After a week-long trip and a return through multiple airports as part of a 17-hour journey, I thought I was out of touch. Then, I heard a hyperbolic CNBC reporter attribute a statement to Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, that I initially discounted given my fatigue. But, having gotten some rest and having previously lauded Mr. Blankfein for declaring public interest to be a necessary component of executive compensation schemes, I must now shake my head in near disbelief. If media accounts are accurate, Mr. Blankfein recently stated that he, Goldman Sachs and presumably other investment bankers were “doing God’s work” by making capital available for businesses to grow and thereby create wealth for others. In the midst of understandable public indignation over the prospect of billions in bonuses for thousands of employees at Goldman Sachs while tens of millions go unemployed and millions more underemployed, Mr. Blankfein (and/or those charged with preparing him) made an egregious error.
Blowing one’s own horn invariably requires the finely tuned ear and deft timing of a skilled musician. Mr. Blankfein showed himself to have neither. Claiming to be aware of the public mood, he made the unwise choice to take center stage and blow a series of notes that are sure to haunt him and Goldman Sachs for some time to come.
Goldman Sachs may very well be an instrument of wealth creation for some, but what Mr. Blankfein failed to appreciate was that few, if any, of his real audience were among those privileged enough to hire that instrument, much less directly enjoy its music. In this instance, Mr. Blankfein asserted responsibility instead of acting responsibly and, as a result, sounded self-serving at best In so doing, he cemented rather than eroded a negative corporate and industry reputation held by the Public, the Pundits, and the Policymakers. History will determine whether Mr. Blankfein’s remarks will go down in the annals of reputation mismanagement, but, in the meantime, these 3P’s need to hear (and see) something quite different quite soon.
Perhaps instead of proclaiming Goldman Sachs to be responsible for doing God’s work, Mr. Blankfein would do better if he were to remember that to whom much is given, much is expected. Spend more time nurturing and building upon that sense of responsibility, Mr. Blankfein, and real progress is possible.