4

Wall Street CEO takes rare lead on social issue

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who faced PR battles during the financial crisis, emerges as a national spokesman for gay marriage.

Kai Ryssdal: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein runs the most powerful bank on Wall Street -- if not the planet. You've seen him grilled at congressional hearings over deals Goldman did during the financial crisis. He's been sharply criticized for claiming Goldman does 'God's work.' So he's kept himself largely out of the headlines lately.

But Blankfein is back in the news today, in an unusual role for a Wall Street CEO. He's the first national corporate spokesman for a high-profile issue being championed by the Human Rights Campaign. Our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore has the story.


Heidi Moore: You wouldn't normally connect Goldman Sachs executive Lloyd Blankfein with gay marriage.

Michael M. Thomas: I mean, I was astonished to see Lloyd Blankfein come out for gay marriage because I said to myself, 'what the hell does he care about gay marriage?'

That was Michael M. Thomas, a former Lehman Brothers partner. He said it's almost unheard of for Wall Street executives to take a public stance on divisive social issues.

Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign agrees. He was the one who asked Blankfein to do the ad. He wanted to break the ice with the finance industry, which is perceived to be conservative.

Fred Sainz: After you have Lloyd Blankfein's name behind an effort, we believe and hope that it will be increasingly easier to get the names of other CEOs added to this important list.

Sainz says Blankfein led a push last year to win the business community's support for gay marriage in Goldman's home state of New York.

But while Blankfein public stance is rare, few on Wall Street think it will be controversial. In large corporations and banks -- the world Goldman does business in -- diversity is a common goal. Companies from Microsoft to Macy's to Home Depot have supported gay marriage.

Thomas, the former Lehman partner, says that supporting gay marriage won't lose Blankfein any deals.

Thomas: As a frank matter, the kind of people who are opposed to this haven't got the wherewithal to do business with Goldman Sachs anyway.

In other words, Blankfein doesn't have to worry about how things might play in Peoria.

In New York, I'm Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.
Log in to post4 Comments

Hi John,

Thanks for your comment - and for listening. It's always great to hear from a listener.

The phrase "will it play in Peoria" actually originated not because Peoria was minor, but because it was a very important city on the entertainment/vaudeville circuit! In fact, Peoria's own Web site has some good information on it.

I used it in that context - to represent an important swath of the population that most financial leaders see as a test case for the popularity of their ideas. In this case, Blankfein, as I mentioned, kept his activism much closer to home in New York state.

I hope that clarifies things! The world would certainly be boring if everyone were from the same place, even (and maybe especially) if that place were New York. I'm glad you defended Peoria and allowed me to explain. 

Keep listening! It's so good to get your perspective.

Heidi

Hi John,

Thanks for your comment - and for listening. It's always great to hear from a listener.

The phrase "will it play in Peoria" actually originated not because Peoria was minor, but because it was a very important city on the entertainment/vaudeville circuit! In fact, Peoria's own Web site has some good information on it.

I used it in that context - to represent an important swath of the population that most financial leaders see as a test case for the popularity of their ideas. In this case, Blankfein, as I mentioned, kept his activism much closer to home in New York state.

I hope that clarifies things! The world would certainly be boring if everyone were from the same place, even (and maybe especially) if that place were New York. I'm glad you defended Peoria and allowed me to explain. 

Keep listening! It's so good to get your perspective.

Heidi

Hi John,

Thanks for your comment - and for listening. It's always great to hear from a listener.

The phrase "will it play in Peoria" actually originated not because Peoria was minor, but because it was a very important city on the entertainment/vaudeville circuit! In fact, Peoria's own Web site has some good information on it.

I used it in that context - to represent an important swath of the population that most financial leaders see as a test case for the popularity of their ideas. In this case, Blankfein, as I mentioned, kept his activism much closer to home in New York state.

I hope that clarifies things! The world would certainly be boring if everyone were from the same place, even (and maybe especially) if that place were New York. I'm glad you defended Peoria and allowed me to explain. 

Keep listening! It's so good to get your perspective.

Heidi

Heidi,
I suppose you're just throwing the phrase "play in Peoria" as a general term for "middle america" or something similar, but, as a Peorian, I was a little insulted.
You should be aware that Peoria is the third largest city in a consistently blue state, is the location of the headquarters of Caterpillar Inc (a Fortune 500 company), and home to many progressive people. I, for one, wholeheartedly support Blankfein's stance.
We can't all be New Yorkers, Heidi (nor would we all want to be). I hope in the future you'll be a little less dismissive about "flyover country".
-John

With Generous Support From...