David Greenwald

The Adapter

As a trusted adviser plying his trade during an era of great economic uncertainty, Goldman Sachs attorney David Greenwald ’83 has no trouble keeping busy

By Amy Feldman

Winter 2012

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David Greenwald ’83, deputy general counsel and international general counsel at investment bank Goldman Sachs, has spent the past four years immersed in the global financial crisis.

The weekend before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September 2008, Greenwald was sitting in the American Airlines lounge at Kennedy International Airport, waiting to fly home to London, when his cell phone rang. Instead of boarding his plane, Greenwald spent the next three weeks in New York City, at the center of the financial storm, returning home only after finalizing documents that facilitated the investment by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in Goldman Sachs.

“It was really scary at that time, because it looked like the world was going to come to an end,” Greenwald recalls. “But it was fascinating. Sometimes I step back and say, ‘This is one of the most fascinating periods of time to practice law.’ But at the same time, it’s exhausting.”

And for Greenwald, the beat goes on. These days, he spends much of his time assessing the impact of financial regulatory reform and gauging the potential that a country or two might leave the euro zone. “I think we have a couple more years until all the regulatory changes are [in place], and then we’ll be at the new normal,” he says, “whatever the new normal will be.”

Greenwald, who grew up in Newark and Glen Rock, N.J., where his father was an executive in an apparel manufacturing company and his mother was a stay-at-home mom, knew early on that he wanted to be a corporate lawyer. He went from Columbia Law School to Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, where he focused on mergers and acquisitions and worked with two large clients: private equity firm Forstmann Little and Goldman Sachs.

In 1994, Greenwald joined Goldman as a lawyer in its private equity business. He became a partner at the firm in 2000 and moved to London with his family in 2006 to take over as Goldman’s international general counsel. Greenwald says he loves living in London, which offers an ideal base for travel, both within Europe and to Russia and China.

When not poring over proposed regulatory reforms, he serves as counsel to the firm’s European management committee and as co-chair of Goldman’s firm-wide suitability committee, which was created in the aftermath of the crisis and is charged with setting standards for clients and financial products.

A competitive man, Greenwald has run several marathons—five in New York and two in Philadelphia. “I’m not fast, but I try to break four hours,” he says. “I did 4:01 in New York, and then two weeks later ran Philly in 3:49. The only competition is with myself.”

Having benefitted from many mentors—including Arthur Fleischer Jr., senior counsel at Fried Frank, and Rich Friedman, Goldman’s merchant banking chief—Greenwald gives back by mentoring others. “I tell people all the time that they should have mentors, plural,” he says. “It’s like you have a board of directors.”

Greenwald also has maintained his connections with Columbia Law School. He is on the school’s board of international advisers and co-chaired his 25th class reunion. (He will co-chair his 30th class reunion this June.) In addition, Greenwald travels to Manhattan each year to participate in the Deals workshop. “I talk about the difference between practicing law at a law firm and practicing in-house,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

So fun, in fact, that Greenwald says when he is ready to step back from legal practice, he just might want to teach full time. But for now, with regulatory reform pending and the crisis in Europe unresolved, Greenwald has far too much going on to step back.

Amy Feldman has written for The New York Times and Time, among other publications.

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Photographed by Cardoni