Goldman Sachs Group, the leading international investment banking and securities firm, has voted to end 129 years as a partnership and sell shares to the public. The move, which is expected as early as autumn, could value the investment bank in the range of US$30 billion. The company is expected to sell between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of its common equity and raise more than $2.5 billion in capital. It would be the largest United States financial services initial public offer, dwarfing the $2.1 billion offering by Allstate Insurance Co. Joint chief executives Jon Corzine and Henry Paulson said: 'As a public company, Goldman Sachs will have the financial strength and strategic flexibility to continue to serve our clients effectively as well as respond thoughtfully to the business and competitive environment over the longer term.' The deal is also expected to generate a windfall for the 190 partners ranging from an estimated $50 million for first year through to $125 million for senior partners. Distribution of the proceeds from the offering was believed to have been a focus of the partners' discussions. The company employs 11,500 people in 20 countries. Its Hong Kong office serves as a base for its Asian operation, excluding Japan. The chief executives said the company would aim to 'share ownership benefits and responsibilities more broadly among all the firm's employees'. Goldman's six-member executive committee, led by Mr Corzine and Mr Paulson, were in discussions on Sunday following a meeting on Friday and Saturday of the partners. Partners, who own about 80 per cent of the firm, held talks and heard representations at IBM's secluded executive conference centre near New York. They were asked to complete detailed questionnaires on Saturday after presentations by Mr Corzine and Mr Paulson and a general debate. The executive committee then reviewed the details on Sunday. The decision to embrace public ownership after 129 years of private partnership could have widespread implications for the financial services industry, particularly in Asia and Europe, where huge sums are being paid to build up global networks. It is seen as a victory for Mr Corzine and Mr Paulson who have argued that Goldman needs publicly traded shares to make acquisitions in the rapidly consolidating industry. They said the executive committee's decision was unanimous: 'We and our partners face this historic and challenging transition with confidence. Never has the firm been stronger in terms of the depth and breadth of our client relationships, the quality of our people and the market positions of our key businesses, many of which enjoy dominant leadership positions.' The company reported a $3.01 billion pretax profit last year that it looks set to top this year after posting pretax profits of $1.02 billion in the first quarter. Credit rating agency Moody's estimated that Goldman's net return on common equity was about 48 per cent compared with Merrill Lynch's 28 per cent and Morgan Stanley's 22 per cent. The firm has been involved in most recent merger and acquisition deals including Daimler Benz and Chrysler, and American Home Products and Monsanto. It has also been a leading player in the recent spate of US offerings in addition to being a big stock and bond trader and underwriter.