Here's what they should teach in CEO-101, a course every CEO should be required to take before starting the job:
When you're CEO of a PUBLIC corporation, you are the PUBLIC face of that corporation and are required to speak with the PUBLIC. There's even a whole profession built around helping you to do that. It's called PUBLIC Relations.
Now, what should the PR pros at Goldman Sachs be preaching to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd "Doing God's Work" Blankfein? Consider:
The PUBLIC widely blames Goldman for much of the financial meltdown that's knocking them out of their homes. The tax-paying PUBLIC bailed it out of a crisis. The PUBLIC widely believes it set up deals with trading partner AIG, then bet on AIG failing, then helped AIG fail, then worked out a back-door deal with lawmakers to use taxpayer money to keep AIG from dying so it could collect 100% of the money AIG owed it.
That's a PUBLIC RELATIONS problem. You get where I'm going here?
Bloomberg Business Week's (Gawd, BBW; as a former BW reporter, I hate the overly detailed name) Roben Farzad wrote a nice cover article analyzing Goldman's position. Here's the short summary of that position:
Clients love the company. It reported a record profit last year. Every Stanford MBA student wants to work there. And among the PUBLIC, "the perception is that Goldman is the toxic epicenter of everything wrong with Wall Street. The firm's 32,000 employees are seen as an army of Gordon Gekkos." And the PUBLIC tends to agree with U of Missouri law and economics professor William Black, who says, "Every game has a sucker, and in this case, the sucker was not so much AIG as it was the U.S. government and taxpayer." Because of PUBLIC perception, Goldman has become a Pariah in Washington D.C. The U.S. Justice Department keeps asking it for information about its actions.
How did Goldman deal with all this? "For the past year, as its name was sullied, Goldman maintained a bunker strategy, largely fending off media inquiries," writes Farzad.
Farzad talked to a lot of executives at Goldman, who did a pretty good job of clearing up some misconceptions. But, gee, guess who turned down multiple requests for interviews with BBW?
Now, it's true that Blankfein needs a little PR aerobics training in order to keep his Italian leathers out of his mouth. The one time he did talk to the press, the London Times last November, he came out with the infamous quip about just being an evangelist for that great Capitalist in the sky, not realizing that the reporters might quote him.
You'd think that the CEO of a corporation that's too big to fail would be at least as trainable as a local TV news anchor.
A CEO in hiding looks like a CEO with something to hide. If you really believe that Goldman did nothing wrong, Mr. Blankfein, take a lesson from John Kerry, who thought ignoring the Swift Boaters was the best way to deal false accusations.
Nine on the stupid meter.