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A Complete Lack of Ambivalence…about Goldman Sachs

March 18, 2011

Should we be enthusiastic about Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most powerful investment bank in the world, coming into Leeds and helping to train the next generation of Leeds entrepreneurs?

Should we find the idea abhorrent?

Or perhaps we should practice a little ambivalence?

It seem to me we have plenty who are enthusiastic about the idea.  The City Council and Leeds Ahead, who have been instrumental in attracting the Goldman Sachs programme believe it to be a good thing.  And ‘Yorkshire Icon‘ Lord Graham Kirkham, founder of DFS, Conservative Party Funder and one of Yorkshire’s most successful entrepreneurs, has described Goldman Sachs’ support as ‘heaven sent‘.

And it is easy to find those who instinctively reel against the involvement of a major investment bank in such a programme. Never mind one that has been characterised as ‘A Giant Vampire Squid

As well as generic banker bashing they will cite Goldman Sachs apparently significant influence in the US Government, their alleged involvement in an alleged fraud that led to the RBS losing £545m and several other controversies as reasons why we should consider their role in our city less than ‘heaven sent’.   They may also express concern that one of the partners in the programme, Said Business School, was founded by Wafic Said, friend to the Saudi Royal family, Margaret Thatcher and a key player in helping the UK Govt to win the Al Yamamah Arms deal which has had interesting consequences in the Middle East and for our oil security.

What it seems much harder to find is any ambivalence to the project.

Any sense of a cautious but pragmatic engagement with a strategic partner whose real long term interests in working with 25 of our local businesses, carefully selected for their high growth potential, may not yet be completely clear.  In Goldman Sachs’ own words

‘The Goldman Sachs Foundation works with outstanding organizations to prepare and support the development of the next generation of leaders around the world.  Drawing from the core expertise of Goldman Sachs, our programs in Promoting Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Business Education are designed to give participants practical skills and the broad world view they need to become decision makers and visionaries in the global economy.

Which does not sound entirely like philanthropy to me.  For a bank.  And I wonder what the key elements of the broad world view that they ‘give participants’ really entails.  A sustainable economy?  One where wealth is measured in terms other than cash? Perhaps….Or maybe the core expertise in this piece called the Great American Bubble Machine?

There seems no real understanding that what we may actually have in Goldman Sachs is more of a ‘bedfellow’ than an ‘ally’.   It is this apparent lack of any sense of practical and pragmatic engagement that worries me.

But there are 25 or so successful businesses who are benefiting from the programme, and I have heard lots of good feedback from several independent sources.  And it is keeping much needed revenues rolling into the coffers at Shine so that it can continue its work in the regeneration of the local community.

So perhaps we really shouldn’t worry about whose money we take?

Perhaps it really is ‘All about the economy, stupid’.  And we should not think too deeply about what is really going on.  Just let those who already share the ‘broad world view’ of ‘decision makers and visionaries in the global economy’ get on with it. After all, they have made a pretty good fist of things up to now…

Haven’t they?

There are things about the programme that I really admire.  Let’s forget the chequered history that even investment bankers have in ‘picking winners’.  The programme is aimed at ‘mid-stage’ businesses with the aspiration and potential to grow, and this has been an area that has not received as much attention as it should.  And it resists the false dichotomy between social business and ‘for profit’ which should make for a much more interesting and powerful mix.

And the programme is a pilot that they hope to roll out across the UK.  So perhaps Goldman Sachs really will be instrumental in developing the next generation of business leaders across the country.

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3 Comments
  1. Isn’t this like supermarkets pretending to be socially responsible by helping out schools? Any fool knows that the supermarkets see the children as plump, young calves, just waiting to be branded with their burning, red hot logo.

    If I were GS, I would want to make sure that any future, successful companies were beholden to me in some way. I believe they call that, ‘leverage’ in the diabolical language they use.

    “You can fool some of the people, some of the time…” etc.

  2. At least they are supporting some businesses…I guess this is part of the private sector provision for business support. Not seeing many private sector businesses step up to the mark to help disadvantaged people set up a small business, self employed, making the transition from benefits to self reliance. (Barclays do run a seminar or two, but that is it…). Perhaps GS should be more philanthropic in their work? Surely they could afford a million or two for this kind of work?

  3. Mike I could sense your internal tension as I read that post!

    I suppose if they don’t have any sort of controlling or influential stake in the businesses they support, then what the heck?

    I’d go for it on that basis….why the hell not? (Cutting off your nose to spite your face just makes you look like a p***k.

    But if this is just another way for them to get their sticky investment tentacles into the man in the street so they can suck out his life once more (which they would do if they took a stake as a VC or controlling investor) then i’d Sach the idea straight away.

    Till then – go for it!

    Cheers, Mike.

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