Mr. Blankfein. . . is the antithesis of the boring banker. He prides himself on repartee and colleagues say the easiest way to pique him is to tell him someone else is the funniest person at Goldman.No argument there. Remember the one Lloyd told about Goldman "doing God's work"? I swear coffee came right out of my nose! And as the FT says, he's quick with the quip. Like the time Treasury chief Tim Geithner saved Goldman nearly $13 billion by volunteering to pick up the tab for its AIG (AIG) credit default swaps after the insurer looked like it might plotz. So Lloyd gets the offer and goes -- wait for it -- "OK." Zing!
The U.K.'s financial paper of record also recounts Blankfein's Horatio Algeresque rise to the top:
One formative experience was his discovery that, when his father retired from the U.S. Postal Service to Florida, his place was taken by a sorting machine. Mr. Blankfein was afterward haunted by the image of his father working hard at a job that had already become redundant.I can't read the man's mind, of course, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if that's the reason Lloyd devoted his life to fighting for the little guy. Anyway, the FT's choice inspired me to come up with my own list of people who have made this a year to remember. Following are my "five least boring persons of 2009":
5. Maurice 'Hank' Greenberg. No matter how bad things get for AIG shareholders, they can take comfort in knowing they'll always have former supremo Greenberg. Like a case of shingles. In November, for instance, he and another ex-AIG exec took the high road in settling for a measly $150 million to end a legal spat with the insurer over who looks more like Montgomery Burns (um, duh). But Hank, perhaps best remembered for having led AIG into the derivatives racket, isn't simply resting on his pinstripes. What's next, re-vanquish Wall Street? Need. . . more . . . evil! Try cozying up to North Korea. Exxxcelllent!
4. Kenneth Lewis. Simply put, the outgoing Bank of America (BAC) chief is a banker's banker -- the kind who refuses to modify your worthless mortgage. Strictly speaking, Ken's annus mirabilis came in 2008, when B of A bought Countrywide and Merrill Lynch shortly before the companies burst into value-charring flames. But those deals really bore their radioactive fruit this year in the form of a massive taxpayer bailout, federal investigations and assorted lawsuits. You're gone, but not forgotten, Dave.
3. The U.S. government. Technically not a person. Still, the contributions of Mssrs. Obama, Geithner, Bernanke, Summers, Dimon, et al, are too unboring not to recognize. One word, two syllables, many zeros: bailout. When Wall Street needed a helping hand, the Treasury and Federal Reserve came riding in like Custer sweeping down the Little Big Horn, only with less firepower. Can you say low interest rates? Can you say TARP? Can you say "too big to fail"? Actually, they can't say that, so skip it for now.
2. Lloyd Blankfein. I swear he was on my list before the FT did its thing. And let's get one thing straight -- Lloyd looks nothing like a "great vampire squid . . . relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." First off, he's got four tentacles, tops. Second, have you glanced at Goldman's balance sheet lately? Boo-yah! This is one company that knows how to make lemonade by leveraging lemons that other people paid for. I can't put it any better than Goldman spokesquid Lucas van Praag, who recently told the NYT that in banking "if you don't evolve, you die." And cephalopods have been on this planet for, what, 500 million years? So he should know.
1. Bernard Madoff. Controversial? Yes. Crazy greedy? Check. A smirk you want to remove with a paint scraper? Sue me, people! As the FT says of Blankfein, Madoff's "job and his personality have made him the public face of Wall Street during its most testing period since the 1930s." Fine, the man went a little overboard toward the end there, what with that missing $50 billion and all. But talk about going out with a bang! No face this year was more public nor more testing than Madoff's. Sure, Tiger Woods is giving it a go. But he barely knew a lot of those women. Bernie schtupped his investors for years.
For that persevering spirit alone, Madoff is my least boring person of 2009. True, as "auld acquaintances" go he may never again be brought to mind as we stumble, pie-eyed and penny-pinching, into the virginal new year. Unlike Lloyd Blankfein, though, he'll never be forgot.