It's hard out there for a small business owner -- maybe even harder than it is for the CEO of the country's fifth-largest bank.
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein acknowledged as much during an event at Long Beach City College on Monday, where he met with about 150 graduates of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.
"As I'm listening to the entrepreneurs, I'm thinking, 'Gosh, could I do that?'" Blankfein said, according to Bloomberg News. "I don't do a bigger version of what they do. I do a different thing and they have challenges that I don't have."
Launched in 2009, the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative is a $500 million, five-year investment to to provide small business owners with education, access to capital and business support.
According to Goldman Sachs, about 900 small business owners have participated in the program, in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, New Orleans, New York and Salt Lake City. The bank says 70 percent of the program's graduates report an increase in revenue and 50 percent report they've created new jobs.
But not all participants have been satisfied. Bill McIntosh, CEO of CharityTrucks.com, qualified for a $300,000 loan through the program in 2011, but turned down the money when the fees and interest rate were higher than he expected. "It's very misleading to say you've been granted a pot of money to lend out when it's actually a wholesale loan and you're going out there and selling them at retail and building in a lot of fees," McIntosh told The Huffington Post last year of working with the bank that partnered with Goldman.
Blankfein defended the motives of the program in a recent appearance on Marketplace Morning Report. When host Jeremy Hobson asked him whether the 10,000 Small Businesses initiative was about improving his public image or Goldman's bottom line, Blankfein answered, "It's about neither. This is about investing in small business and also as a matter of ideology." He said the initiative allowed the bank to apply principles and knowledge gained from working with large companies to small businesses.
At Monday's event, Blankfein went on to praise small business owners for their courage, noting that they often incur more personal risk than he does. Even though as Goldman's CEO he oversees more than 30,000 employees, "at the end of the day, the name of the company I work for is Goldman and Sachs," he said, according to Bloomberg News. "There's no Lloyd Blankfein in that."
Blankfein does, however, personally have a lot riding on Goldman Sachs' performance, with his restricted stock in the company for 2011 valued at $7 million. And the bank chairman saw his compensation fall about 35 percent to $12 million in 2011, as Goldman Sachs' stock fell 46.2 percent that year.
The normally publicity-shy Blankfein has been on a bit of a PR bender lately, which many insiders attribute to Goldman Sachs' new public relations chief, Richard Siewert, Jr. Business Insider, for one, remains skeptical of such a move's success, recently noting that friendly public and media appearances "will not magically recast Blankfein as the Richard Branson of Wall Street."