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Marty Chavez: 'God Told Me to Go to Goldman Sachs' (Video)

Wall Street might be ripe for automation.

Alex Ulreich for Re/code

Martin Chavez made his biggest entrepreneurial bet at one of the worst times in modern financial history: Two weeks before the dot-com bust in 2000. Still, he found a way to succeed and eventually sold his company four years later and was able to retire.

But not long after he set up his lounge chair on a Fire Island beach, his former boss at Goldman Sachs appealed to him to rejoin the investment bank.

Unsure of what to do, Chavez retreated to a monastery in northern New Mexico to clear his head. In the midst of cleaning toilets, he had an epiphany: “God told me to go to Goldman Sachs,” he explained to Re/code’s Kara Swisher at the Code/Enterprise Series event at the Steelcase WorkLife Center in New York Tuesday night.

Over a decade later, Chavez oversees Goldman’s massive IT and internal software organization, which would rival many traditional tech companies. It has more engineers than Facebook, employing more than 11,000 coders running some 6,000 software applications consisting of 1.5 billion lines of code.

Software has become a strategic portion of Goldman’s investment banking business, as it has for many of its competitors. Software has become a much bigger part of trading and investing strategies, and Chavez, as Goldman’s CIO, hopes to increase the bank’s offerings.

“Software is eating the world of finance,” he said, later adding that the bank is working on a strategy to allow its clients to “come to us through an API.” Goldman’s analytics software, for example, could be offered directly to clients. In another area, the company built a flow chart breaking down all the steps toward an IPO, about 160 in total, a process that could be handled with far less human friction.

“A lot of that is ripe for automation,” he explained.

Chavez’s strategy for Goldman’s software is to download an open source app and then customize it, or build something new from the ground up rather than purchase commercial software, which he sees as a last resort. “Our mantra is ‘download, build, buy,’” he explained.

Chavez gets a lot of credit for turning Goldman’s tech operation into a strategically important center of power within the company. He’s in charge of a portfolio of several of Goldman’s tech investments. One of these is Symphony, the cloud software company devoted to secure messaging systems that’s aiming to win over the banking industry.

The basic narrative that has emerged about Symphony is that it exists because Wall Street banks got annoyed with Bloomberg terminals when that company’s reporters were found to be snooping on usage habit of its data terminal customers. But Chavez painted a more complicated picture. “Bloomberg is a great company,” he offered, “but we think there’s some room in 2015 [for other options.]”

Goldman, which spends upward of $3 billion a year on its engineering, has also put Chavez in a leadership role for the company’s diversity needs. In that role, he has found that hiring diverse people isn’t enough. People from different backgrounds are more aware of environments that might not be as receptive to their presence.

“And they see that and they tend to self select out,” he said. Instead of expecting staffers to have to adapt to a legacy culture, Chavez helped Goldman create a program to make the workplace more attuned to the issues.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far,” he said.

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