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Best in Class: Goldman's Humility Is a Strength

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Everybody seems to hate Goldman Sachs (GS) these days.

In the space of just three days, from July 26 to 28, the bank was singled out by David Axelrod, a top adviser to President Obama, as an example of super-generous employee health care plans that might be taxed. It was the subject of a highly critical cover story in New York magazine; it was lampooned in a Bloomberg column by Michael Lewis; it was blamed on CNBC by Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind., Vt.) for driving up the price of oil, and it was the subject of a letter to the Federal Reserve from three members of Congress who wanted to know why it was allowed to postpone certain reporting requirements related to how it calculates risk.

Nonetheless, by the most important standard on Wall Street -- share price -- Goldman is an unqualified success. Among the largest U.S. banks, only JPMorgan Chase (JPM) has performed comparably since Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection last September. Both banks have essentially recouped their losses since that time, while once-proud institutions like Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC) and Wells Fargo (WFC) still struggle to remove the stigma of being partly owned by U.S. taxpayers.

Over a five-year time frame, Goldman leaves even JPMorgan in the dust. Goldman has doubled its shareholders' money, while shares in Jamie Dimon's bank are worth roughly what they were when he joined it as president in mid-2004.

It is strange to say it, but one of the main secrets to Goldman's success is its humility. There are undoubtedly countless private examples of Goldman executives being anything but humble, but the institution is built in such a way that it discourages self-interested behavior. A 2004 article in The Wall Street Journal argued that former Goldman executive Kwame Jackson failed to win Donald Trump's hit television show "The Apprentice," because Goldman had taught him not to be a braggart.

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