In advance of its May 7th annual meeting with shareholders, Goldman Sachs used surprising candor in an eight-page letter in its 2009 annual report. Reiterating that it didn’t ‘bet against’ clients using short positions it took on before the residential real-estate market crashed. Rather, it was one of the first Wall Street firms to reduce its real-estate exposure, “even as some clients were sticking with their bullish bets.”
The Financial Times concludes, “The [note] is an implicit admission that Goldman’s long-held strategy of giving short shrift to criticism of its behavior and pay policies during the crisis has done little to quell the public backlash against the Wall Street bank.”
After such a mea culpa, how will Goldman Sachs handle its annual meeting? Will it be a kabucki show or will Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein lead his directors in a sincere effort to engage with shareholders? Blankfein has a chance to demonstrate that he’s committed to minimizing reputation risk by making the meeting a true opportunity for shareholders to question and receive genuine responses from him and the board of directors.
It’s a dramatic change and they should be preparing now.