Is Lloyd Blankfein the New Kenny Lewis?

by Derek Loosvelt | May 06, 2010

Tomorrow marks the three-week anniversary of the SEC filing a civil suit against Goldman Sachs in connection with the infamous synthetic mortgage-backed security known as Abacus. Tomorrow also happens to be the day of Goldman's annual shareholder meeting, which will no doubt be the most heavily-covered, meticulously-dissected, highly-charged one in the firm's history.

Shareholders will be demanding that Goldman head honchos explain what the heck happened to the $19 billion in market capitalization that Goldman's stock has lost since the SEC unleashed its case, while protesters are expecting to come out by the truckload to voice their own disapproval of the firm. Indeed, what is usually a benign and boring reiteration of Goldman's fiscal success (even during tough times) will be a contentious and heated day for the investment bank everybody loves to hate as of late.

With all that's transpired in recent weeks, it's hard to believe that less than one month ago Goldman Sachs held a reputation as the most prestigious investment bank on the planet, its chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein was one of the most respected chiefs on Wall Street and the firm's stock was enjoying a steady rise on the NYSE*. Since receiving the notice from the SEC, Goldman's prestige has taken a scud missile hit, Blankfein's job has come under fire and the firm's stock price has fallen off a cliff.

At tomorrow's shareholder meeting, the uncertain future of the firm, in particular Lloyd's leadership position, will be addressed in various votes, including one on whether to disallow Blankfein (or anyone) from holding both the investment bank's CEO slot and chairman position. Last year, a similar vote was held at a Bank of America shareholder meeting, the outcome of which spelled the beginning of the end for Kenny Lewis: BofA shareholders voted for the separation, in effect ousting Lewis as chairman, leaving him with only the CEO position, a post he was forced out of not much later.

The same fate could be in store for Blanfkein, with many, including this Wall Street Journal columnist, calling for Lloyd to step aside for the good of the firm as well as its shareholders.

However, what I'd look for, aside from a healthy outpouring of anger directed at Goldman's top managers, is shareholders to throw their votes behind Lloyd, allowing him to keep both titles, and for Lloyd to fight hard in the coming weeks to hold onto his position at the head of the Goldman table. My chips are on Lloyd's big media push (check out all of Blankfein's recent appearances here on the Goldman Web site) working in his favor, and he will get the votes he needs to keep both posts. In addition, in light of the aforementioned push, I'd double down on Lloyd not even thinking about resigning, or allowing himself to be pushed in that direction.

If Lloyd were to step aside now through a forced resignation or a voluntary one—after he has so vehemently defended himself in front of the U.S. Senate, Charlie Rose's viewers and Goldman's top clients—it would send a message to the firm's disgruntled stakeholders and Main Street observers alike that he and Goldman are indeed the evil blood-sucking crustaceans that they've been painted as recently, conceding that there was significant and unique wrongdoing inside Goldman Sachs. And, as you can imagine, that's one message that neither Lloyd nor Goldman would much like to send.

*Tomorrow morning, the only person I would want to be less than Lloyd Blankfein is this guy/gal: the trader who meant "m"illion not "b"illion and was perhaps responsible for the Dow's 9-percent plunge.

Filed Under: Finance


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