The wisdom of solomon
Reflecting on 10 years since the financial crisis, the fortunes of ur-investment bank Goldman Sachs could hardly have been more different to its one time rival Lehman Brothers. This week saw the book end of the tenure of one of its titans.
Having had its fair share of crises, litigation, and the weight of hatred from public opinion affecting the entire industry Goldman nevertheless has survived, and some would say thrived, with a fit-for-purpose communications strategy.
The crisis constituted an existential threat to Wall Street, but Goldman was up to the challenge. A much humbler and purpose driven corporate positioning has been the name of the game since 2008. Under considerable pressure, the ability to adapt to the times demonstrated not just a skilful in-house comms team but a willingness of the senior management to buy in to and participate with the more open, engaging style the public now demands.
In July, having been well trailed by the Wall Street Journal, the announcement that the bearded, mercurial and charming Chairman and Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein was stepping down was hardly a surprise.
Posted on their YouTube channel, Blankfein’s farewell speech to the bank’s internal quarterly managing directors meeting demonstrated a level of seeming candid openness and emotional resonance that chimed with our times. In his brief response, his successor David Solomon, a man one assumes does not often have crises of confidence, even admitted to feeling nervous. Media coverage of Solomon’s appointment highlighted his hobby of DJ-ing to techno music and acclamations of Blankfein’s ability to steer Goldman to adapt and survive the crisis. On the same day, another internal video of David Solomon ‘meeting Goldman Sachs interns’ gave us an insight into the man and his thinking, his concerns and his dreams.
In September, Solomon began to appoint his senior team, and in case anyone missed the point that there has been a smooth handover, this week we read Lloyd Blankfein’s ‘emotional’ farewell message to employees in preparation for stepping down formally in October.
Succession planning is tricky. Timing is everything and ideally the interest of the company and the individuals should be aligned – something which the ‘one-firm’ Goldman had in its favour when planning such a significant announcement, despite what one imagines is a hugely competitive internal environment. Goldman understood the potential value destruction of a badly handled new CEO announcement, and they passed the test with flying colours.