JOHN ARLIDGE, TIMES, UK - Number 85 Broad Street, a dull, rust-coloured
office block in lower Manhattan, doesn't look like a place to stop and
stare, and that's just the way the people who work there like it. The men
and women who arrive in the watery dawn sunshine, dressed in Wall Street
black, clutching black briefcases and BlackBerrys, are very, very private.
They walk quickly from their black Lincoln town cars to the lobby, past,
well, nothing, really. There's no name plate on the building, no sign on
the front desk and the armed policeman stationed outside isn't saying who
works there. There's a good reason for the secrecy. Number 85 Broad
Street, New York, NY 10004, is where the money is. All of it. . .
Number 85 Broad Street is the home of Goldman Sachs. . . . . Here,
politicians and commentators compete to denounce Goldman in ever more
robust terms - "robber barons", "economic vandals", "vulture capitalists".
. . . It's even worse in the US. There, Rolling Stone magazine ran a story
that described Goldman as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face
of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that
smells like money. . .
Being the prime target for popular and political outrage could put Goldman
first in line for draconian new regulation. So it has, reluctantly,
decided that the time has come to speak out, to fight its corner. That's
how, on one of those bright autumnal New York mornings when anything seems
possible - even an invitation to break bread with the masters of the
universe - I find myself walking past the security guard who held up
Michael Moore and into the building with no name.
"Aha! You catch us plotting in real time," says Lloyd Blankfein, breaking
away from a cabal of senior executives discussing his trip to Washington
the previous day. Blankfein, 55, Goldman's chairman and chief executive,
is wearing a grey suit with a jaunty Hermes tie with little red bicycles
on it. In his hand, he's carrying one of those cups of coffee that look
bigger than the human stomach. . .
He starts with a little humility. He understands that "people are pissed
off, mad, and bent out of shape" at bankers' actions. Goldman played its
part in the meltdown that almost destroyed the global financial system.
It, like most other banks, lent too much money, made its first quarterly
loss for more than a decade last year and ended up taking bail-out cash
from Washington. "I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer,"
he says. But then, he slowly begins to argue the case for modern banking.
"We're very important," he says, abandoning self-flagellation. "We help
companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow
create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more
growth and more wealth. It's a virtuous cycle." To drive home his point,
he makes a remarkably bold claim. "We have a social purpose.". . .