Focus: A day in the lives of the Masters of the Universe

Elite bankers at Goldman Sachs work around the clock. They earn fortunes but flashy displays are frowned upon. So is domestic life: dirty laundry, bills, family birthday presents and other trifles are handled by assistants - one of whom siphoned off £4.4m from the personal accounts of her bosses. Sonia Purnell reveals the secrets of people so rich they barely noticed
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The senior investment banker enjoyed club class comforts on the way to his family holiday in the sun. There is nothing unusual in that. (If you can't "turn left" when you board a flight, what is the point of working in the City?) But as this is a story about Goldman Sachs there is a twist: the kids were not travelling with him. The children of this super-rich executive were consigned further back, to the cattle-truck conditions in economy.

The senior investment banker enjoyed club class comforts on the way to his family holiday in the sun. There is nothing unusual in that. (If you can't "turn left" when you board a flight, what is the point of working in the City?) But as this is a story about Goldman Sachs there is a twist: the kids were not travelling with him. The children of this super-rich executive were consigned further back, to the cattle-truck conditions in economy.

"My kids know that we are very wealthy, but I want them also to know the value of money," he boasted to admiring colleagues on his return. There is something quintessentially Goldman about this tale. While the quietly spoken, mainly male inner circle at this legendary investment bank is entirely dedicated to the acquisition of wealth, members are positively discouraged from flashy displays. Business suits are typically understated - a former senior partner was noted for sporting a cheap Timex watch; another still drives into work in a 10-year old car (albeit a Mercedes).

Joyti De-Laurey liked jewellery, fast cars and power boats, but then she was only a personal assistant earning £38,000 a year. Last Tuesday De-Laurey, 35, was found guilty of stealing £4.4m from the accounts of three top bankers at Goldman Sachs, for whom she worked as a personal assistant. She is now in custody until at least June, when a judge will pass sentence. He will also decide the fate of her husband and mother, who were also convicted of offences related to the fraud at Southwark Crown Court, but granted conditional bail.

Scott Mead, the former partner whose personal accounts were plundered to the tune of £3.3m by Mrs De-Laurey, appeared to have been shocked almost as much by her choice of lifestyle. "She spent £50,000 on handbags and shoes in six months," he said. "My wife would never dream of doing that." His personal fortune is conservatively estimated to be worth £120m.

It may be known among City wags as Goldmine Sacks and to pay its top bods eye-popping sums of money - bonuses of $20m are not unknown and partners scooped hundreds of millions from the bank's stock market flotation a few years ago - but it goes against the bank's creed to talk or even think about personal wealth during working hours. And that generally means every waking - or even sleeping - hour for employees of any rank. De-Laurey claimed she was phoned up at home in the small hours by one of her former bosses, Jennifer Moses, with instructions to adjust the air-conditioning - in her hotel room in Hong Kong.

A 100-hour week is normal for senior partners, more if travelling is involved. Mr Mead, for instance, calculated that he cumulatively spent one whole year of his 15 at Goldman Sachs on an aircraft.

One corporate financier in the midst of a deal found out that his wife had given birth to a baby boy only when he discovered a fax on the floor in his office. A former "Goldman boy" confirms the gargantuan pressure: in order to be at the top, you have to be utterly dedicated. "If you have to be in the office from 6am to midnight and then fly to New York, so be it. The rewards are huge but the result is you can lose touch with the real world. You are reliant on your PA to organise your life."

As a result, De-Laurey and other PAs at Goldman have wielded an extraordinary power over their bosses, as a combination of Jeeves, nanny, housekeeper and concierge. They organise children's school fees, piano lessons and birthday presents. PAs also frequently write out cheques in one day for more than they earn in a year. They have access to their bosses' personal accounts to pay the myriad bills that executives don't have time to consider. Neither do their wives. Rather than the conventional image of an immaculate trophy wife running a Georgian rectory in the countryside, Goldman Sachs spouses are more likely to be working elsewhere in the City.

Although embarrassing for Goldman that its executives didn't notice they had been fleeced for millions of pounds, it is almost understandable. Scott Mead was a legendary deal-maker, one of the high-fliers referred to as the "Masters of the Universe" after the aggressive Wall Street traders in Tom Wolfe'sThe Bonfire of the Vanities. While at Goldman he would fax his wife in another part of their Belgravia home with a message so as to save the few minutes it took him to walk to her room.

Goldman executives will typically hold several bank accounts, in different currencies, in several different countries. They may consider the balance in any one of them rather low if it dips below the $50,000 mark, but may rarely have the time to check. It was only when another of De-Laurey's victims - Ron Beller, also a high-flier - retired from the bank that he discovered his private accounts to be "one or two million light".

The bank works hard to promote its image of "all work and no play" but senior executives lead extremely privileged lives, frequently owning impressive houses in London (Belgravia or Notting Hill) and New York, the countryside and a foreign holiday home (typically France, Italy or the Hamptons). The most senior will employ teams of housekeepers, landscape gardeners and personal shoppers.

Mr Mead spent a staggering £86,000 in one year on his personal travel arrangements and another £17,800 on his wine cellar. Mr Beller splashed out £500,000 on a surprise 40th birthday party for his wife in Rome. Forty couples were flown out on the Friday night for dinner in a piazza that had been entirely taken over, followed by dancing at La Dolce Vita nightclub. The next day, there was a party at a Roman castello, followed on Sunday with a brunch at a villa, serenaded by a string quartet.

