Thursday, October 25, 2012 | return to: cover story


‘Insuring’ a legacy: Goldman brothers revive grandfather’s firm with eye on philanthropy

by dan pine, j. staff

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Visitors arriving at the San Francisco offices of G2 Insurance may find themselves offered more than water, tea or coffee. In fact, if company co-founders Matthew and Jason Goldman are the greeters, they might offer guests chocolate chip cookies baked fresh by their grandmother that morning.

Just a hunch, but the Goldman brothers — 26 and identical twins — may be the only insurance execs who bring a tin of Grandma’s cookies to work.

Family connections matter to the Goldmans. G2 is a veritable reincarnation of Goldman Insurance Services, a brokerage firm founded and led for a half-century by their late grandfather, noted Bay Area philanthropist Richard Goldman, who died in 2010.

The brothers teamed up with former Goldman Insurance president Larry Colton to launch the new enterprise in June. In addition to Colton, about a dozen other former staffers have come aboard.

3_front“People say to us, ‘Oh, you’re restarting Goldman? I’d love to come back,’ notes Matthew Goldman. “To have that running start is amazing.”

As was true of their grandfather’s business, the brothers want their company, which focuses on high net worth individuals, nonprofits and commercial real estate, to represent high ethical ideals and serve as a springboard for philanthropy.

“Empathy is in part driving the business, not as a moneymaking venture but as a way to give back,” says Matthew. “We have a vision of building a business by building community.”

Colton is impressed with his young partners. Neither had considered entering the insurance business before 18 months ago, and Colton knew they would face skepticism.

“The obstacles to overcome will be your youth and your position,” Colton recalls telling them. “People will think you’re too young and not serious about this business because you don’t have to be. They will think you’re dilettantes.”

They may be new to the business, but the Goldmans are no dilettantes. Both graduated from Cal with degrees in interdisciplinary studies, specializing in nonprofit management and philanthropy. And they watched their grandfather run his business.

The brothers, though young, exude confidence and, above all, enthusiasm, as they build on their grandfather’s model.

“In many ways,” Matthew says, “it’s too magical to feel he didn’t have a hand in it.”

They even installed some of the artwork that once decorated their grandfather’s offices, which closed in 2001.

On a walk-through, Matthew and Jason proudly point out one of those pieces, artist Jerome Kirk’s kinetic sculpture “Silent Echo,” a series of concentric, cherry-red circles that move in graceful harmony.

How would Richard Goldman feel about their enterprise? “He’d be over the moon,” says Jason.

Matthew and Jason Goldman grew up never knowing a day of want, and also never far from the family’s philanthropic legacy.

Their grandparents, Richard and Rhoda Goldman, were fixtures in Bay Area philanthropy, with Rhoda an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune. Over 60 years, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund gave hundreds of millions of dollars to a range of interests, notably the San Francisco Symphony and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy’s Land’s End project, and many millions more to Jewish causes.

The twins’ parents, Lisa and Doug Goldman of San Francisco, are similarly active in philanthropy, a value they passed on to their children from an early age.

“It’s an incredible challenge as a parent when your kids have the financial opportunities that ours have,” says Doug Goldman. “The challenge is to make sure they are well grounded. It’s incredibly easy to start thinking money grows on trees, and you can be very frivolous.”

Jason remembers a time he asked his dad for $10 to buy a CD. Doug Goldman offered him the money — as long as it was paid back with interest.

“It ingrained in my mind this isn’t [free],” Jason recalls. “I remember at the time I thought, ‘What is going on here?’ Now I think how valuable that was.”

Their mother noticed early on that her sons, like many twins, shared a special closeness (they also have a sister, Jennifer Goldman, an accountant in Los Angeles).

Jason (left) and Matthew Goldman with their  late grandfather Richard Goldman in 2009.
Jason (left) and Matthew Goldman with their late grandfather Richard Goldman in 2009.
“I knew something was up when they were little,” Lisa Goldman remembers. “They were in the playpen and couldn’t walk yet. I heard rumblings. They had stepped on toys together to get out of the playpen. I saw teamwork.”

The brothers were not just close to each other; they also formed an especially tight bond with their grandfather.

Though at times an imperious, occasionally intimidating figure, Richard Goldman was “a big bear,” as far as Matthew was concerned.

The twins remember their grandfather taking them to Giants games and to Scottsdale, Ariz., where the team held spring training.

Soon after their joint bar mitzvah at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El (at which, in lieu of gifts, they asked guests to make donations to specific charities), the brothers traveled with their grandfather to Alaska’s Glacier Bay for a private tour.

“He had a love of nature,” Matthew says of Richard Goldman, who launched the Goldman Environmental Prize. “Most young kids wouldn’t want to go on a vacation with their grandfather. That trip was a special moment.”

They also credit their parents for allowing them to “have experiences without being helicopter parents,” Jason says.  “[But] they had their limits. They gave us enough freedom to be curious and explore the world, and at the same time not fall off the deep end.”

It’s not as if the brothers had a secret twin language, but over the years the two consistently shared interests and passions. They both love golf. Both love to watch Bill Maher and Charlie Rose. Both love to eat at the Park Tavern in North Beach. And both followed similar courses of study at U.C. Berkeley, where philanthropy and the nonprofit worlds loomed large.

There they also co-launched a student-designed course in strategic philanthropy, through which they and fellow students gave away several thousand dollars to targeted charities.

Last year, the brothers joined the committee overseeing the Impact Grants Initiative, a program of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation that funds innovative nonprofits geared toward young adults.

It was through the IGI that they met David Katznelson, the federation’s director of outreach and special projects.

“They were the youngest people on the committee,” Katznelson remembers of the brothers. “They came off immediately as really nice people. I was blown away by their level of sophistication for their age.”

