Goldman's Global Tech Development Head Jessop Leaves for Chain

  • Jessop spent 17 years at Goldman, will be president of Chain
  • Chain builds blockchain software for Visa and others

Blockchain startup Chain Inc. hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Tom Jessop as president, bringing aboard an executive who helped make the bank an early Wall Street investor in the bitcoin-related technology.

He joined Chain on Monday, reporting to Adam Ludwin, the chief executive officer, Ludwin said in a phone interview. Jessop, 50, who worked at Goldman Sachs for 17 years, was global head of technology business development and before that a senior leader in the principal strategic investments group, deciding what exchanges, electronic trading systems and financial-technology firms the bank would invest in.

Chain, which last year pitched Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on the benefits of blockchain, is one of several startups trying to entice industries from finance to health care and utilities with the promise that the digital-ledger software can radically improve how payments are tracked, securities and derivatives trades are processed, and health records are stored. Credit-card powerhouse Visa Inc. is one of Chain’s partners.

“With Tom joining, he brings essentially the financial services experience and commercialization focus to the company,” Ludwin said. “He’s built exchanges, he’s built post-trade systems. He joined Goldman Sachs to build an e-trading system.”

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Goldman Sachs invested in Circle Internet Financial Ltd. in 2015, with Jessop involved in the deal. It was one of the first times a major bank backed a company using blockchain for payments, he said in an interview.

Jessop will split his time between Chain’s headquarters in San Francisco and its new office in New York, which Jessop will run, according to Ludwin.

Overcoming Obstacles

While the technology has grabbed Wall Street’s attention, blockchain adoption has significant hurdles to overcome, such as convincing competitors to work together in a network that shares market information. Few, if any, applications of blockchain have been publicly released so far. Executives including Blythe Masters, CEO of another blockchain startup called Digital Asset Holdings, say it’ll take five to 10 years for blockchain to transform industries.

Jessop agreed that the technology faces regulatory challenges, and that it’s no guarantee that you can change people’s behavior because you build a better mousetrap. A lot of his time at Goldman Sachs, however, was spent weighing consortium proposals with other banks and firms, where a key to success is getting others to buy in to an idea, he said.

‘Highly Complementary’

“I’ve always believed in a regulatory setting, the technology is the least important factor to consider,” he said. “My experience is highly complementary to what Chain is trying to do.”

Ludwin first met Jessop when Chain was trying to win an investment from Goldman Sachs. Though the bank didn’t give Chain money, Ludwin was impressed by Jessop, who was the first person he’d met in a bank who truly understood blockchain, he said.

“Tom and I hit it off and said, ‘Hey, we should keep it going,’” Ludwin said. When the time came to add an executive, Jessop was at the top of his list. “I called him up and I said, ‘Would you be excited to take a massive pay cut and come join the company?’” Ludwin said.

Jessop laughed when told of Ludwin’s comment. “That’s the part I’m trying to block out of my mind,” he said. “That’s what you deal with when you move from Wall Street to a startup, but I’m really excited.”

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