Bradley Abelow '89, New Jersey Governor's Chief of Staff, Describes His Multisectoral Career
Bradley Abelow ’89 is what Dean Joel Podolny calls a “true SOM story.” Abelow started his working life in anti-poverty work, rose to be a partner at Goldman Sachs, and then left to become the New Jersey State Treasurer and eventually chief of staff to Governor Jon Corzine. “He is a success in multiple sectors — in every sector, in fact,” Podolny said as he introduced Abelow, who spoke at SOM on December 11 as part of the school’s “…on Management” lecture series.
Abelow took the “back office” route to the top of Goldman Sachs, working not as an investment banker, but rather in ways aimed at making the company stronger and more effective. He began in corporate finance, where his biggest client was Goldman Sachs itself. His presentations about investment earnings weren’t to the CEOs of client corporations, but the leaders of Goldman Sachs: Robert Rubin and Steve Friedman. They tapped him to work in the company’s internal finance division, where he worked under John Thain, the new Merrill Lynch CEO, and David Viniar, who is now Goldman Sach’s CFO. “There’s something to be said about attaching yourself to the capes of people who are pretty good at what they are doing,” he said.
After a few years, Abelow got promoted to run the company’s corporate services division, which handles everything from employee travel to the cafeterias. He said the position, while not glamorous, enabled him to manage large numbers of people around the world. In that job he worked under another famous Wall Street executive, then-CEO Corzine, who asked Abelow to move to Hong Kong and act essentially as Goldman Sachs’s CFO in Asia. “I was 10,000 miles from the home office,” he said. “It turns out to be the right distance from the boss. Now, if the boss wants me, he pounds on the wall.”
From there, Abelow returned to New York to become the head of global operations, where he helped design the company’s corporate engagement policy, which has focused philanthropy on the environment, poverty, and health. Then Corzine called again. As the new governor of New Jersey, he asked Abelow to become the state’s treasurer. “It was an extraordinary opportunity,” he said.
Corzine and Abelow have been trying to change the way politics is conducted in New Jersey. They’ve refused to give government contracts or jobs based on contributions or votes. And they’ve attempted to find ways to deal with more than $100 billion in state debt and unfunded entitlement programs. He said working in government has in many ways been his most difficult post. “You’re on call 24-hours a day,” he said. “My predecessor had been chief of staff for 18 months. I did some research — it was the longest tenure of a chief of staff I could find. I understand that.”
Watch or listen to Abelow's "SOM story."