Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein admitted on Wednesday that his bank has a public relations problem, but insisted it does not have a problem with how it treats its clients.
In an interview with CNBC, Blankfein said the response from clients was "overwhelmingly positive" to the infamous op-ed in the New York Times, in which Greg Smith, a former Goldman vice president, said the firm placed its own interest above that of its clients.
"We had one person who was very earnest about what he had written, but 30,000 people who felt the opposite," Blankfein said, referring to other Goldman employees, "and clients who were unbelievably supportive."
Nonetheless, Blankfein said, the firm reacted to the op-ed with "shock" and took it "very seriously," launching an internal investigation into Smith's allegations. After combing through performance reviews, including those Smith had written of his colleagues, and searching the firm for emails calling clients "muppets," a slang term for idiots, the firm found no evidence to back up Smith's claims, Blankfein said.
But he also acknowledged the op-ed did damage to the firm's public image -- already on shaky ground after the firm was hung with the "Vampire Squid" label by Matt Taibbi. Blankfein suggested that may have been one reason he was willing to sit down for a live interview for the first time in two years. Update: Charlie Gasparino at Fox Business Network reports that this is precisely the reason Blankfein was out sweating in front of TV cameras on Wednesday, including a second interview with Bloomberg TV.
"It occurred to us that we haven't gotten everything right with regard to how we've dealt with the public," Blankfein told CNBC. " We have no real consumer business, so we haven't really had those muscles."
He was even more apologetic in his Bloomberg interview, saying, "It turns out, another name for consumers are citizens and taxpayers. ... They always should have been important, but it wasn't part of our audience as we thought about it. Now we will have to develop those muscles a little better than we have. Shame on us."
Blankfein also said he had "no plans" to step down as CEO of Goldman. He said he had "no idea" where reporters such as Fortune's Katie Benner, who has written that Blankfein could step down by the summer, could have gotten such an idea.
He also took a philosophical view about financial-sector regulation in the wake of the crisis, saying Goldman could benefit from safer financial markets.
"I don't like everything proposed, but the idea that we have to have some sort of reform is obvious," he said. "You couldn't deny that."
Though he didn't repeat his past claim that Goldman was doing "God's work," he did defend Wall Street.
"Our industry is hugely important for the world," he said. "We finance growth."
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the Fox Business Network as Fox Business News.
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