In one of the most unexpected job hops this year, 15-year Goldman Sachs veteran and managing director Joe Stevens has left Goldman SachsÆs China JV for a position in private equity at Standard Chartered in Singapore.

As chief operating officer, Stevens had the number two spot at Goldman Sachs Gaohua, answering to CEO Bill Wicker and chairman Fang Fenglei. His role made him responsible for the day-to-day management of the firm.

He has been replaced by Dan Swift, also a managing director, who will combine his new job with his former responsibilities for TMT (technology, media and telecoms). Swift joined Goldman Sachs Gaohua at the beginning of this year, while Stevens was appointed when Goldman Gaohua was launched two years ago.

The rumour mill will be pondering Stevens' decision to leave Goldman Sachs two months before bonus time to join UK bank, Standard Chartered.

Stevens - who was Beijing-based - reportedly left China the day he resigned, just before ChinaÆs National Day on October 1.

Speculation is naturally rampant. Some reckon that Stevens departed because he thought he would not be made a partner. Partners are chosen every other year at Goldman, and 2006 is just such a year. Although Goldman is now a publicly traded company, executive managing directors like Stevens are in the running to be made æpartner managing directorsÆ, involving a serious increase in wealth and prestige.

However, the selection procedure is normally a well-kept secret and final decisions are not made till just before the winners are announced in December. Hence, it would be highly unusual for Stevens to be so sure about not getting a partnership that he should leave the firm.

Another possibility, predictably seized upon by rival bankers, is that the situation at Goldman Sachs Gaohua was less than ideal and that Stevens was keen to get out. However, one would normally expect such a senior figure to simply request a transfer to another role - rather than abandon such a long and successful career with Goldman.

Or maybe there was a pull factor. Perhaps, like many investment bankers, he just decided the time was right to enter the world of private equity, and Standard Chartered offered him the right platform. Many Goldman bankers have left the firm for the lure of private equity.

Whatever the reason, it is sure to be viewed as a setback for Goldman's China platform. Goldman Sachs Gaohua is a joint venture, set up in August 2004, and is 33% owned by Goldman Sachs and controlled by the US firm. The structure is somewhat complicated, and sees the JV co-owned by Fang Fenglei, as well as three firms including PC manufacturer, Lenovo. The firm is able to operate in China's domestic markets. Gaohua reportedly has won several key domestic mandates recently including a lead manager role in Ping An's A share listing.