in high school on Long Island, Schwartz had been a highly-regarded pitcher and attended Duke University on a scholarship fashioned especially for him. (At that time, Duke did not offer scholarships for baseball players.) An injury to his pitching arm ended his prospects for a professional baseball career. He graduated from Duke in 1972.

Fortunately, his banking prospects were brighter than his baseball prospects and did not require him to throw a baseball at 95 miles per hour. At Bear, Schwartz became head of research and worked in tandem with Larry Kudlow, then a Bear economist and now-CNBC personality. In 1985, Schwartz joined the firm's fledgling investment banking group and then quickly took over the management of it. His first client was Bear Stearns itself: He helped lead the firm's 1985 IPO.

In 1986, he started doing M&A deals and caught his first big break in August 1995 when he and Bear Stearns advised Disney on its blockbuster $19 billion acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC. His career took off after the Disney-ABC deal.

By then, he had also started an annual media industry CEO conference. At the conference, held in the early years at different posh resorts, Schwartz would interview CEOs, Charlie Rose--style, or put them on panels together and let them all talk about the state of the industry, all for the benefit of Bear's clients, bankers and investors. This was before it was common for Wall Street to host industry research conferences for investors.

The closest comparison to what Schwartz was doing with the conference was the famous Allen & Co. weeklong retreat for moguls that the firm has held every summer in Sun Valley, Idaho, since 1983. Because of the similarities between the two shindigs, Schwartz became known by the nickname of "Alan and Co." Eventually, Schwartz moved the Bear Stearns media conference to the Breakers, in Palm Beach, from California. Schwartz was attending the 21st annual Bear Stearns media conference at the Breakers during the firm's last week of existence, in March 2008. To top of page

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