‘Long-term greedy” was the phrase that Sidney Weinberg, Goldman Sachs’s legendary managing partner from the 1930s to the 1960s, used to describe the American investment bank’s overarching strategy. Such a pious mission statement from a corporate titan would make a modern audience balk. However the phrase neatly encapsulates the way that Goldman Sachs has operated over the past 80 years, a period in which it has risen from being a little-known, slightly scrubby broker to the world’s most profitable, powerful and controversial financial institution.
When Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’s current chairman and chief executive, was caught saying last year that the bank was doing “God’s work”, the contrast between Goldman Sachs’s own view of its business and what the rest of the world thought of it was vividly demonstrated.
His comments came just weeks after the firm was memorably described in an article in Rolling Stone magazine as a “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”. Doing God’s work is the last thing most think Goldman Sachs is up to.