The suit the SEC filed against Goldman Sachs in April did what the agency most likely intended: It gave the public a big, fat target on which to focus its anti–Wall Street rage. What was confusing was that the face of this evil bank—the one we were supposed to associate with greed, arrogance, and trickery—was incongruously friendly. Unlike, say, Lehman Brothers ex-CEO Richard Fuld, whose dramatic brow and hollowed cheeks make him a perfect avatar of the dark side of capitalism, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein looks like a chipper elf, with a round, shiny head, pinchable cheeks, and a megawatt smile. There he was, a few days after the suit was filed, beaming in the front of the Cooper Union auditorium, as though being scolded by President Obama were the most fun anyone could ever have. And there he was again in July, in a photo in The Wall Street Journal, giggling as a makeup artist whisked the shine off his pate. Given Blankfein’s situation, such expressions of unbridled joy might have come across as unseemly. But his was no George W. smirk. It was disarming, possibly even genuine.
It was also, frankly, an example of good leadership. While other CEOs, most recently BP’s Tony “I’d like my life back” Hayward, have caved under the pressure of running a firm in crisis, Blankfein has hung in there, despite calls for his resignation and some awkward public moments (and, with bonus season upon us, more likely to come). Blankfein’s endurance, his friends and colleagues say, is due in no small part to his innate good humor. After last year’s unfortunate quip to a journalist that he does “God’s work,” he has laid off the jokes but not the beatific grin. “I saw him at an event a couple weeks ago,” one woman told me. “He was walking around with that huge smile. It was just blinding. I told him, ‘You have an amazing smile.’ He said, ‘Some people say I smile too much!’ ”