Blankfein Puts the Suit Back On for Role as Wall Street Rabbi
(Bloomberg) -- Wall Street may be going more casual, but not at the UJA Wall Street Dinner.
The event brought out a few hundred people in suits and dresses Monday night at the New York Marriott Marquis, including a large contingent from Goldman Sachs. Apparently, they knew how to dress to impress the firm’s former chief executive officer, Lloyd Blankfein, as well another former CEO, Jon Corzine, the current boss David Solomon, and management committee members Stephanie Cohen, Dina Powell McCormick and Tucker York.
Blankfein joked that his “biggest anxiety” in the two years since the last in-person event was being able to fit into his suit, and he did just fine, on a night that raised a record $32 million.
He also had no problem slipping back into his signature humor, referring to those attending virtually as “the guys who still take risk management seriously.”
But Blankfein quickly found a different kind of footing. As chief emcee of the event, he seized on the spotlight to make a call of conscience for the 1% to address the bifurcation of society the pandemic has aggravated.
“At the risk of being provocative and sounding tone-deaf, I had a pretty good pandemic, and most of my friends who live in the same bubble as me had a pretty good pandemic, too,” he said. “But what about the rest of the world?”
While some people made money when the markets went up, got to work in nice places, dine in outdoor restaurants and play golf, others worked with kids in tiny apartments, lived paycheck to paycheck or lost their jobs, he said.
“Sadly, I don’t naturally engage with many of those people,” Blankfein said. “But there are a lot more of them than there are of us. That is the larger bubble less familiar to many of us, the bubble in which UJA operates.”
UJA was created more than a 100 years ago to serve urgent needs in the Jewish community. That’s what it does still. Nonprofits it funds include those that provide food and job assistance, and operate camps offering a retreat from the city. (Blankfein went to one himself as a kid from Brooklyn).
During the pandemic, UJA spent an extra $70 million on programming, which included more than 2,700 vaccinations for Holocaust survivors. It also upped the fight against increasing waves of anti-Semitism.
Blankfein said in an interview his goal was to make sure the people living in his bubble, understand their obligation to help the people living in the larger bubble.
“It’s our duty to make other people know it is their duty,” Blankfein said. “We do it by example, by recruiting, by having events like this, by talking about the past and other people who’ve done it. I can try to pass along that culture.”
It was Blankfein’s last Wall Street Dinner as chairman of UJA’s Wall Street & Financial Services Division. Jeff Aronson, co-founder of Centerbridge Partners, will succeed him next year.
The event honored Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, and Goldman’s Cohen, who is co-head of consumer and wealth management.
“Stephanie is in a long line of people who are very smart, very confident, on a very high trajectory, and committed to the themes of this gathering, which is philanthropy and also acknowledgment of pride in the community,” Blankfein said. “I’m proud to see how well Goldman is represented here.”
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