NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ever since the crisis brought unwelcome attention to Goldman Sachs (GS), the company's imagemakers have been trying to find a way to connect with that strange specimen known as the little guy.
Since Goldman has never done any business with regular folks, watching these efforts over the past three and a half years has been curious. Lloyd Blankfein's bank has tried defiance, mock humility, larger-than-usual charitable donations, humor (remember that the "God's work" line was supposed to be a joke), corporate soul searching and a host of other tactics, before finally replacing its longtime PR man, Lucas van Praag, with Clinton and Obama administration veteran Richard "Jake" Siewert, in March.
Goldman's new attitude under Siewert is starting to take shape, though like nearly every other corporate makeover effort one can think of, it's hard to do much other than wince.
Last month there was CEO and Chairman Blankfein himself, instead of the usual "people familiar with the matter," explaining toThe Wall Street Journal the company's decision to build out its private bank. No big ponderous Q&A arranged months in advance--just a quick quote from the boss as if he were the kind of guy who answered his own phone all the time.On Wednesday came another surprise, with Goldman making a donation disguised as a loan. Goldman will lend $9.6 million to MDRC, a non-profit social services organization, which will use the funds to try to keep young Rikers Island inmates from making a return visit. According to the announcement from the city of New York (Goldman didn't want to toot its own horn, after all) the rehabilitation program will have to reduce recidivism at Riker's Island by 10% in order for Goldman to break even on its investment. An article in The New York Times featuring an interview with Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group head Alicia Glen adds that the investment bank can profit on the deal if recidivism drops by more than 10%. The quotes from Glen--and from Blankfein in the city's announcement--focus almost entirely on the investment, rather than the social benefit. Glen speaks of being "comfortable with the risks," as if a $2.4 million loss--the most Goldman could lose in the deal--actually mattered to the bank. No more pretending you care about the little guy, Siewert's counsel to his new bosses seems to be. You're no-nonsense businesspeople who invest in things that matter to society because that's just good business, and that's what Goldman's all about. Uh huh. -- Written by Dan Freed in New York. Follow this writer on Twitter.
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