Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Lloyd Blankfein

The head of the world's most profitable bank is oddly pedestrian. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs' chief executive, is a movie buff and a bad dresser. He loves gambling in Vegas. He grew up poor and used to be an overweight two-packs-a-day smoker. So when his firm's rapid return to megaprofits this year ignited claims that Goldman Sachs had engineered the financial crisis so it could profit from it, Blankfein seemed the perfect man to explain why his firm — and indeed all of Wall Street — was not a band of élitist capitalist vampires but instead a virtuous bunch. But even everyman Blankfein, who launched his image offensive this summer with an interview in TIME, has not been able to turn back the wall of populist anger against his firm and Wall Street in general. His claim that he and his colleagues were "doing God's work" was openly mocked. Washington is still contemplating ways to rein in finance-industry risk-taking, pay and profits. Expect more outrage soon as Goldman hands out huge year-end bonuses, which could average more than $700,000 per employee, just as Main Street's unemployment checks run out.

— Stephen Gandel