Monday, March 19, 2012

GOLDMAN SACHS, ANOTHER THOUGHT


The volume and intensity of reaction surrounding the Goldman Sachs Op-Ed from last Wednesday's Times [i.e.,   The Resignation Heard Round the World] fell back to earth sometime over the weekend. Who knew last Wednesday morning when the piece appeared that it would create the hell storm of discourse that followed? The reaction over the last few days was riveting, from the condemnation and name calling of the writer, to those who defended the value of his message, and to those who picked up the many other issues that the piece brought into view.

A safe guess that there's only one aspect to this affair that everyone would agree with: it's another black eye for Goldman's reputation, and that reputation at the moment, is trending gutter. 

Goldman Sachs needs a plan, a very good plan, to repair the meaning of the name Goldman Sachs right now.                
                                                


                                                            
In 2010, Goldman Sachs moved into a new headquarters [above], next to the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan. The building is 43 stories of silky steel and glass. It was designed by esteemed architects Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners. It cost $2.1 billion. There are amenities like executive outdoor patios on the highest floors, reading lounges and a 54,000 square foot gym for employees. One imagines it's an extremely well-appointed building. Even so, there's one thing the new Goldman Sachs headquarters doesn't have: the name Goldman Sachs.        

Used to be, a company would seek exclusive terms in a lease for the right to place its name on a building. Used to be, a company would pay a landlord a royal sum for the right to place it's name on a building. Used to be, a name on a building was a measure of prestige. Even horrid buildings that forever blocked precious views [here's looking at you, Pan Am] were buildings that companies wanted to adorn with their logos.

When one comes across the Goldman building, the only signage, per se, is "200 West Street" above one of the entrances. The words "Goldman Sachs" are not to be found on the exterior, nor interior [the immense, city-block wide lobby has more than enough room for signage, if desired]. Circle this building slowly and carefully, there is not one clue about who is inside. It is confounding, at the very least.

I'm a retailer. The name of my business over the door is a formative tool of the retail trade. For most retailers, windows, doors and a banner, flag or sign above the storefront are necessary fixtures to tell the world exactly who you are. But besides the practical, there's another element to that signage: pride. There's deep pride attached to seeing the name of one's business written across a window or front door in the mix of the street. For anyone who has ever dreamt about having a business and seen it come to fruition, the instant that signage goes up is a great goose bump moment. It's exactly at that moment, the dream feels real. 

In my case, it was December 1990, just a few days before opening. Inside the store window sat David Brandeis, 80-some years old, and last of a breed of sign painters who still did the work by hand. He sat propped up on a small stool that he brought to the site himself. He spent about 4 hours slowly hand tracing the letters to form "The City Bakery," then he filled their interior with gold leaf. And then, there it was, for all of New York to see: The City Bakery. Indelible.     

What to make of a company like Goldman Sachs with a 143-year storied heritage that doesn't put its name on its own building? What is the logic? What is the best possible good reason? How does it help?  What about pride? There are 7,500 employees in that building. I would imagine most feel great pride working for a company like Goldman Sachs. I'd love to know most of all, what those rank and file workers think about this, indeed, how they feel walking into an building that hides it's name.  

After the Op-Ed came out, a defense of the company was made via-press release by Goldman CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein. One of his defenses makes reference to the "People Survey," an internal poll conducted of Goldman staff, 85% of whom took part and apparently registered overwhelming faith in the values of what the firm stood for.

Mr. Blankfein, here's a question you should include in your next staff questionnaire:                                
Would you prefer our building with or without the name Goldman Sachs on it?

A $2.1 billion building. 43 floors. 7,500 employees. Zero name. 

I imagine a great effort has been underway since Wednesday from the Goldman PR team to defend its name [again]. I imagine multi-pronged promotional plans are being devised right now, maybe even the best plans money can buy. I'm sure they have no need for more advice, especially advice from someone who works in an apron. No matter, here's a simple idea for Goldman Sachs: Put your name on your building. 

There is something fundamentally sketchy about no name on that building. It is only easier for people to wonder who and what the company is all about, and Goldman has enough of that going on around it right now, not to its advantage. 

If nothing else, the name "Goldman Sachs" affixed to that building would be a statement that Goldman believes in its own virtue, indeed, in its own name. 



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