This uncharacteristically showy display of wealth was organised to perfection by Joyti De-Laurey, who was by then working for the couple. They rewarded her with £5,000 in cash and jewellery worth £800. She went on to strip more than £1m from their private accounts, but Mr Beller has declared that life is "too short" to track it down.

Gavyn Davies, who made his fortune at Goldman before going on to be chairman of the BBC for a while, is another to take pains to avoid too much conspicuous wealth. Rather than paying for the smartest private education for his children, he moved house in London to the catchment area of a better state school. Down at his country retreat near Croyde in Devon, however, it is a different matter. His multi-million-pound bespoke modern home, Baggy House, is arguably the finest modern seaside house in Britain. Perched in enormous grounds on the top of a majestic headland, it has walls that disappear into the ground to reveal a stunning view, and a pool heated all year round to allow winter swimming.

Mr Davies left the bank for other, less well-paid, public-sector jobs. Goldman high-fliers often retire in their thirties or forties to spend more time with their families and their money, which they begin to spend seriously in aid of good works. The Goldman ethos is strongly in favour of charity or philanthropic work. One senior executive, nicknamed "the organ" by chums while at Cambridge University, decided it would be "fun" to contribute to the appeal for a new organ at his old college. He asked how much was needed, then wrote out a cheque for the entire amount.

Education and children's charities are particularly popular pursuits. John Thornton, a former chief operating officer, became an academic in a Chinese university when he retired. He commutes to Beijing from a Georgian mansion in New Jersey worth £11.5m, or his other palatial home in Charleston, South Carolina, which he is spending £25m on restoring. When based in Goldman's London office, he would rent a medieval palace in Lucca, Italy, for holidays.

But of course, the Goldman executive never stays out of touch. Weekend retreats are wired up to the markets. Everyone carries a hand-held computer to receive calls and emails 24/7. One former girlfriend of a junior Goldman executive said he spent at least an hour every evening in touch with the office.

There are stories of weddings being interrupted and conference calls being taken during labour. And yet the Goldman executive must still find time to stay fit. Gym training sessions are almost compulsory at its Fleet Street headquarters. Many are serious tennis players, others skilled skiers or marathon runners. A well-honed body is a requirement for entry into the inner circles. As one former employee puts it: "Drinking is frowned upon; affairs are a no-no, and it is very rare indeed that you see a Goldman paunch." Despite wealth beyond the imaginations of most of us, lean and mean - in all things - is the Goldman way.

THOSE WHO LOST MONEY

Scott Mead

The urbane American is among the world's most fearsome financiers; his motto is "You either hunt or be hunted". Engineered merger between Vodafone and Mannesmann in 2000, the biggest deal of its kind ever. Father of five whose marriage survived an affair with a City solicitor. Mr Mead, 49, denied allowing Joyti De-Laurey to draw on his personal funds to cover up the affair. Quit Goldman in July to pursue interests including charity.

Ron Beller

Reviewed his investment account shortly after leaving Goldman Sachs in 2001 and found it "one or two million light" but thought he might be mistaken. Formerly managing director at Goldman, Beller, 41, lives with his wife Jennifer Moses in New York. Has been asked by the city's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to help with the reform of the education system. The couple also run a charitable trust that is currently building a school in Brixton, south London.

Jennifer Moses

The former managing director at Goldman Sachs employed Joyti De-Laurey as her personal assistant in 1998. Approached with a request for a house loan, she handed De-Laurey £40,000. Mrs Moses, 42, did not realise the loan was later repaid with her own money. She and Mr Beller had such faith in De-Laurey they invited her to work for them after leaving Goldman in early 2001. Gives generously to charity through the Jennifer Moses and Ron Beller Family Foundation.

5AM

Woken by phone call from staff in Japan where the markets are open

6AM

Drives into work from townhouse in Notting Hill. No chauffeur - that would be ostentatious. Car is 'only' a top-of-the-range BMW, nothing too flashy.

7AM

Pep talk for the minions who have been up all night concluding one of the hostile takeovers for which the firm is famous. They're exhausted but dare not show it.

8AM

Throws pile of dirty shirts at personal assistant for dry cleaning and asks her to find a pony for his daughter's birthday.

9AM

Hand-held computer bleeps with email from a partner in New York. The American is in bed, but still working. The Englishman is on the toilet.

10AM

Leaves for London City Airport, this time in the back seat of company limo, reading briefing papers.

11AM

Team meeting somewhere over Europe, as the plane heads for Switzerland.

1PM (UK time)

Working lunch with a client in Zurich, preparing a deal like the £190.5bn takeover of Mannesman by Vodafone. Food is Atkins-dictated lean meat and salad. Drink is fizzy water, absolutely no booze.

3PM

Flying back to London, inspects appeal from old school for help in revamping computer block. Signs personal cheque for £100,000.

5PM

Hard session with personal trainer in the state-of-the-art executive gym at the office. Goldman pecs are always taut.

6PM

Sneaks peak at details of hotel in the Scilly Isles, a retirement project for his 40s. One of many. Fax from equally high-flying spouse says she is entertaining clients at the opera.

7PM

Email from daughter about her day at boarding school. Watches video sent by nanny from family home in the Cotswolds, showing his son in today's school play. Calls both kids to say goodnight. Gets daughter's answerphone.

8PM

Showers in the building then leaves for home. Traffic is lighter after the rush hour.

9PM

Spends hour on the phone for conference call with other senior partners around the world.

11PM

Body weary, mind still buzzing. Seeks comfort in a glass of fine malt whisky. Just don't tell anyone at work.

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