February 26, 2014

@GSElevator not really @GS, not really in an elevator

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John Lefevre, the voice behind the @GSElevator twitter account

John Lefevre, the voice behind the @GSElevator twitter account

@GSElevator, the Twitter account purportedly belonging to an anonymous Goldman Sachs banker who posted snippets overheard in the office elevator, was a social media success story. The tweets could be offensive, clueless, or hilarious, depending on your point of view, and the account racked up 600,000 followers in about three years. Just last month, the anonymous tweeter sold a book to Simon & Schuster, Straight to Hell, scheduled for fall 2014.

As is usually the case with anonymous online accounts, things weren’t what they seemed. Despite insisting for years, anonymously of course, that he really did work at Goldman Sachs, that information was revealed by the New York Times on Tuesday to be false. The man behind the account turned out to be 34-year-old John Lefevre, an investment banker who lives in Texas and has never worked for Goldman Sachs.

In a New York Times Dealbook story from August 2011, titled “Meet the Goldman Sachs Banker Behind @GSElevator,” Kevin Roose interviewed the tweeter.

Q. Are you really a Goldman employee?

A. Yes. However, I cannot really elaborate on this in terms of team or location, other than to say that I am a career banker. And to preemptively clarify, I am in a front-office, revenue-producing, client-facing role. Apologies for the aggressive clarification, but it is quite pathetic to see back/middle office employees telling people (women in bars) that they are “investment bankers.” If people are at all skeptical about my employment status, it doesn’t bother me. I am doing this for my own amusement.

On February 24, Dealbook ran another conversation with him. Andrew Ross Sorkin described calling Lefevre once he realized Lefevre wasn’t who he said he was.

Upon being contacted late last week after several weeks of reporting uncovered his identity, he confirmed his alter ego. “Frankly, I’m surprised it has taken this long,” he said by phone. “I knew this day would come.”

Mr. Lefevre, who worked for Citigroup for seven years, said the Twitter account started as “a joke to entertain myself.”

He quickly interrupted the inevitable line of questioning about how he had never worked at Goldman and appeared to be an impostor. “To pre-empt what you’re about to say, legally speaking,” he said, “I was never explicitly an employee of the firm.”

Lefevre admitted to Sorkin that he had come to “style” his tweets for more commercial appeal. He told Sorkin, “I don’t consider it selling out or pandering to a lower common denominator; I think of it more as adapting to what the widest possible audience of people responds favorably to.”

Sorkin believes that the unmasking “underscores concerns about the veracity of what is published and the identity of authors,” and “raises questions about whether publishers are blurring the line between real life and the made-up kind.” So what does this revelation mean for the book deal with Simon & Schuster, which New York Magazine had reported as being in the “mid-six figures?” Apparently, nothing!

Lefevre’s agent, Byrd Leavell of Waxman Leavell, told Sorkin, “What matters is that every story in the book is true. John’s material he delivered is hilarious. The book isn’t going to live or die on whether he worked at Goldman Sachs for two months or not.” Matthew Benjamin, the Touchstone editor who bought the book (without having met the author) seems to agree. “He’s been pretty straight with us the entire time, so this is not a surprise,” he told Sorkin. “That you’re writing about him speaks to the interest he’s generated. We always expected his identity to be revealed at some point.”

 

Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.

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