NEW YORK - John Thornton, co-COO and president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., will retire on July 1 to become a professor at a university in China, the Wall Street firm said on Monday.
Thornton's exit puts John Thain, co-COO and president, as the clear right hand man to Chief Executive Henry "Hank" Paulson, 56. Thornton is 49 and Thain is 47.
But market watchers do not anticipate a changing of the guard any time soon.
"He (Thornton) is a powerful player but I also can imagine that he probably saw that Paulson wasn't going to be turning over the reins any time soon," said Brad Hintz, an analyst at Bernstein.
Thornton, 49, will teach at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and will continue to serve as a senior adviser to Goldman, the company said. He also will serve as a special adviser on China to Richard Levin, president of Yale University.
Thornton, who joined Goldman in 1980, is a well-connected former mergers and acquisitions banker who aroused controversy earlier this year over his close ties with fellow executives.
Bill Ford Jr., the CEO of Ford Motor Co. and longtime friend of Thornton, said in February he would surrender millions of dollars in profits from a special deal on Goldman shares.
Ford was granted 400,000 Goldman shares when Goldman went public in 1999, a deal one Ford shareholder said marked a conflict of interest and violated company rules. Goldman has been an adviser to the Ford family for years, and Thornton sits on Ford's board.
"I don't think he (Thornton) is being pushed out," said Jeffery Harte, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill. "He's been there a long time, he's obviously good at what he does so he'll be missed."
Thornton leaves Goldman as a rich man. He was paid $11.2 million last year after making $16.3 million in 2001.
He is also chairman of the executive committee of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
He joined Goldman in the firm's mergers and acquisitions department and was named president and co-COO in 1999.