Walking in the steps of their great-great-grandmother Rosalie Stern, who founded the Stern Grove Festival, and taking the lead of their grandmother Rhoda and father Doug, the two brothers joined the Stern Grove Festival Association board, where they remain members.

As far as career ambitions go, following graduation from Cal in 2010, Matthew thought he might end up in the fashion industry, while Jason set his sights on the technology sector.

The twins at their bar mitzvah at Congregation Emanu-El in 1999.   photo/eliot holtzman
The twins at their bar mitzvah at Congregation Emanu-El in 1999. photo/eliot holtzman
Then, in November 2010, their beloved grandfather died. Though devastating to the entire Goldman clan, that moment brought with it an opportunity neither brother had foreseen.

At the funeral, which drew more than 1,000 mourners to Congregation Emanu-El, Colton was touched to see so many of his former Goldman Insurance colleagues, as well as Goldman family members. He dined with Lisa and Doug Goldman soon thereafter, inquiring about the twins.

Later that night, during a 4 a.m. brainstorm, he sent an email to the couple, pitching the idea that the brothers consider reviving the family insurance business. Matthew and Jason were intrigued.

Colton had stayed with Goldman Insurance until its 2001 sale, and eight years after that he retired. As he told the brothers at an early meeting, one thing that might pull him out of retirement would be relaunching the company.

“I said ‘Let me tell you what insurance is,’ ” Colton recalls. “’It’s not selling policies. It’s the perfect job if you have ADD, love learning about lots of industries, want to deal with principals and help strategic businesses.”

The idea took root with both brothers.

 “I found everything I wanted in a professional experience,” Matthew says. “An amazing mentor, a nurturing environment, the ability to fulfill our grandfather’s legacy, and to be entrepreneurial and build something.”

Adds Jason, “I had wanted to go into technology and end up in private equity working with entrepreneurs. As soon as I sat down with Larry, he said, ‘You can still advise on something different: risk. You get to be that trusted adviser and build a company at the same time.’ At that point I realized this is everything I ever wanted.”

Not that they waltzed into the corner office. They had to play serious catch-up, learning the insurance business from the ground up. The brothers got their brokerage licenses and headed for Texas to take a course in industry standards.

After that, it was time to shadow their mentor.

“I’m a tough taskmaster,” Colton says. “I told them, ‘You guys are going to take on the bulk of this work, so you will have to overdeliver, be prompt, do perfect follow-up, with no room for error. They weren’t bashful about jumping in. They asked the right questions right off the bat.”

The brothers, being young and recent college grads, were in need of a little polish, according to Colton, who met with the duo frequently for strategy sessions at the upscale Park Grill restaurant in San Francisco’s Financial District.

“They showed up in corduroys and with backpacks,” Colton remembers of one meeting. “I said, you need to wear sports jackets and slacks. You’re asking me to come out of retirement and commit the next 10 years of my life. This is my reputation, as well as your family’s reputation. There’s no option for mistakes here.”

In June, they opened for business. Goldman Insurance Services was one of the last Jewish family-owned firms in the industry. G2 is now the newest.

Lisa Goldman is not surprised her boys went into business together, nor that they chose to follow in their grandfather’s footsteps. She remembers how close they were to him from the beginning.

“We’d go out for Sunday night dinner, he would put on his jacket and the twins would, too. It was so cute. They picked up his great traits, including the insurance business.”

Doug Goldman admits the idea of G2 “came out of the blue … we didn’t know that was something that would interest them.”

Jason (left) and Matthew Goldman at age 11 with their grandfather Richard Goldman (top left) and father Doug Goldman in 1997.   photo/eliot holtzman
Jason (left) and Matthew Goldman at age 11 with their grandfather Richard Goldman (top left) and father Doug Goldman in 1997. photo/eliot holtzman
At the same time, he says his sons are “very diligent about what they are doing. They understand this is a very serious venture.”

Both Goldman brothers see G2 as a vehicle to replicate their grandfather’s philanthropic impact, and they intend to leverage their expertise with nonprofits to stress that sector in their company. They also want to develop their personal philanthropy as the years go on.

The twins credit their parents, who run their own family foundation, the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, for teaching them the nuts and bolts of personal philanthropy.

“That’s where we learned the serious side of giving,” Matthew says. “Our current interests are young philanthropy and the IGI, which is all about engaging young people in giving. That’s been a passion for both of us.”

Matthew adds that empathy is “a core value for our family and this business. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and struggles, but if you can empathize with them, the world is going to be a better place.”

Running any business is a challenge, even with the twins’ head of steam. That’s why they surrounded themselves with Colton and other seasoned insurance industry pros.

Not to mention family members.

“We are incredibly close,” Jason says of the Goldman clan. “My mom talks to my grandmother every day. We talk to her every day. She probably can’t leave the house because we’re on the phone with her all the time. That value of ‘family first’ created a dynamic. There’s always a support system.”

At the heart of that support system are the Goldman twins themselves. Both live in San Francisco, though each has his own place. It’s pretty much the only thing they don’t do together.

“We accept the fact that we’re married [to each other], and we can’t get a divorce,” Jason says with a laugh. “You inherently have a best friend. Because we have the same interests, because we have the same passions and values, we’re able to say, look, we’re all about the same thing.”


on the cover
photo/courtesy of charlie villyar
Matthew Goldman (left) and Jason Goldman


Posted by Mila Hofstetter
10/29/2012  at  02:36 PM
Insuring a legacy

Very heartwarming.  Have worked with John Goldman and Larry Colton in the past.  Both are wonderful, sincere caring people.  I am glad Larry is the mentor for both Jason and Matthew. Good Luck in your new endeavor. Mila Hofstetter

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