Large Minority of Goldman Shareholders Urge CEO, Chairman Split

Institutional investors will likely be back next year with a new effort to exert more influence on Goldman Sachs (GS) board after a large minority of shareholders voted Friday to separate the role of chairman and CEO at the bank.

Roughly 30% of voting shares at the mega-bank voted against CEO Lloyd Blankfein retaining both positions -- not enough to convince Goldman to split the role but a substantial enough number to raise serious questions about shareholder relations at the bank in the coming months. In addition, 33% of voting shares opposed the company's executive compensation plans, including that of Blankfein, also putting a negative spotlight on the company's executive pay practices.

James McRitchie, a prominent investor gadfly, submitted the proposal to split the chairman and CEO role at Goldman Sachs. McRitchie said the result of the two votes shows that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with Goldman Sachs, adding that major public pension funds voted for his proposal to separate its CEO and Chairman position. Large public pension funds, who have sought to put a spotlight on concerns around the dual rule, will likely be back next year to support another proposal to break up the chairman and CEO role, he said. 

Goldman, which has a $62 billion market capitalization, has returned to the spotlight lately after Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders put a spotlight on the relationship between his rival Hillary Clinton and the large bank. Sanders, the senator from Vermont, has demanded that Clinton, the former secretary of state, release transcripts of paid speeches she gave Goldman Sachs, including one she made in October 2013 to bankers at a summit in Arizona for a $225,000 fee.

According to Proxy Insight, California State Teachers' Retirement System, Teacher Retirement System of Texas and the Unitarian Universalist Common Endowment Fund all voted for McRitchie's independent chairman proposal. Also, the same three investment funds voted against Goldman Sachs executive pay packages, Proxy Insight said.

Some shareholders may have been temporarily placated into supporting Blankfein by Goldman Sachs recent move to set up a pro-shareholder proxy access mechanism. Proxy access gives a group of long-term investors the ability to nominate a minority slate of directors to the bank's board using the company's proxy card in a more efficient manner and at lower cost.

McRitchie also argued that investors would be better served investing in the S&P 500 than Goldman Sachs, citing statistics that the mega-bank's shares under-performed the S&P 500 over the most recent one, two, five and ten year periods. 

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